A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Diviners is the first in a series by award-winning author Libba Bray, who has set her dark and pulse-quickening novel in Prohibition-era New York City. There's an occultish serial killer at work, and only those touched with supernatural gifts can rally together to try to find him. His killings are deeply disturbing, gory, and ritualistic. There's occasional strong language ("ass," "bitch"), as well as some more creative insults and historically accurate references to "Negroes," "coloreds," and various immigrant groups. This is the 1920s, so there's a lot of sneaking around to speakeasies and jazz clubs to drink and dance into the night, as well as kiss if the mood strikes. Racism and anti-immigrant fervor is explained, and there's a good deal of discussion about the occult, witchcraft, voodoo, and other dark beliefs. But best of all, the book is packed with historical references to the literature, entertainment, politics, and style of the Roaring Twenties.
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What's the story?
It's 1926 and clever 17-year-old Midwesterner Evie O'Neill has been "punished" for her troublemaking antics by being sent to live with her eccentric bachelor Uncle Will in Manhattan. Will runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult along with his handsome but quiet assistant Jericho. Although Evie would "abso-tute-ly" prefer living it up at "swell" speakeasies and movie palaces with her intelligent but plain best friend Mabel, a series of occult-related murders lead her to reveal a secret supernatural gift of hers to help the investigation. But Evie is far from the only young "diviner" in the City. Can THE DIVINERS come together to combat the forces of evil before it's too late?
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Prohibition is such a popular period to capture in books, TV, and films. How does The Diviners incorporate iconic cultural elements of that era, like speakeasies and jazz, with lesser-known historical tidbits?
Does the book make you want to learn more about New York City life in the 1920s?
Do you find the violence upsetting or necessary to further the plot? How is it different from violence in other teen books?
- Author: Libba Bray
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: History, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: September 18, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 608
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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