Series: The Diviners #1
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Add it: Goodreads
It's 1920s New York City. It's flappers and Follies, jazz and gin. It's after the war but before the depression. And for certain group of bright young things it's the opportunity to party like never before.
For Evie O'Neill, it's escape. She's never fit in in small town Ohio and when she causes yet another scandal, she's shipped off to stay with an uncle in the big city. But far from being exile, this is exactly what she's always wanted: the chance to show how thoroughly modern and incredibly daring she can be.
But New York City isn't about just jazz babies and follies girls. It has a darker side. Young women are being murdered across the city. And these aren't crimes of passion. They're gruesome. They're planned. They bear a strange resemblance to an obscure group of tarot cards. And the New York City police can't solve them alone.
Evie wasn't just escaping the stifling life of Ohio, she was running from the knowledge of what she could do. She has a secret. A mysterious power that could help catch the killer - if he doesn't catch her first.
Hey, so you know I occasionally have this problem where I read a book and then fall so deeply in love with it that I attempt to convince everyone to read it because it’s just that good? Well, this doesn’t happen very often (pretty sure the last novel I obsessively tried to get everyone to read was Code Name Verity) but, and I just cannot emphasise this enough, The Diviners, by Libba Bray, is just fantastic. I don’t know how to put into words how much I was overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance of this novel but I’m going to try since I need all of you to read it and then join me in the frankly torturous wait for the sequel (April 2014 according to Goodreads). The synopsis of the book actually does a pretty good job of laying out the bare bones of the storyline so I won’t touch on it very much because ~spoilers~
Okay, so before I talk about the novel specifically, I want to address why I have a deep appreciation for YA as a genre, and why I’m so thankful it exists. YA, although it undeniably has some ridiculous popular tropes and marketing ploys, is basically the only genre with more or less fair representation. If you’re looking for a novel with LGBT themes, or a book about a girl saving herself, or a series which has POCs as either the protagonist or part of the main group of characters, YA is the only genre which has books with one or more of these things within their pages. And in a world which still has an infuriating amount of hostility in it, be it homophobia or sexism, I find YA so comforting not just for myself, but for the kids growing up today who will pick up these books and be able to see themselves in characters. Yes, there are a lot of problems within the genre which have been recognised time and again but when it’s good, it’s staggeringly so.
It’s wonderful to me that out of all the characters she could have written, Libba Bray chose to write from the POV of the kind of female character who is usually ignored in favour of the ‘every girl’ as well as include the rich history of African Americans through the eyes of a black teenager. Although Evie and Memphis are very obviously my favourite characters, there are more who are just as well written and as nuanced. Jericho, Sam, Theta and Mabel are all brilliant in their own ways, each adding their own voice to the book.
All of this set against the brilliantly vibrant backdrop of 1920s America; the Jazz Age. It is very hard to capture the mood of this particular era, but Libba Bray managed to weave the glitz and the glamour with the undertones of a growing bitterness and disillusionment found in the people; Evie’s poignant monologue about her brother and by extension, the young boys of her generation marching off to fight a war in the name of God and Country, never to come home again, is genuinely one of the most upsetting, yet beautifully written passages I’ve ever read in a novel. The writing and tone of the novel perfectly encapsulates the mood of a time just after a devastating war and before the Great Depression. Bray includes references to Hitler in Europe, the growing popularity of the Ku Klux Clan in the US and these, among other inclusions, prove just how well researched the novel is.
This review is an essay already but I want to also mention the horror aspect of this book. It is genuinely creepy and downright terrifying at some points. Naughty John is the kind of scary that creeps up on you; Bray builds him up in such a way that he starts out being somewhat unsettling to giving-you-goosebumps kind of freaky to utterly fucking batshit get this book away from me. He has a rhyme that he hums, a whistling tune you will find yourself hearing in your head at night, one that his victims hear as he moves noiselessly in the shadows behind them. Y’all, this book delves into the occult and dark magic, so like, keep a light on while you read, okay.
Basically, you should read this book. Because it is flawless.