Sometimes it is INCREDIBLY hard to begin a review for a book you loved by an author you have totally fangirled in real life. Do I tell you lovely readers about my first experience reading a Libba Bray book — about how I saw the corset cover in the library, immediately took it out and devoured A Great And Terrible Beauty within a span of a few hours, then took to the internet in the days of livejournal, totally bereft at no information on the next book? Do I tell you about that one time I met Bray at a Scholastic party and told her about how big of a fan my sister is and she spoke to her on the phone? Do I tell you about hearing her sing at the Little Brown speakeasy party in June? Or do I just get right down to business and tell you that despite my best efforts to nibble away at The Diviners, I ended up gulping it down instead of prolonging the experience. Right now, I can say to all of you that of all of Libba’s books that I’ve read, The Diviners is hands down my favorite.
Set in New York City in the 1920s, The Diviners by Libba Bray features a cast of characters that I’d consider to be the cat’s pajamas. Evie, is the main character. She’s a total flapper and pretty much my new idol. She gets sent away from her super boring Ohio town after some trouble involving her secret skill. Lucky for Evie, she’s sent to New York City to live with her Uncle Will who runs an Occult museum. Evie is totally psyched about New York, especially about the fashions and the parties. She ends up super close with Theta, who is a Ziegfield girl which means she’s a star on stage. Then there’s Sam, who is a pickpocket and gets on the wrong side of Evie. AND OH MY GOODNESS, Memphis, a numbers runner who lives in Harlem and hopes to be a poet someday. There’s a rash of murders involving occult signs, and Uncle Will must investigate. Evie finds herself dragged in as well. SO MUCH HAPPENS YOU GUYS, but it is not at all confusing, but well developed, which in my head made me go +1 to big books.
I think that when you take on a setting such as New York City in the 1920, you really have to do a good job by the setting and make it almost a character. I love it when authors actually take advantage of the setting and use it to draw me, the reader, into the story. The Diviners really makes The Jazz Age in NYC come alive. Seriously, if you close your eyes you can almost hear Count Basie coming out of the pages. Libba Bray weaves so many cool elements of the 1920s into her writing, from the slang to the flapper movement and EVEN includes the Harlem Renaissance, which as a totally history nerd, I appreciated. More Harlem Renaissance, please, dear authors. Y’all, this book positively roars with time and place and I think if you are at all like me, as a reader, you’ll fully appreciate it.
Perhaps the best part about The Diviners, is that Libba Bray’s characters really just inhabit the book and I fell in love with all of the good ones. There’s Evie who I mentioned in the plot re-cap. Friends, I want to make Evie my BFF. She is a lady after my own heart. She’s headstrong, impulsive, courageous. She has great hair with fashion to boot. She makes fun of Prohibition. And okay, while she’s a little bit selfish sometimes, when push comes to shove she has the backs of her friends and family, and that’s something I absolutely admire.
Memphis, ugh, one abbreviation for you: ILY. Y’all, Memphis is one of the other main characters. He lives with his religious aunt and his brother Isaiah. Memphis has a special skill much like Evie does, which will eventually come to play in The Diviners and kind of blew my mind a little. With him, we get a special glimpse at the Harlem Renaissance and the art scene coming out at the time. It’s utterly fantastic. PLUS OMG, Memphis is kind of a looker and there’s a kissing scene and it’s magical.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the glamorous Theta. Only, she’s got more than her looks and talent going on. Theta is a hard working Ziegfield girl, and let’s just say she really earns that money and steals the show. I looked forward to every chapter featuring Theta and have decided I want to be her when I grow up. Also, Theta is carrying around a few secrets of her own.
The atmosphere of The Diviners really pops. Not only do we have the great and fascinating history of the 1920s, but the mood. It’s young and exciting and scary and terrifying all wrapped up in a ball. I mean, if you go visit my interview with Memphis, you can actually see the trailer with the kids singing about Naughty John who kills people with his apron on. Naughty John totally makes an appearance and it is gruesome and legit gave me goosebumps. I LOVED IT. This is totally a book that transcends place. I mean, I read this in my boring old home, in my boring old room, during some boring hot days and found myself completely swept away and could practically hear the honks of model Ts and swinging jazz music. I found myself getting the chills while reading the scary parts. I love that, I love feeling such a strong atmosphere.
I keep mentioning this but The Diviners is my favorite of Libba Bray’s work so far, and I think it really shows her growth and experience as a writer. There are SWOONS. There are the arts. There are ghosts. There are POWERS AT WORK. There are flappers. There are unflappable characters. There is the Prohibition. There is folklore. This book doesn’t even shy away from the harsh parts of the 1920s, like racism and fear of communists. It is AMAZING, that’s all. I highly recommend it so long as you can handle the challenge of a big book.
Disclosure: Received at the Little Brown party during BEA.
Other reviews of The Diviners by Libba Bray:
Bibliophilic Monologues – “The breadth of the novel is immense but it delivered”