Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Name of What Star? A Good Star!

The Name of the Star Review

Can this month be national (and by national I mean "Raving Persuasions") book review month? In all seriousness, I'd be all behind my own suggestion if it wasn't for the fact that most of my reviews in No(Yes!)vember would consist of Stalin and French Resistance historical books, which I don't think most people would be inclined to pick up for a bit of easy reading. Still, I've been reading a lot more lately (hooray) so I hope you don't mind if a few more book reviews pop up from me. You can't stop me.

To preface this, a small note about my relation to Young Adult literature: As much as I enjoy a wide range of books, as much as I like reading more challenging books or books written in new styles (new to me, at least) or books that generally expand my worldview, sometimes I just really need to sit down with a solidly written YA book of a familiar style. Not to degrade YA as a category -- there are tons of genuinely good YA books -- but I find them on the whole to be the most accessible category of book; the ones I read most of pure enjoyment and comfort. So it's always excellent when you stumble across an interesting, fresh, yet easy to read YA book that allows you to simply engage in a good story without much effort.

As it fit all of the requirements, I loved The Name of the Star.

See, as much as I adore Maureen Johnson, her books have never been my favorite. I've enjoyed them well enough, but they've fallen a little flat for me -- they didn't have anything about them that made me go from liking to loving them. This time, however, though it wasn't a flawless book (not that any book ever is), there was so much good stuff in it that I just couldn't stop reading, and am now a little bit weepy at the thought of having to wait -- how long? too long, whatever the date is -- for the next two to be published.

One of the strong points of the book was its plot. The basic idea is that Rory, an American teenager, moves to London to go to school just as somebody begins to recreate the Jack the Ripper murders, and -- of course -- ends up getting involved. Simple enough, but plenty of possibilities to work with. Another one of Johnson's supernatural books comes to mind, Devilish, which I think provides an apt contrast between a supernatural book done well and a supernatural book that tried too hard. Whereas in Devilish, I spent the entire book feeling slightly confused and thus the impact of the ending was totally lost on me -- plus I didn't feel any strong emotion towards the characters -- in The Name of the Star, the plot was wisely chiseled down until it had one strong focus. That really helped to keep me engaged.

The other thing I really loved about The Name of the Star were the characters. (I'm such a sucker for books with good characters, I swear.) Again, this time around, I actually really loved the characters. They were relatable enough, flawed but not annoying, funny, developed... Rory was an apt main character. Though at times a bit insensitive to her roommate's personality, I thought, she was generally a cool-seeming person.

The creepiness of this book seemed to directly correlate to what time of day I read it. In the middle of the afternoon, it was (at times) one part creepy and two parts entertaining/intriguing, but I had to haul ass out of my kitchen a few times around midnight because I started getting freaked out about all that open space (relative to my nice, safe, serial-killer-proof bed, of course). It certainly wasn't terrifying or on the same level as "proper," traditional-style ghost stories, but the level of scary was relatable and believable. Though Rory did suffer from the same "how are you so calm I would literally be having a heart attack in your position" level-headed demeanor around the scary bits that is so common among protagonists who need to move the story forward. Ah well. It didn't detract from anything.

Aside from a few minor things -- two of the characters practically disappeared from the second half of the book, which was understandable but a shame -- the most grating flaw in the book was their method for dispelling ghosts. Much like the sonic screwdriver in Doctor Who (minus the latter's earned and affectionate history), their method involved a seemingly simplistic piece of equipment that conveniently does very complicated work without ever explaining how or why. It subsequently aided in making the culprit's motivation behind the murders substantially less satisfying and thrilling than it ought to have been.

Still, The Name of the Star was ultimately a success if not a masterpiece. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy!

1 comment:

Alex said...

I know exactly what you mean about mj's writing. I like it well enough but I like her so much better as an internet personality.

But I did like The Name of the Star. You're right; it was comforting and easy to read and I read it pretty quickly because I just really wanted to know what happened and the characters were intriguing and basically everything you said. I'd say Maureen Johnson progressing as a writer which is always nice to see.

Good review.