Happy Halloween! Also, sweet Samhain, if that’s more your thing. Dear readers, my personal life may be going up in flames as I write this, and there is a really good chance that I’ll start November literally living under a bridge like a really well-read troll (serves me right, I guess, after all those hobo jokes… c’mon, it’s a funny word!), but if nothing else is left to me, at least I have today. At least we all have today. The economy is shite, violent conflicts are waging across far too much of this planet, and the weather is alarmingly reminiscent of a History Channel documentary about the coming Mayan apocolypse, but today, my friends, today, life is good.
Yes, Boromir. Yes, it is.
Because today is Halloween. And it is physically impossible to be unhappy today. Here in the hellish suburb in which I currently reside, the skies are dark grey, the rain-slicked pavement is as pretty as the jet stone in a Victorian widow’s brooch, and everywhere rotting leaves, oddly beautiful in their fiery hues, serve the dual purpose of being festive reminders of the season and also making any attempt at walking in heels an utter nightmare. It’s Halloween, the time of year when we are not only allowed to embrace the dark and grim and horrifying things in life, to dress up and pretend to be someone else, to wander the world beneath that lovely old moon and demand candy from strangers who will ACTUALLY THEN GIVE US CANDY – hell, we are expected to do these things. And that is just awesome. I don’t care if you’re five, fifteen, fifty, or a hundred years old, today, just be happy. I’m going to try, anyway.
Enough yammering on, let’s get to the book, shall we? I know that’s what you’re waiting for. Today, it’s Libba Bray’s The Diviners.
The Story: It’s 1926 – what more do I need to say? It’s the heart of the Jazz Age, Prohibition’s in full swing, and the bright young things rule the world. Every Sheik and Sheba is living life to the fullest with a drink in her hand, Fitzgerald’s scribbling away, and the Harlem Renaissance is challenging established cultural hegemony with its dazzling explosion of African-American literature, music, art and philosophy. There’s also women’s suffrage, the fight for workers’ rights, and the Ziegfield follies. In the thick of it all is Evie, sent from small-town Ohio to the bright lights of New York City to escape an awkward situation, and loving every minute of her supposed banishment. While she might not get along perfectly with her aloof Uncle Will, curator of the Museum of American Folkore, Superstition and the Occult, she adores living in the same building as her bestie buddy Mabel, and soon finds a new pair of pals in Theta, a true-blue flapper, and Hen, a brilliant pianist, both as glamorous as they are mysterious. Even the irritating pickpocket Sam and Will’s solemn assistant Jericho can’t bring Evie down – until a girl is found brutally murdered, beginning a series of gruesome killings that rock New York. When Will is called in to advise police on the odd occult symbols found at the murder scenes, Evie realizes that she might have to acknowledge the secret talent that got her sent away from home in the first place. Evie can read objects; she can hold a button and know what its owner had for breakfast, and a whole lot more. And Evie’s not the only one with a trick or two up her sleeve. Harlem numbers runner Memphis is struggling with his own gifts, trying to keep his younger brother safe and figure out why there’s a crow dogging his footsteps and why his dead mother keeps appearing in his dreams with words of warning…
Whoah. So, first of all, apologies for that monster of a plot summary. This book is freaking massive, and there are dozens of seemingly disparate storylines (that eventually converge in a brilliant finale, I might add), so a pithy summation is difficult, but I did try. Also, I’m… kind of speechless. I absolutely, positively, straight up LOVE it. This will probably come as a surprise to no one but me – as far as I can tell, everyone in the world loves Libba Bray, including ALA and YALSA. I don’t know how I missed that memo, especially because I am kind of a librarian. AWKWARD. But anyway.
Confession: I am mildly obsessed with the Roaring Twenties. This is my decade, the one I would time-travel back to if I wandered into Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (God, Hemingway was hot in that movie). As far as I’m concerned, I was born in the wrong era of history. I want to be a flapper, with rebellious shorn locks and scandalously short dresses and a talent for dancing, drinking, and dazzling the gents.
Oh, I’m meant to be reviewing this book, aren’t I? Okay, here goes: THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. READ IT. NOW.
No, but seriously. The story is impeccable. Flawless. I can’t think of a single thing I might have improved. The use of the supernatural felt truly fresh, when for a while it seemed that YA was to be inundated with the same old vampires and werewolves forever and ever, amen. Add to this the time and setting, which I felt was truly innovative – please more supernatural historical-fiction! – and a perfectly paced, truly suspenseful plot full of genuine surprises, thrills, and quite a few chills (I sometimes couldn’t read this book before bed, because I am that much of a baby), and you have what I like to call a perfect storm of awesomeness.
The characters are, in the words of Coffee Talk’s Linda Richman, LIKE BUTTAH. Flawed, fascinating, utterly charming, each of them felt real, complex, and vulnerable (except for the villain, who was scary bananas). Bray is a master of shifting point of views. The transitions were effortless, and each character’s perspective was distinct from the others’.
And don’t even get me started on the writing itself. Sweet baby Thor, this is what you call WRITING. The incorporation of ’20s slang was ingenious, elegantly done, and hilarious. Oh, and Libba Bray is a FREAKING POET, a queen among wordsmiths. This is prose at its best, the kind of writing that makes you stop and re-read passages and shake your head in awe and envy, the kind of writing you insist on reading aloud to everyone in the vicinity, even if they have no idea what you’re going on about because it’s the end of the world and no one has time for YA. The kind of writing that makes you want to rage at a world where books are relegated to arbitrary categories based on age when really everyone should just read everything.
Damn. And sigh.
Please please please read this book. It will make you happy. And then I will be happy.
Best line(s): The wind part of the prologue. You’ll see. Okay, here’s a bit: “The wind swoops over the tenements on Orchard Street, where some of those starry-eyed dreams have died and yet other dreams are being born into squalor and poverty, an uphill climb.” (p. 6). Man, this is GOLD.
Rating: Five out of five bob-and-shingle haircuts. Which I got. Because of this book. That’s how much I love this book. It does not look good on me, what with my Angelica Huston-esque handsome bones, but hey, I’m so happy anticipating the next book in this series that I don’t even care.