The Diviners #1
Release Date: September 18, 2012 (UK)
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.
And this is why I love The Diviners as much as I do. This is a story about a flawed, brilliant, beautiful girl who struggles with a bone deep insecurity and a broken heart that she hides; a story about a heartbreakingly tragic black teenager growing up in a poor community while trying to take care of his family, all the while falling in love with a white girl during a time when interracial relationships were unthinkable; a story about the horrors that hide in the dark, preying on those no-one would notice were gone, the darkness touching those the newspapers would never print stories about. How often can you say you've read a book about a pretty girl who likes to kiss boys and get drunk and yet is still vulnerable and layered? Evie's voice in the novel is utterly tragic; she manages to be cynical, funny and larger than life while never losing that lonely yearning in her character; how she can't escape how inadequate and alone she feels.
Dean Memphis, who is another of the main characters, is a black teenager living in Harlem - a community that largely lies under the poverty line. He runs numbers for the local gangster because it pays, writes poetry in his spare time, and takes care of his little brother Sam, who comes with his own set of problems, because he promised his dying mother that he'd watch out take for care of him Sammy.
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.