Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray

How did I get it: The library. I ordered a copy for my YA collection.

Why did I read it: I saw the book trailer while I was attending School Library Journal’s SummerTeen Conference. I liked the spooky vibe, and I couldn’t resist a book about supernatural crimes in 1920s New York.

Summary: 

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.

Review:  In most respects, I am glad I did and –although the book is on the long side for a Young Adult novel– I finished it in no time. The setting seemed very believable to me and the chapters from the point of view of Naughty John’s victims were tragic and creepy. Similarly, I liked the gruesome nature of the evil demonic killer that the characters faced against. I also loved the way real bits of history were used to provide proof for more fascinatingly ficticious concepts. I was very pleased by the range of character types, personalities, and motivations. And I think the focus on friendships, relationships, and abilities rather than strong romantic themes was a really excellent choice.

That said, I was not a fan of the main character Evie O’Neill or the overwhelming use of 1920s slang. Neither aspect soured my reading experience too terribly, but I would say they’re both something to be aware of.

My problem with Evie is the sort of issue I have with any book focused on girls (or women) that have a lot of growing up left to do. I get why there are characters like this in and outside of YA fiction… but when I was a teen and now that I am an adult… I had/have zero interest in selfish girls/women who are very caught up on being clever and expect to be granted way more leeway than they give to others. Which is why I have been having one heck of a time finishing books and reviewing them but I digress. I suspect Evie will grow out of it as the series progresses, but in book 1? She is a bit of a pill and irksome.

Bray definitely provides the reader with ample insight into why Evie is so focused on herself. As the book opens, Evie is really struggled with coming to grips with the loss of her brother and acting out in really bad ways to get whatever attention she can. Yet the ways in which Evie uses her powers and treats other people during the bulk of the book occasionally made it difficult for me to muster up a great deal of sympathy for most of the plights she personally had. Thankfully, The Diviners is not only told through Evie’s view point but also from that of many other minor and major characters. So although the chief protagonist was a bit of a let down to say the least, her short-comings were overshadowed significantly by characters I do care about such as Sam Lloyd, Jericho, Henry, Theta, Memphis, Issac, and Uncle Will.

The one other issue I had with the book is I found myself being constantly jerked out of the moment by the relentless use of slang. A friend of mine made the observation that 1920s slang in of itself is sort of ridiculous and a little jarring since very little of it is used today. I’d agree with that. I even think it explains some of the reasons why I found the new bits of vocab to be terribly distracting. The problem is that, like salad dressing, a little bit of slang goes a long way. In the case of The Diviners, I am sure the abundance of slang was meant to serve as some kind of historical street cred that would convince the reader that the book takes place in the 1920s and was well thought-out. Instead all the slang ended up acting as more of a hindrance and, oftentimes, really irritating, incredibly unnecessary  window-dressing.

In conclusion, and despite some quips, I very much enjoyed The Diviners. It’s definitely a great book for fans of Historical fiction with a strong supernatural element. In terms of the 1920s YA fiction, I personally will continue to push Anna Godbersen first and foremost, but I certainly would suggest The Diviners as well.

How I would rate it: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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2 Responses to Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

  1. Excellent review. BTW … I love that book cover.

  2. Interesting. I think I might have heard of this one somewhere. Thanks for you thoughts on it. 🙂

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