Maureen Johnson – thegrammariansreviews.com

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day that Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school is also the day a series of brutal murders breaks out over the city, killings mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper spree of more than a century ago. Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him—the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target.

384 pages | Published: September 29, 2011 | Penguin Group

MY THOUGHTS:

For a story that revolves around Jack the Ripper, I expected there to be many more Ripper moments.

The first chunk of The Name of the Star consists of serious build-up and character building, specifically that of Rory and her new life at boarding school. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water scenario.  That said, the characters are all memorable and realistic – especially the boys.  For once, it was nice to not have boys banging down any doors, standing outside windows with boomboxes, or going out of their way to get the girl.  Consequently, the romance took a back seat.  And even when it was prevalent, it was spontaneous and … awkward.  Really, all it did was get my hopes up very early on.

I never expected this story to take the turn that it did.  It kept me hooked, but dissolved into a letdown.  I never felt the urgency or terror associated with the Ripper drama. Instead of increasing in action, it dwindles, becoming a long history lesson. Between long monologues and recounts of past events, I fought to finish. The latter half of The Name of the Star feels as if it’s a separate story, woven together out of thin air.  I felt tricked, no longer understanding the story’s progression.  Had there been more answers to Rory’s questions, maybe I’d be satisfied as well. But I’m just left wondering how the story gets from point A to point B.

This is a good one if you enjoy mysteries that pull you in multiple directions.  It’s not entirely unpredictable, but more teasing than anything.  Don’t expect to be scared. It’s rather tame. Ultimately, I’m unsure what The Name of the Star tries to achieve.

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On the Road with YA!

May
20

6 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Uncategorized

Ah, the open road. The fresh air. The wind in your face. The warm sunshine and long drives. The pit stops and convenience stores. Camping under the stars. Running out of gas. Acting like tourists. Trying to read maps.

What do they all have in common? They’re components of road trips!

 And we all know the best time to hit the road is summertime – no school, no work, no regrets. Just spontaneity.  But that’s not really how road trips happen, is it? Most likely, you’re traveling with parents or siblings or other family members.  You may even be with friends. But you’re probably not with strangers. (Or are you?)

So what is it about stories of YA road trips that’s so compelling and fun-loving? Because, more often than not, our beloved protagonists are traveling with (relative) strangers. Take Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, for example. Family friend or not, Amy knows very little of Roger. Yet, she preps to travel across the country with him. And she does so with ease (and a bit of a crush!). I don’t think I could be as cool as Amy in that type of situation.  Thrown into a car, for days, with a random guy? I’ll pass, unless he’s Orlando Bloom.

But, as readers, that’s what hooks us, right? The immediate tension and conflict of knowing that our narrator will be thrown into the unknown.

But unplanned trips with friends can be just as compelling.  In Saving June, Harper hits the road with her friend and a mysterious bad boy she knows little about. The trip sounds crazy, but knowing her friend is with her helps ease Harper’s nerves. This situation is a bit reminiscent of that cheesy Britney Spears movie (Crossroads). What begins as a fun, thoughtful trip between two friends quickly becomes an electric tango between Harper and Mystery Boy, brimming with the possibilities of love.

It’s the mere possibility of love that keeps us going and rooting for the pair, despite how horribly the trip may be going . So what if you’ve run out of money, gas and food? All you need is love!

Of course, things could be worse. You could be traveling cross-country with your ex, which seems almost as terrible as traveling with a stranger. But that’s exactly what happens in Two-Way Street.

Courtney’s boyfriend breaks up with her before their big road trip to college orientation. Talk about awkward. Could you sit in a car for that long with any of your exes? It sounds like intentional torture. But, again, because they were previously together, there’s plenty of tension – good and bad – between Courtney and Jordan. And that possibility of getting back together keeps us in for the long haul, at their expense.

But the one thing we tend to forget in any road trip story is age. More often than not, the characters are no more than nineteen years old, and as young as sixteen. And it makes me think, Isn’t this a little far-fetched? How can a sixteen year old just up and leave? Road trips differ from running away. They’re not permanent. At the end of the day, there’s always that cloud of uncertainty hanging around.  Angry parents are right around the corner, waiting for your return. But why is it so easy to leave in the first place? Is it really that easy to sneak out at night? And if the trip is planned, is it really that easy to let your teenager go off on a cross-country tour (with or without strangers)? How would the story change if the parents forbid the trip, the companions?

But sometimes the characters are too far away to be controlled, like in 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Ginny gets to go overseas without parental supervision.  The only present authority figure is her uncle, and even then, he can barely keep her under his control. From London to Scotland and anywhere in between, Ginny embarks on some crazy adventures… with a stranger! (I’m seeing a theme here.) But we all know how it goes, as far as foreign love interests are concerned: they get a big fat YES. (Etienne St. Claire, anyone?) They represent the one major thing consistent with nearly every YA road trip: summer flings.

Girl/Boy friends by their sides or not, the protagonists usually unintentionally fall for someone that’s also along for the ride, or that they’ve met on the way. And that’s what does it for us readers. Not the relationships themselves, but the hope and fun that comes from them. Who hasn’t wanted to just pack up their bags, hit the road with some friends, and meet a hottie during the journey? It’s wild and crazy, yes, but just as thrilling and eye-opening. It’s about getting to see the sights and maybe also getting to be an entirely new you. It’s about discovery – physical and metaphorical.

Of course, not everything is about love. Road trip stories in the YA genre also serve to transport readers to new places with new perspectives. A tiny, tumbleweed town may not be a total drag. Acres of farmland or camping grounds can be beautiful things. Trinkets from roadside stands may be the best gifts of all. The very act of traveling provides readers another level of excitement. You don’t know what the characters are going to have to deal with, but you travel with them anyway. You learn from their mistakes.

Ultimately, it’s the freedom that a road trip brings that is the most appealing. The freedom to just go and be. But, if it’s YA, you might want to pack that extra mascara and tissues in your luggage. Because it’s going to be an emotional ride!

And, if you haven’t done so already, you might want to check out these and other YA road trip novels. They’re perfect for summertime and make you feel all good inside. Who’s in a road trip mood now?!

What do you like/dislike about YA road trips?

(Also: if you know of any other good road trip books, please comment and let me know! I’m totally in the mood for some fun and sun, rather than doom and gloom.)

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REVIEW! The Last Little Blue Envelope.

Apr
28

6 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Book reviews, Four Stars

The Last Little Blue Envelope
Maureen Johnson

FROM THE COVER:

You’ve done a lot in the last twelve envelopes, if you have in fact completed all that was contained in them. For all I know, you’ve read all these from your sofa in New Jersey. But I trust you. I think you’re exactly where I suggested you should be: on a ferry in the Greek Islands.

If you really wanted to, you could go home right now. Maybe you’ve had enough. Or…

My rating: 4 stars.
MY THOUGHTS:
Rugged.
The Last Little Blue Envelope is very reminiscent of its prior installment, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes. Keith is still a foreign jerk, the adventures are just as spontaneous and riveting as ever, and Aunt Peg leaves nothing to be desired.
However, as previously mentioned above, the story is a bit rugged. Ginny’s parents are ultimately out of the picture, which seems unplausible. Even Richard, her uncle, is more careless the second time around. I just cannot imagine adults being so irresponsible in this context. As for the other characters, Keith makes his return as a childish annoyance, Ellis is spunky and bubbly, and Oliver is the typical dark-mysterious-brooding guy. They were all mostly characterized by those few traits, and as such, came off a bit cookie-cutter boring.
The biggest surprise for me was Ginny – how very quiet and very indifferent she acts. As the main character, she has very little interaction in the events that take place. Her presence is always there, but it feels as though there’s a sense of her missing, and that was disappointing.
Nevertheless, The Last Little Blue Envelope is jampacked with adventure and sentimentality that rings true. It’s a great read for the beginning of summer, despite the story taking place during the end of December/beginning of January.  And while you aren’t able to hear those British accents, you sure can imagine them – and what’s better than that?

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