06 September 2013

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners by Libba Bray
The Diviners #1
Release Date: September 18, 2012 (UK)
Publisher: Atom
Source: Bought
Rating: 5/5

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. - Goodreads

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.


  1. I'm a little intimidated by the size of this book honestly! But I really do want to read it some time! :)
    I haven't read a book yet that's set in the 20's but I'll probably end up starting with this one! :)

  2. I'm also intimidated by the size of this book. I've read maybe 1/4 of it so far ! I do think you are right this book does encompass what the YA genre can offer. Great review !

  3. I've heard so many great things about The Diviners! I really want to read it

  4. Anyone feeling intimidated about the size of The Diviners should be ashamed of themselves BECAUSE IT IS ENTIRELY WORTH IT. After all, do we not read for enjoyment? I don't think size matters as long you're enjoying what you're reading. And every page is pure enjoyment to read, from the beginning to the very end.

    I'm glad you loved it too, Amber! Because URGHHH this has book has everything.

  5. This book was brilliant. Loved Evie, Sam, Jericho...basically everyone (except for the evil guy). ~Pam

  6. I got this out from the library but haven't read it yet but will be doing so now that I've read your review. This sounds SOOO good!

    Great review, Amber!

  7. So, if I wasn't planning on reading this book in the first place, I'd add it to my GR now. I really like the sound of it. The characters and the setting sound great!

  8. I just finished reading this book!!! and oh my goodness I loved it! It was so good and I am counting down the days till the sequel comes out!!!! Have you read her other books? A great and terrible beauty! I loved that one as well! Jericho and Evie were my favorites and I can't wait to see what happens to all the relationships in the next one! Great review by the way! My thoughts exactly on this book!

  9. Yes! I loved The Diviners! Even though it is a pretty big book I just flew through it. There were parts where I thought it was a bit too bloated and I had some issues with contradictory behaviour/characterisation, but overall it definitely became a favourite. I only regret not waiting until Lair of Dreams was released!

  10. Lovely review! I also really enjoyed reading The Diviners. Like you said, it was incredibly well-researched. And while I'm not sure that books for other audience levels outside of YA aren't necessarily any more or less accepting of fair representation, I have read a lot of books recently that do deal with people from so many different walks of life. In any other book, Evie would probably be portrayed as the mean or slutty girl, so I appreciated Bray's choices in her characterization (even if Evie did get on my nerves occasionally).

  11. I've had this on my shelf for far too long unread. I keep reading amazing reviews too, so I don't know what I'm doing waiting! Really must get to this book. By the end of the year, that's my plan.

  12. Awesome review! I got this a few weeks back but still haven't cracked it open! I'm really excited now!


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