Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Diviners

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I almost passed this one by. 1920s? New York? Eh, cool, but not really my thing. But I kept being drawn back in by The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult- and I'm really, really glad.

This book has pretty nearly everything I love. It captures the chilly, haunting, exhilarating feeling of fall. It's bursting with lore, legends, creepiness, urban legends, folklore, and mythology. The historical setting is fully realized, vibrant, detailed, and dovetails perfectly with the plot and characters. Bray could have chosen any setting, but the frantic energy of New York City between the World Wars, full of dream chasers, immigrants, the haves and have nots, the old and the new, is crucial to the story. There are murderers, psychics, flappers, professors, doomsday cults and newsies. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely connected to a full set of diverse, complex, unique characters, and was as invested in their stories as the plot. 

Speaking of which, the plot is fantastic. Despite a length of 575 pages, I never felt tempted to skip ahead. Instead, I would go back and re-read passages to soak up all the prose and to make sure I didn't miss any clues to a character's past or the mystery unfolding. It never seemed like things were moving too slowly, and Bray almost perfectly balanced the tricky task of answering some questions while leading the reader to ask others. 

Finally, Bray gets massive kudos from me for pulling one of the hardest feats in young adult literature- writing an authentic, believable, lovable and strong female protagonist. I'm more than a little in love with Evie right now. She's feisty, resourceful, clever, reckless, caring, vulnerable and strong all at the same time. So many books I've read this year have had passable but not incredibly memorable characters-  Hemlock, Under the Never Sky, Cinder- but The Diviners is different. Evie is phenomenal, and I found myself caring very nearly as much about gentle giant Jericho, an aspiring Harlem poet/healer named Memphis, wild child Theta, and others.

Do not miss this book. 

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