As you know, I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I’ve become an enthusiast of everything Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and all BBC period dramas. I <3 Christmas pudding and I have family ties to the commonwealth. As I sit here sipping my tea, I am at a loss for how it happened. Who becomes a “fan” of another country? It’s just plain weird.
But wait. I’m not so much a fan of Britain* but rather its media output and biscuit production. Yep, that sounds about right.
In any case, it means that The Name of the Star, which follows an American girl studying in London, has a leg up in my book. But the author, Maureen Johnson, took the story far beyond my initial bias.
The book involves Jack the Ripper and ghosts and therefore has a definite creep-factor. I read it late one stormy night (no joke) in an old house that has the habit of creaking like someone is walking by your bedroom door. It is no wonder I ended up with my blanket around my head, all the lights turned on, staring wide-eyed at the page while clutching my bookmark. May I suggest reading this book on a sunny morning with a cup of tea and a plate of Jammie Dodgers instead?
Ghosts in particular give me the willies (except for Jesse from Meg Cabot’s mediator series. He can drop by any time). Vampires, werewolves, demons, hell-beasts, what have you, I’m fine. Ghosts? Brrr….That combined with true crime, or as true as you can get with Jack the Ripper, and I have goosebumps all over. Remember how I said I like my scary distanced from real life? Well, Jack the Ripper is freaking real. In 1888…but still.
It is a credit to Maureen Johnson’s writing, and especially her creation of the narrator, Rory, that I overcame my scaredy-cat self and kept reading. And not just continue to turn the pages, I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book.
What won me over from the start was her depiction of Rory’s first week at English boarding school. Yes, this territory has been covered in YA before. But Rory’s experience felt so similar to my own first week at boarding school (aka university) that it had me chuckling and wincing in sympathy. Such a transition should not be taken in stride, and Maureen did a good job of making Rory suffer without turning her into a mopey, self-pitying mess.
Rory has spunk. She was not forced to leave home to move to England (the normal case in “boarding school abroad” YA) but chose to go to this particular school in London. Maureen Johnson lived in England for a while and it comes through in her writing. To my American ears (eyes?) the dialogue sounds English. Rory’s from a small town in Louisiana and regales her new classmates with long-winded stories of her crazy Southern relatives. I loved this part of her character. She is as extremely American as possible without going over the top. True, I might feel differently if I was from the Deep South, but no matter.
I also like how Jack the Ripper and the paranormal aspects are intrinsic to the story but don’t overpower Rory’s transition to living away from home. Her attempts in making friends and surviving homework are just as important as the school coming to grips with a Jack the Ripper copy-cat and Rory’s discovery of the existence of ghosts.
Want a page-turning paranormal thriller set in England with an actually entertaining take on boarding school? Look no further, here you go.
*Ha, I was right! I looked up “Anglophile” in the OED to make sure the term includes all of Britain and not just England. And so it does.