The Name of the Star

cover image for The Name of the StarJohnson, Maureen. (2012) The Name of the Star. New York, NY: G. P. Putnum’s Sons

Plot Summary:

Rory’s parents are spending their sabbatical teaching at the The University of Bristol.  So Rory gets to finish up high school at Wexford, a private boarding school in London rather than back home in Louisiana.  After a somewhat rocky start, including getting drafted for the field hockey team and almost choking to death in the dining hall on her third day, Rory settles in and finds her niche. But Rory’s time in England may not end up being the postcard perfect experience she was hoping for.  There’s a killer on the loose in London; someone is copying Jack the Ripper’s kills – and Wexford is right in the center of his favorite hunting grounds.

Critical Evaluation:

Name of the Star is typical MJ: clever, heartfelt, and more than a little bit off (in a good way).  The oddness makes the pacing less perfect that it could be, but it also takes what might have been a very predictable story about supernatural killers and instead keeps readers constantly guessing about who is going to do what next – and why.  Like Johnson herself, the characters have personality to spare, but never come across as larger than life or someone you would only meet in the pages of a book.  Overall, it was quite enjoyable and I very much look forward to the rest of the series – and I think many teens will too.

Reader’s Annotation:

A murderer is on the loose in London, recreating the crimes of the city’s most notorious serial kill: Jack the Ripper – and Rory’s school is right in the middle of his hunting ground.

Author Information:


(if you are not following Johnson on twitter, you should be. She’s hilarious.)



Booktalking Ideas:

This is a good title for “what if?” type questions.  What if you had to go to another school for your last year? What if you started seeing ghosts? etc.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

There is sneaking out, drinking (but legally! well, mostly), and of course murder and supernatural elements.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

All of the other books of Johnson’s that I have read were on the scale of “enjoyable” to “awesome.”



Bad Girls Don’t Die

cover image for Bad Girls Don't DieAlender, Katie. (2009) Bad Girls Don’t Die. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.

Plot Summary:

To say that Alexis and her sister don’t get along would be an understatement.  It doesn’t help that Kasey, always a bit odd, has been acting even weirder lately.  Kasey’s moodiness and obsession with her doll collection are the kinds of thing Alexis can blame on little sisters being little sisters.  But now Kasey can’t seem to remember the weird things that she did, and she’s using words that sounds like they should be coming from someone much older.  And did her eyes just change color?  As much Alexis tries to ignore it, there seems to be something very weird going on.

Critical Evaluation:

I’m not a huge fan of horror novels, so keep that in mind when I say that this story was very well written and kept me on the edge of my seat from the start.It’s hard to write a horror novel for younger adults in which readers actually believe anyone’s little sister is in danger, yet there were times when I wasn’t terribly sure that anyone other than Alexis would make it through.  Alender also does a nice job of having enough roller derby and not too much boyfriend; Carter’s there when you need him, but doesn’t stick around when you don’t – letting the focus be on Kasey and Alexis.

Reader’s Annotation:

Most little sisters do weird things form time to time, but when Kaseys’ eyes change color and her touch burns Alexis’ skin,  Alexis knows something more than just everyday weirdness is going on.


Fantasy and Horror

Booktalking Ideas:

Both the house and Kasey’s actions are downright creepy, I would very much talk about them and ask teens what they would do, where they would turn to if something like this began happening.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

There is a reason why Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark consistently tops ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books.  Kids and teens love horror, but it makes many parents uncomfortable.  On top of the violence there is also the use of motifs that many religious groups find offensive or corrupting, such as curses, ghosts, and other supernatural elements.

Reasons For Choosing This Title:

I’ve got to admit, the cover drew me in.  I knew I needed to read some horror (I’ve read plenty of fantasy) and the cover for this book popped out and caught my eye as I was browsing the bookstore shelves.