Lair of Dreams: The Diviners, Book 2

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Lair of Dreams: The Diviners, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Engrossing sequel in supernatural series set in '20s NYC.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lair of Dreams is a surprisingly comprehensive survey of New York in the Roaring Twenties. Thoroughly researched, it's full of historical references about everything from popular culture (Tin Pan Alley, the Ziegfeld Follies, jazz clubs, radio shows) to cultural and immigration issues (one character is half-Chinese, half-Irish and lives in Chinatown) to the polio epidemic and the pervasive racism and anti-Semitism of the day. The slang ("horsefeathers," "bees knees," "applesauce"), the clothes, the description of New York City neighborhoods is based on historical fact, so except for the supernatural elements, this is very much a historically accurate, educational novel.

Positive Messages

This story continues to be about identity, friendship, and teamwork. These Diviners all come together with different strengths and weaknesses, and despite their vastly different backgrounds, they bond over defeating a common enemy that threatens the entire city.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Once again, the teens in the book all are fabulously flawed and realistic-seeming and show that adolescence can be hard but also thrilling no matter what the decade. With such detailed characterizations, the various voices represent different kinds of personalities. Henry is breezy and fun but yearns for a lost love who changed his life; Ling acts as if she doesn't need friends but is better once she finds one. Evie is a risk-taking attention hog who realizes there's more to life than having fun; Sam is bold and brash but with a secret vulnerability; Jericho is strong and silent; Memphis has the soul of a troubled poet, as does Theta; Mabel desperately wants to be loved.

Violence

Characters, mostly secondary ones, mysteriously die of a "sleeping sickness" that kills people in their sleep. At first they dream of wonderful things and don't want to wake up, but the moment they want to wake, their dreams to turn to horrific nightmares, and eventually the people die, because they can't escape the horrors of their dream. A big bad character is introduced but not developed enough to be more than a scary bogeyman. A couple of men in suits can kidnap, torture, and kill people. A couple of sad and disturbing deaths are described.

Sex

An interracial, gay love story is told in flashbacks to the young men meeting, falling in love, and making love. The love scenes aren't explicit, but it's clear they had sex many times. Three other couples kiss, although only one couple goes as far as making out. A young woman is depicted as bisexual, expressing interest first in a boy and later another girl. Characters refer to downtown prostitution and "easy" show girls. An unnamed couple tries to get some privacy in a hotel room, but the room is already taken. Characters deal with attraction and overwhelming desire.

Language

In the '20s, people didn't curse as openly, so the novel contains mostly period-specific exclamations such as "horsefeathers," "applesauce," and very infrequent use of "s--t," "damn," "ass," and "Jesus!" African-American people were commonly called "Negroes," "coloreds," and the Chinese "yellow menace," "yellow," "Chinaman," "Chink."

Consumerism

Coca-Cola, Pears Soap.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Evie drinks a lot and often gets drunk, to the point that her friends believe she has a problem, because she can't go a night without getting drunk. Many of the characters smoke cigarettes. Other characters smoke and drink, and the Chinatown opium dens are mentioned, as is a story about a young Chinese woman lured into the country under false pretenses and who becomes an opium-addicted prostitute.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lair of Dreams is the long-awaited second installment in award-winning author Libba Bray's four-book urban paranormal Diviners series. As in the first book, which was released in 2012, this sequel is set in 1920s New York City and follows the group of young "Diviners" (characters with supernatural abilities ranging from clairvoyance and healing to lucid dreaming and fire manipulation) as they struggle with a new villain who's killing people in their dreams. The violence is slightly less creepy and frightening in this book than in its predecessor, and the villain is a bit less horrifying. But there's still a significant body count, as well as descriptions of widespread racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia. Teens drink in speakeasies and clubs (one character has a drinking problem), smoke cigarettes, and deal with heartbreaks and longing (one character vividly remembers his first love). The book's characters are extremely diverse: They're from a range of racial and ethnic heritages, including Chinese, Irish, Jewish, German, African-American, New Orleans Creole, as well as sexual orientations and religions. Not only does this book promote multiculturalism, it also teaches quite a bit about 1920s NYC.

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What's the story?

LAIR OF DREAMS picks up a few months after the events of The Diviners, but don't expect a lot of exposition to catch you up. The story delves right back in to a world where many diviners have outed themselves and their supernatural powers. Evie is now making a name for herself reading people's objects on a radio show; Mabel still has a crush on Jericho, who in turn is still in love with Evie, who ends up having a "fake" romance with Sam to please her fans. Showgirl Theta is still with Harlem-dwelling poet Memphis, who can heal people, but she has yet to admit she's a firestarter to anyone. Her best friend, songwriter Henry, however, is the book's real star. His lucid dreaming gives him a unique perspective on a "sleeping sickness" that's going around the city: People stay in a coma-like state after falling asleep and never wake up. But his motives for dreaming are that he's looking for the dreams of his long-lost beloved, Louie. Henry is not the only lucid dreamer in Manhattan, however. Downtown in Chinatown, half-Irish, half-Chinese Ling also can walk in other people's dreams, but she usually only meets the dead. This young band of diviners must team up to figure out what otherworldly creature is causing the sleep sickness before one of them succumbs to it.

Is it any good?

This is an epic period paranormal tale with characters who are complicated, flawed, and human, even if they can see the past, heal the sick, speak with ghosts, or control people's minds. It's a story about teamwork, friendship, and love -- all kinds of love. Author Libba Bray is the David Simon (creator of The Wire and Treme) of young adult literature. She specializes in super diverse ensemble dramas rooted in a particular city in which she immerses the reader without condescending to explain every little place, event, or historical fact. This continues to be the most fascinating historical portrayal of New York City in all of YA, and any reader who doesn't finish it captivated by the melting pot of New York wasn't reading properly. It's a long book, and there is a big cast of characters and a lot going on, but the strength of Bray's storytelling will keep readers interested the whole way through -- even if they can't read it in one sitting.

The characterization is so deep there's no way not to have favorites. In this particular installment, Ling, Henry, and Sam stand out, while Jericho and Mabel, whose love parallelogram with Sam and Evie takes a backseat, don't get a whole lot of page time. Same with Theta and Memphis. Henry in particular steals the show with his heartbreaking story line. He pines for his first and only true love -- a talented young Creole jazz musician he met on a New Orleans riverboat -- and wants nothing more than to reconnect with him. Ling, meanwhile, is direct to the point of bluntness and not especially sociable, but her purely platonic friendship with Henry is the sweetest thing about the book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the '20s is such a popular period to capture in books, TV, and films. How does Lair of Dreams incorporate well-known aspects of the time period with more obscure facts about '20s New York?

  • What do you think of multiple-point-of-view narratives? Why does the author focus on some characters more than others? Why might it be better to tell this story from so many perspectives rather than one central protagonist?

  • The book is incredibly diverse and features a variety of LGBTQ, disabled, religious. and racial minorities in the cast of characters. What did you learn about one of these groups from Bray's story?

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