There are currently three books in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, all of which I have read, but this review will focus only on the first book, The Name of the Star. Rory is a normal American teenager, or about as normal as anyone from the quirky town of Benouville, Louisiana, can be. Her parents are university professors, who, on a sabbatical year, decide to go to England. Rory is enrolled in a fictional London boarding school called Wexford where the cold weather and the headmistress’s love of hockey make for an interesting beginning to her school career.
There are also mysterious murders happening in London which mimic the Jack the Ripper killings of over a century ago. The problem is that none of the surveillance cameras focused on the crime scenes capture the murderer. It is almost as if someone invisible committed the murders. The entire city gets caught up in Rippermania, including Rory’s boyfriend, Jerome. After Rory has a near-death experience, she starts seeing people that no one else can see. There is a connection between the two, Rory’s new sight and the murders, and the remainder of the book sets up the suspenseful confrontation with a murderer most people cannot see.
There are some real gems in the supporting cast of characters. Rory’s roommate, Jazza, is adorably kind to and accepting of her new American friend. Their other roommate, Boo, who arrives after the semester starts, is bursting with energy and is maybe hiding something. Stephen, a police officer, is a reserved, shadowy figure who would do anything to protect the people he cares about.
Rory is also not the typical, bland, swooning high school girl often found in young adult literature. She is quirky and funny, telling story after story about her life back home and her eccentric family. It is extremely difficult to do humor well, and nothing is worse than a book with joke after joke that falls flat. However, Johnson achieves no small feat in creating a narrator who can tell a good joke, who is brave and actually takes action instead of waiting for the action to come to her.
As I have found with other books by Maureen Johnson, there is romance, but romance is never the point of the book. Instead, the characters are allowed to live and interact independently of any potential for instant attraction, building relationships that could eventually turn romantic, or not. Shipping is permitted with her books, but with the understand that the pairing will actually be built upon a real foundation of characters who talk and know each other well.
I highly recommend this book and the rest in the series. The second book ends on a big cliffhanger, and, luckily for any new readers, the third book was released in February of this year. There will be a fourth book, title and publication date yet to be determined. It is also worth the time to check out Maureen Johnson’s Twitter account, where readers can easily see the source of Rory’s sense of humor.