The Diviners Libba Bray Book Review

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.

the diviners Libba Bray Book Cover

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:

Fiction Folio – “so much intricate detail and in-depth plot development that you can’t help but get swept up in it

Bibliophilic Monologues – “The breadth of the novel is immense but it delivered

About April (Books&Wine)

April is 28 years old and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. In her free time she can be found reading, working out, or eating junk food. She often wears her sunglasses at night.

Comments

  1. I love reading your reviews! You are so bubbly and energetic! Your passion for a story really bleeds through and thanks to that, I have another exciting series to add to my to-read list. Thanks April!

  2. I’ve only read Beauty Queens, and I LOVED the audio of it. I’ll definitely have to check out this one! (I also mean to check out her Great and Terrible Beauty Trilogy, but haven’t gotten a chance yet… so I should get on that).

  3. I really didn’t like A Great and Terrible Beauty. I wanted to. My mom and sis loved it, but the main character did some crazy things I just didn’t think she’d do, and it ruined it for me.

    BUT – I’ve wondered what this book is about. I saw the long-ass line at BEA and wondered then, but I couldn’t really get a grasp on it. Thanks for the review. This sounds so good. I love that historical fiction is making a comeback in MG and YA.

  4. My mom is dropping off my copy on Saturday and I’m all sjfkdljflksdjfsl excited.

  5. EEEEE. OMG. I need to read this straight away apparently. You know my love for the 20’s and I know YOUR love for AG&TB sooo if this is your fave…it’s gotta be good! Plus that blurb from Tara makes me excited too!

  6. folklore…flappers…pickpockets…kissing scenes! my head – it is spinning. I have this downloaded on my Kindle, and I’m pretty sure I need to get to it ASAP.

  7. So I will be reading this soon, thus I just read your intro, which was fab as usual and I have THINGS to say about that.

    1) Libba Bray called your sister and talked to her because you told Libba what a fan she was?!?! That is amazing. Libba has gone up in my estimation! (Not that I had a bad opinion of her or anything, but that’s way cool!)

    2) SPEAKEASY EVENT? I WANT TO GO TO THERE.

    3) Your favorite thus far? Ooooh. ANTICIPATION. (no breathing)

  8. I have this book from ALA and then my finished copy arrived and I still haven’t read it. Must get on it!

  9. I have been eyeing this one since BEA and I have been a little scared because 1. It’s so BIG and 2. It’s a series and I just don’t know if I can take that kind of longing right now!!! (Thanks a lot, Marissa Meyer!!) Let me just tell you, this review changed my mind. I can’t lie and feel that I must tell you that upon reading “PLUS OMG, Memphis is kind of a looker and there’s a kissing scene and it’s magical.” I was like “I AM READING THIS SO VERY SOON!!!” Because KISSING!! and a LOOKER!! But also? KISSING!

    I can’t wait for this!!

  10. OMG! I just got this in the mail today and seriously the 1920’s NYC is like one of my favorite time periods!! I am so excited to read this book. When I opened it I was like “WHOA this is huge!”, but I can’t wait to dive in! After reading your review I am about to pick it up right this second! Fantastic review!!

  11. For as much love as you have for this book, I feel like a HUGE DORK because I haven’t read one of Libba’s books yet. I do have The Diviners on my bookshelf, but dang. There’s something about historical fiction that like MUST PULL ME IN and I’m pretty sure you’ve convinced me this one will. 🙂 Great review, April!

  12. Ahh!! You know those books you’re almost afraid to read because your expectations are so high? That’s me and The Diviners. I’m so happy to hear it’s your favorite work of Libba Bray’s. I’ve read all of her books so far, and I’ve really liked all of them, but I’ve never totally fallen in love. And yet there’s something about this one, the way you describe the setting, the characters, and the creepiness just captivate me and I keep thinking ‘this could be the one’. I’ll probably stare it down a while longer before I’m ready to make that first step.

  13. Sounds like a really good book! I always love the sound of Libba’s books but I admit I’m always a little intimidated by their size!
    Still I’m going to try to read this one.

  14. I am a new follower from The Book Smugglers. One of my favorite poems is Gabriela Mistral’s Sleep close to me.

  15. I’ve actually only liked, not loved, the Libba Bray books I’ve read so far, but The Diviners sounds totally up my street. The 1920’s, murders, the occult…*shiver*. I’m getting more excited about this one by the moment.

  16. Okay, you have sealed the deal. I NEED this book like right now! I think it shall be my next purchase.

  17. WAIT. This is your FAVORITE Libba book? Like, even more so than the AG&TB books? Holy shit. WHY haven’t I read this yet?!?! (Other than it’s huge and ominous and frighteningly intimidating?) Can I quit life for like 2 days to read it straight through?

  18. A few people have told me I need to read some of her books. My friend Jackie that you met is actually one of them, and she’s reading this one right now.

    I love when an Author can make a place a character and when the book puts off a mood. I live for that feeling, being sucked into a novel and wrapped up in its’ atmosphere Thank goodness for book friends because everyone else just looks at me like I’m crazy.

    Yay magica kissing scene, sign me up and woo hoo to flappers!! I love flapper dresses. I wore one in a musical production we did in highschool.

  19. This book, dude, it was an intense experience. Naughty John scared the shit out of me. And I liked it. :\ I kinda wanted Evie and Memphis to have some time together but I like the way it turned out anyway. I can’t wait for the second one, man. I really can’t.

  20. I really wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about but I love your review of this book and I downloaded the 11 chapter sampler to give it a try. I really liked A Great and Terrible Beauty but had no desire to read Going Bovine and still haven’t read Beauty Queens. This book may be right up my alley though. Thanks for your review!

  21. Your FAVORITE Libba Bray book? I am expected to choose between starting this and Crown of Embers? Life is cruel! I am so glad you enjoyed this one though! I love the Roaring 20s (THE GREAT GATSBY!<3) and I'm sooo excited to pick this one up. Memphis and Evie sounds like characters I am simply going to love and I cannot WAIT to meet them. Fabulous review, April! You've made me even more eager to read this one than before! 😀

  22. I saw Libba at Politics & Prose here in DC last week, and everything she said about the book sounded awesome. Also, she read from her 5th grade masterpiece… and was all-around hilarious. I need to pick this one up. Soon!

  23. Excellent review. This was a hard book for me to review because it did have so much going on, but I agree. It wasn’t confusing and was very rich and detailed. I felt exactly the same way…that I could hear the traffic and music. I did love how she seamlessly combined so much information. Not just with the plot but with politics and the social system.

Trackbacks

  1. […] be a flapper. This notion is purely based on the things I’ve read in YA books. After reading The Diviners by Libba Bray, I sort of felt as though I NEEDED to read more 1920s-set books and I had the […]

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