by Maureen Johnson
(Click on the book cover for summary in a new window)
In THE NAME OF THE STAR, I probably chose the least representative of all of Maureen Johnson’s books to read first. From what I hear, she’s generally an all-the-way contemporary fiction writer, except THE NAME OF THE STAR is not exactly all the way contemp. Still, after reading this book, I’m so in love with Maureen Johnson’s voice that I’m pretty sure I’ll read everything she’s ever written and everything she’ll ever write, if only to try to find another book as hookish as that one. And by hookish, I do not mean prostitutish. Obviously.
So you know, although it’s the very first thing that snags my undying loyalty, it’s not just the voice in TNOTS that hooks me. There’s also the sheer cleverness of the story, seamlessly blending a historical event with supernatural fiction—not to mention the beautiful wit of its narrator. All the pieces just sort of fall into place, you know? There’s never any stretching or twisting or not-so-subtle patching to make the story work. It’s just, I don’t know, fluid I guess, merging past with present—and creepy. Because there’s that. It’s not a story to read to the little ones, even if you had a mind to read to them a modern-day Jack the Ripper story. I read right before bed and ended up sleeping with my closet light on. It would be impossible to tell you why without giving the plot away, but trust me—there’s an element of creepy-scary-awesome in this that glues you to the book. It raises a what-if that is terrifying to contemplate. You can’t help but think about what it would be like if that really were possible. Really, it’s only the best books that drive you to this level of thought and then keep you thinking it. All. night. long. Pretty cool, actually.
Aside from the fear factor, (which honestly, is not prohibitively prominent), there are two other major elements which really carry the story. Okay, yes, the voice (there’s always that, but it hardly counts as a mere element—that’s more like the whole periodic table), but:
1. The humor—carries much of the story. The thing is there are parts that are creepy. And sad. And surprising. But there’s almost always some humor. A feel of lightness, really, which should not be mistaken for a voice that takes the story too lightly. It’s merely a different approach that keeps the story from being overwhelmingly dark. It feels more accessible to a larger audience.
2. Authenticity—Johnson just nails teen behavior, from voice to actions to snogging, well enough that if I hadn’t met her, I’d wonder if she weren’t a teenager with a super wise brain. There’s a clear level of maturity in this, evident in the character arc (namely, Rory's progression of thought), but the choices, actions, and thoughts of the characters remain perfectly, gloriously teen from beginning to end.
3. Setting—I forgot to say three. There are three major elements in addition to the fear factor which really raise the bar for all YA. The story of TNOTS takes place entirely in London, with mentions of Louisiana as that’s where Rory is from. While I can’t speak for the authenticity of the Louisiana backstory (although it felt vivid), as I’ve only been to New Orleans for a very short time, the London setting feels alive and genuine, at least as far as an American encountering it firsthand might experience it (I lived in England for a couple of years, and it definitely sparked a number of memories for me). Indeed, the setting itself begins to feel like a separate character with its own personality full of quirks and misbehaviors. Thankfully, Johnson doesn’t load the dialogue with phonetically spelled dialect or bog it down with difficult to understand speech/slang for Americans/non-British, even with characters that have thick London dialects, but the richness of the language and the city comes through regardless. TNOTS is a transportive experience, taking you out of your comfy spot on your recliner and dropping you into the middle of a boarding sixth form in London.
I haven’t mentioned the creativity in this story, although perhaps that goes without saying. But truly, I was really surprised by TNOTS. It’s pretty unpredictable, but not in that unpredictable-because-there-aren’t-any-hints-all-along kind of way. It’s just well done, a proper mystery with a splash of supernatural thriller. And romance—oh the lovely romance (remember the snogging I mentioned? Plenty of that, which goes back to that authentic teen element I mentioned). And of course, drama and cozy friendship and adolescent shenanigans that make adults so jealous because it’s lame to do those things once you grow back hair. THE NAME OF THE STAR is a perfect combination of clever, quirky-dry funny and dark--and in every way memorable.
My giveaways for GLOW and Maureen Johnson books have now closed. Here are the winners:
ARC of GLOW by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Signed ARC of THE NAME OF THE STAR
Liza (the one who entered without a last name)
Signed THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE
Congratulations, winners! Please email me an address to which I can send your book. Thank you so much to all who entered and for supporting my blog! Please stay tuned for the next giveaway, coming soon!