Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Name of the Star

Installment #3 in the Book Reviews for Melanie series.

The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1) by Maureen Johnson
Read: 12/17/11-12/18/11
Click here for my sister Sondy's review

I first heard of Maureen Johnson when I joined twitter and my sister Sondy told me to follow her because she was the funniest person on twitter. She was right.

And yet, for no apparent reason, I've only read one of her books so far. This must be remedied.

The Name of the Star is that one book. A friend gave it to me as an early Christmas present in 2011, for which I am grateful. Melanie, you should read it. It's even on our Kindle account. (I should read the sequel that came out a couple months ago, The Madness Underneath. And, well, her other books, in other series.)

Melanie, you know how when a book starts out in the "normal world" and then shifts to fantasy, the normal world part tends to be kind of boring and annoying, with the exception of The Chronicles of Narnia? Even books that I really really like, like Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy?

Well, The Name of the Star doesn't move from one world to another, but the main character's eyes are opened to a different world underneath the surface of her normal world, so it more or less fits in with the category.

And I'll admit, the weirder it got, the more I liked it. It just got better and better. But boring normal world? Not so much. What saves it here is Maureen Johnson's voice. Of course, having followed her on twitter, I should've known her books would be funny, and the voice would be awesome! How could they not be?

For example, take this quote from the beginning of the book (only a map and the intro come before this):

"If you live around New Orleans and they think a hurricane might be coming, all hell breaks loose. Not among the residents, really, but on the news. The news wants us to worry desperately about hurricanes. In my town, Bénouville, Louisiana (pronounced locally as Ben-ah-VEEL; population 1,700), hurricane preparations generally include buying more beer, and ice to keep that beer cold when the power goes out. We do have a neighbor with a two-man rowboat lashed on top of the porch roof, all ready to go if the water rises--but that's Billy Mack, and he started his own religion in the garage, so he's got a lot more going on than just an extreme concern for personal safety.

"Anyway, Bénouville is an unstable place, built on a swamp. Everyone who lives there accepts that it was a terrible place to build a town, but since it's there, we just go on living in it. Every fifty years or so, everything but the old hotel gets wrecked by a flood or a hurricane--and the same bunch of lunatics comes back and builds new stuff."

Or, another long one... (I'm sorry, I read it again as I was going through my highlights, and I just can't resist!) Um, to understand some of the quotes that follow, you should know that the main character, Rory, leaves Louisiana to study abroad, in England. So.

"I know you're not supposed to judge people when you first meet them--but sometimes they give you lots of material to work with. For example, she kept looking sideways at my uniform. It would have been so easy for her to say, 'Take a second and change,' but she hadn't done that. I guess I could have demanded it, but I was cowed by her head girl status. Also, halfway down the stairs, she told me she was going to apply to Cambridge. Anyone who tells you their fancy college plans before they tell you their last name... these are people to watch out for. I once met a girl in line at Walmart who told me she was going to be on America's Next Top Model. When I next saw that girl, she was crashing a shopping cart into an old lady's car out in the parking lot. Signs. You have to read them.

"I was terrified for a few minutes that they would all be like this, but reassured myself that it probably took a certain type to become head girl. I decided to deflect her attitude by giving a long, Southern answer. I come from people who know how to draw things out. Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death."

And then there's:

"These people didn't seem rich--at least, they weren't a kind of rich I was familiar with. Rich meant stupid cars and a ridiculous house and huge parties with limos to New Orleans on your sixteenth birthday to drink nonalcoholic Hurricanes, which you swap out for real Hurricanes in the bathroom, and then you steal a duck, and then you throw up in a fountain. Okay, I was thinking of someone very specific in that case, but that was the general idea of rich that I currently held."

"'You don't say much, do you?' Jerome asked me.

No one in my entire life had ever said this about me.

'You don't know me yet,' I said.

'Rory was telling me she lives in a swamp,' Charlotte said.

'That's right,' I said, turning up my accent a little. 'These are the first shoes I've ever owned. They sure do pinch my feet.'"

Okay, that's enough of that. I read some more of my highlights, but not all of them. I must not read all of them at this time, or this review will get too long. ("Goodbye, Thing. Your [review] is too long." No, I know it doesn't have quite the same ring to it.)

However, if you scroll back up to the top and click on the link to read Sondy's review (Oh, or wait, here it is again! Where'd that come from?), she does include another quote that I was tempted to use in mine. Two for the price of one! Or something. Overall, she more or less says the same things I do about the book, but in a different way, and better. And a little more of the plotty premise details.

What is the book actually about? Well, it's technically YA, though I generally don't concern myself much with those age categorizations. And it's a mystery involving Jack the Ripper lookalike murders. If you haven't read much about Jack the Ripper, his murders were pretty gruesome. I didn't realize. Um, don't google him, if you don't want to know more. The book seemed sufficient, to me. Anyway. The Name of the Star is also about... weird elements. I'm not going to specify more than that, to avoid giving even a teensy bit of a spoiler. But I really liked how the mechanics of the weird elements were worked out. Good strong worldbuilding.

Dang it, no teensy spoiler means I can't use one of the book review category tags I wanted to use. Oh well.

Have fun!

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