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Strange Children Should Smile At Each Other and Say, “Let’s Play”

Erin reviews Libba Bray's latest masterwork, The Diviners, a spooky tale of murder, mayhem and mystery, set in the totally jake Twenties.

Strange Children Should Smile At Each Other and Say, “Let’s Play”

BOOK REPORT for The Diviners (The Diviners Book 1) by Libba Bray

Cover Story: In Libba We Trust
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 5 For Foundation
Talky Talk: Completely Jake
Bonus Factors: Harlem Renaissance, The Fashion
Relationship Status: Life Will Always Be La Vie En Rose

Cover Story: In Libba We Trust

To be honest, when I first saw the cover of this book, I thought it was going to be a political thriller about how Free Masons left clues as to George Washington’s scandalous life as a cross-dresser on all of our money.  It’s the All-Seeing Eye, you know?  All it reminds me of is one dollar bills and that movie National Treasure.

But this book is not about George Washington’s girlie panties and the shadowy, powerful group who sought to destroy them.  It’s about flappers and Ouija boards and things that go bump in the night.  Like Hector Salamanca’s tiny little bell when he’s trying to communicate.  Ding!  Ding ding ding ding ding ding diiiiing!

I digress.  My point is that even though this book isn’t about money, girly underwear, Free Masons, Egyptians or Hector Salamanca, I was still super excited as soon as I saw it.  Because the only thing that really matters is the name on the cover.  In Libba We Trust, y'all.

The Deal:

It’s the Roaring 20s, the dawn of a new era, when Americans shook off the yoke of war and embraced life with as much joy as they could muster.  Prohibition reigns supreme, which means that men and women and girls and boys looking for a good time had to stick together and go undercover.  Jazz music, darling ex-pat authors, suffrage and the Harlem Renaissance –god, don’t you wish you were there?

Well, Evie’s there, and she’s determined to make the best of everything the 20s have to offer.  After her parents kick her out due to an incident with some ill-advised soothsaying, Evie strikes out for New York, home to her Uncle Will, who curates The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult (aka The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies).  Even if “Unc” is a little tedious, Evie’s happy enough: she’s got her best friend Mabel living right upstairs, new pals Henry and Theta (a real-life Ziegfield Girl!), and an interesting, if annoying, distraction in pickpocket Sam.  But all of these people – plus Uncle Will’s assistant Jericho and a numbers-runner from Harlem named Memphis – are connected, somehow.  They each have a secret that they’re hiding, one that they’re sure would have them labeled as freaks or kicked out of the city, should it ever come out.

After all, Evie’s own secret – that she can “read” objects- got her kicked out of her own house.  But when the city is gripped with a wave of particularly grisly murders, Evie’s secret talent may be the only thing that can help put the bad guy away.  But will Will let her help?  And can Evie stay away from the hot new nightclubs long enough to make it to a crime scene?

BFF Charm: Yay!

Not only do I want to be Evie’s BFF, I want to Single White Female her and take over her life.  I mean, not the part where she has to go trampling around crime scenes – have you seen what blood does to suede shoes? – but the part where she gets to go out every night, listen to jazz music, drink gin and wear amazing pearl necklaces.  Evie likes to pretend that she’s just a good time gal, living in the moment and bending whichever way the wind blows, but both her gift and her grief over her brother (who went missing/presumed dead in WWI) cause a well of inner-sorrow.  She lives fast and might just die young, and that's my favorite kind of person.

All of the other richly-drawn characters in the book are deserving of BFF charms themselves, but for one character, a simple half-heart charm on a necklace just won't do.  Thus,

I Will Propose Marriage To: Memphis

MEMPHIS ILU.  Memphis, my one, my only, won't you please be mine?  Say that you'll spend a lifetime wth me, smiling your charming smile, running the numbers every morning and taking me to jazz clubs every night.  I will cook for you and dance for you and rouge my knees for you - whatever you need me to do!  Because I love you so, so much, and I just want to be yours.  Even if you turn into a tree (side note: Libba, DO NOT TURN HIM INTO A TREE.), whatever, I'll spread my picnic blanket under your limbs and carve our initials upon your trunk, unless that hurts.  Ferngully informed me that it hurt a tree to do that. I don't want to hurt you, Memphis, my possibly-arborial darling!  I love you so!

Swoonworthy Scale: 5 for Foundation

This is the first book in a trilogy, so I expect that the swoon is going to make the scale tip all the way to 11 in later books.  For now I'm giving it a five for laying the foundation of future swoon.  There are definitely some hot moments: between Sam and Evie, between Jericho and Evie, possibly between Jericho nd some former soldiers (that may just be my imagination/subsequent slash porn/Avengers fanfic crossover) and between Memphis and Theta.  And Memphis and I, of course.  Our swoon is off the charts!

Talky Talk: Completely Jake

I really admire Libba Bray, who reinvents herself and her writing style with each novel.  Everything she writes is funny and sharp, but she has a great way of changing up her style and usurping your expectations each time.  This novel is filled with awesome 20s slang, which, yes, I HAVE already started peppering my own dialogue with, in order to fully capture that 20s vibe and annoy all my friends.

But the slang is so fun!  Jake!  Jeepers!  Chin Waggle!  Coffin varnish!  Headache band! (that actually makes way more sense than calling them headbands because they always give me headaches!)  It's posi-lute-ly divine, palski!

Bonus Factor: The Harlem Renaissance

There aren't many places I love more than 1920s Harlem, which produced some of the best literature and the best music this nation has ever seen.  When we follow Memphis around, we get to see some of that struggle from the ground up - the darling parties and playwrights vs the jazz club owners vs the segregationist crowd vs the working poor vs the Manhattan elite who come uptown for a little (perceived) danger and excitement.

Bonus Factor:  The Fashion

(Ed note: the SECOND after I get married I'm totally cutting my hair like Louise Brooks.  THE VERY SECOND.)

Bon vivant!  I don't actually even know what that means but I feel I need to make more exclamations in French, which is a language I do not speak except for dance and cheese terms.  Quelle ballet!  Tendu port au bras! Chevre!

Anyway, the fashion is super exciting, of course!  Flapper dresses, hitched up stockings, long strings of pearls and adorable cloche hats?  YES PLEASE I'LL HAVE ANOTHER.  Remember how the American Girl company* used to send out catalogues and you could dress just like Molly** or Samantha or Felicity?  I want Libba to open a Diviners store so that I can wear the same clothes as Evie and Theta.

*They're about to open a GIANT American Girl store right near where I work and I am so excited.  I hope they still sell people-sized clothes, so that I can FINALLY get Felicity's red wool cloak that I have been longing for since I was twelve.

** Oh my God, why would you want to dress like Molly?  You nerd.

Casting Call:

I'm absolutely obsessed with Parade's End right now, even if Benedict Cumberbatch keeps doing that weird thing with his mouth, so for me, this is Evie:

Adelaide Clemens as Evie

Anton Yelchin as Sam

For my boy Memphis, what I really wanted to find was a picture of Jesse L Martin when he was on The X-Files, because his grin on that episode is exactly the way I picture Memphis's to be.  But when you google "The X Files The Unnatural" the only screenclips that come up are of Mulder teaching Scully how to bat, which I guess makes sense, because it was totally that boner which led to a later boner which led to baby William which led to the second-worst season of the entire show which led to Scully giving up William for adoption and no one ever mentioning him ever again, which was stupid because then why have that dumb baby in the first place; what, just so we could listen to Agent Reyes make whale sounds?  UGH.

But yeah.  Picture a younger Jesse L Martin when he was a baseball-playing alien in The X-Files.  That's Memphis, exactly.

A Younger Jesse L Martin as Memphis

I'm going to leave myself a little bit of casting room for Will, Jericho, Theta, Henry and Mabel so I have something for the next book!

Relationship Status: Life Will Always Be La Vie En Rose

Oh Book!  Hold me close and hold me fast!  This magic spell you cast has me all a twitter.  As long as you don't, like, summon an evil ghost to come kill me, I guess.  Don't do that, book!  Let's go together for always!  I'll be your good time girl and you can be my handsome man about town, and songs will be sung of our love.  Does that sound good? 

After all, book, you've got everything I want in a guy.  You're funny and charming and political and a little spooky, and you've promised me that you'll be showing me an even better time on our next date, so I'm hooked, line and sinker, darling!  Now, let's toast to our love with a little coffin varnish!

FTC Full Disclosure:  I received a free review copy of this book from Little, Brown.  I received neither money nor cocktails for this review (quelle horror!).  The Diviners is in stores now!!

The Diviners is the FYA Book Club selection for October 2013!

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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