I think I have found my new favorite Maureen Johnson book. Seriously, this book was fantastic. Johnson does everything right. She makes her characters believable and real without glamorizing them. She makes them feel like teenagers without belittling or stereotyping them. She rides through drama without becoming melodramatic or letting anything get too big. She has a dry humor that helps to keep the book grounded even as tension builds. Lastly, she has a perfect sense of timing and pacing. This is why, in a time when I’ve grown tired of 95% of all YA, I keep coming back to Maureen Johnson. She’s just fantastic!
I didn’t know anything about Jack the Ripper before reading this book. I had heard the name and knew he was a murderer, but the rest – from the time period when he was killing to the fact that he was never caught – was completely unknown to me. Now, I feel like going out and reading some true crime about the case, which is far more interesting than I expected it to be. I loved the way Johnson handled his story, weaving in bits of history all throughout the book so there was never any straight-out info-dump, and how she made her present-day murder suspect believable.
I was also impressed with her ability to make this a complete, closed off book while also opening it to the rest of the trilogy. I generally run the other direction when I hear the words “trilogy” these days. I’ve read too many where stories cut off in the very middle of something, leaving dreadful cliffhangers, or where a trilogy is really a single story stretched out to ridiculous proportions in the hopes of selling more books. The Name of the Star was a complete and whole story, beginning to end. In the last chapter, there is a new development (ie set up for the sequel) that is related to the rest of the book but does not in any way change the rest of the book. The book itself is still complete. There is just something new for us to wait for. The beginning of something new, not the middle. Not a cliffhanger. The start. A teaser. In my mind, this is the best way to handle a sequel or series: finish each book completely, while giving the reader a reason to come back that isn’t such a huge reason that you’ll annoy them.
That’s all. I really liked this one. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
Note: Reread in March 2013.