Libba Bray is one of the most refreshingly unpredictable novelists writing for young adults. She can tackle anything that strikes her fancy, from a send-up of Don Quixote (Going Bovine) to a girl-centered twist on Lord of the Flies (Beauty Queens). Her books, while completely different from one another, each feature her gift for details that are obviously the result of painstaking research. She also has a penchant for creating protagonists, in this case Evie, who are far from the cookie-cutter stereotype of teen girls looking for love or a misfit wallflower with no voice. Evie is loud and chatty, and what she wants, far more than romance (which she's not even bothered with), is adventure, glamour, and kinship.
This is not a book for the faint of heart or for those seeking the easy girl-meets-boy romance. Bray is a sophisticated writer, and her writing demands the reader to pay attention and sometimes cower in fear along with her characters (the multiple points of view include those of the serial killer's victims). There's a ton of slang ("swell" and "say" and "pal-ski," to name just a few) and decade-specific references that may go over many teens' heads, but that's part of the joy of the story. It dares teens to find out if there was such a thing as the Pillar of Fire church commune, the Cotton Club, and Ziegfeld girls (yes, yes, and yes). With a varied and well-drawn cast of characters that range from a Pennsylvania Dutch intellectual to a rakish Russian pickpocket to a handsome Harlem healer, this is a book that requires time to finish (it's more than 600 pages), but it's such a satisfying stand-alone read.