I absolutely loved this glittering, creepy, magical romp through 1920s New York. It centers on Evie O’Neil, who is sent to live with her uncle in Manhattan after causing trouble in her Ohio hometown, thanks to her ability to read people’s secrets from objects belonging to them.
Evie is a sixteen year old in search of a good time in the big city, but what she gets is a lot more than fun. Her uncle Will runs the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies, about the history of the occult in America. When a series of supernatural killings puts the city into an uproar, Evie is caught up in the fray.
This book is such a fantastic blend of historical details and and interesting and well-thought out magical elements. Evie isn’t the only one with a supernatural gift. There’s a diverse cast of characters, mostly teenagers, all with their own supernatural powers. It’s a book that felt beautifully real. 1920s New York, with its speakeasies and jazz clubs, flamboyant wealth and widespread poverty, immigrant communities, and racial and class tensions, felt so real it nearly jumped off the page.
The magical elements, too, were beautifully done. They blended seamlessly into the real historical period, in the way that the best alternate histories do. The mystery of the occult killer unfolds slowly, but the book never felt boring. Though it centers on Evie, Bray masterfully weaves the stories of many other characters into the plot. It never dragged. I was completely entranced by every storyline.
I’ve read several YA novels recently with multiple first-person narrators, and none of them have worked. I’ve gotten so frustrated with it, continually getting lost in a sea of similar sounding first person voices. The Diviners is told in the third person, but switches frequently between upwards of seven characters. Not once was I ever confused. The transitions were seamless and perfectly executed. Not once did I lose track of whose head I was in. Every POV, including the more general omniscient narrator, had something to add to the story. It was such a joy to read a book like this, a sprawling book full of so many characters with different voices, thoughts, and experiences, done right.
I also really appreciated the diverse experiences of the city that Bray included in this book. Her characters live in different parts of New York. They come from diverse backgrounds and classes, and are of various races and sexualities. It didn’t feel like she was trying to do too much. It felt like an honest portrayal of a very complicated place. This isn’t just a story about a white girl from Ohio, or a black boy in Harlem, or the Jewish son of an immigrant from Ukraine. Obviously a book can’t capture all the messiness of New York, the sea of identities that exist in a city–nor should a book try to–but all the intersecting stories of many different New Yorkers gave the book a depth I wasn’t expecting. None of the characters felt like tokens of cut-outs–they all had complicated backstories and rich emotional lives.
I cannot say enough good things about the audiobook. January LaVoy simply crushes it. It’s up there on my list of all-time favorite audiobooks. The sheer range of accents and voices she slips into is just astounding. it was an absolute joy to listen to.
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