Title: The Diviners by Libba Bray
Release date: September 18th 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age group: Young adult
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade rate: D-
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-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.
I've tried to like Libba Bray's writing. I really have. I've re ad a couple of her books now, but after The Diviners, I can't say I'd be willing to give any of them another try.
I love complex books as much as the next person, and I've never shied away from reading long books (and this book is LONG, at over six hundred pages and weighing a literal ton). Reading The Diviners, however, it's apparent that Bray set out and sat down to write a Great American Novel. Her ambition is admirable but unfortunately in her drive to write something that will be remembered as a whole, she forgets about the little things. Like having a good plot. And good characters.
Maybe I'm the only one, but when I was about a quarter of the way through this book, I could see how well Bray had showcased her writing and knowledge, but I suddenly realized how stereotypical her characters were. She squeezes every female character into the image of a Roaring Twenties flapper even though elementary school kids know that it represents about 1% of the population at the time (and don't even get me started on the boys in this book!). Evie is shallow and narrow-minded. She cares about image too much and people's feelings too little. It's funny, you can almost see her fitting the modern stereotype of teenage girls, too - instead of obsessing over Instagram filters or wondering how she's going to watch the next episode of Jersey Shore and get a facial at the same time, however, all she can think about is impressing her friends and drinking dizzy water and, well, getting dizzy from it. She's nothing but a socialite, and while that may be indicative of the social class Bray has put her in, I just wished there was something more in that empty head of hers -something that would have helped me like her. Even her 'emotional' backstory fails to elicit a response from the reader, and I was disappointed by that.
The background characters, too, are vacant and vapid. There are so many of them, in fact, that they all just start to blur together. I couldn't tell any of Evie's friends apart. I wanted to like the lead characters of the subplots featured in the book - Memphis and Theta in particular - but by the time you've finally shaken off Evie's boundless talent for irritating all who read her, this isn't the kind of book that puts you in the mood for forgiveness.
I can't deny that Bray has fabulous command of American history - she captures the era of The Diviners as though she witnessed it herself. I may not have enjoyed the rest of the book, but this I could understand; history seems so real through the lens of this book. (Though if I hear another sentence including the word 'pos-i-tute-ly!' I think I might throw this book at the wall and leave it there.)
There are the beginnings of a good plot, too, with a strong, creepy tone and mysteriously spooky undercurrents - I have to admit that Naughty John is a hideously horrifying villain - but it too is swallowed up by the all-consuming presence that is the book's mammoth narrative, making it hard to follow and even harder to enjoy. Worse still, this book is the start of a series, so as a reader you know that any detail could be of vital importance - and Libba Bray certainly spends enough time jumping around from scene to scene and random character to random character to confirm this suspicion. I just didn't have the energy or the patience for the stop-start flow of the narrative.
In short: stronger readers than I have quailed under the almighty failings of The Diviners, and now I know why. There are parts of the book that glimmer with brilliance, but others that seem pointless and irritating. It's not a series I'm personally keen to finish, but if you like Libba Bray, it's definitely for you.