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The Diviners: Divine, and the Bee’s Knees Too!
One of the best things about having progressed from new librarian to rapidly aging librarian is the opportunity to work with bright young things. Former colleague Clair Segal is now the library technology coordinator at an independent school in NYC, and has graciously agreed to guest blog for us once again, this time about Libba Bray’s The Diviners. (If you take a close look at the acknowledgements in The Diviners, you’ll see why we farmed this favorite out — conflict of interest, what??)
Also, after you read her guest post, if you find yourself thinking, “Hey, this girl is awesome!” you should go check out her blog, the aptly titled Awesomebrarian.
The Diviners, Libba Bray
Little Brown, September 2012
Reviewed from ARC
Let’s be honest: we all kind of have a librarian-crush on Libba Bray.
It makes sense, really. We’re all, deep down at our core, nerds. As librarians we’ve chosen a profession that necessitates a deep and driving passion– an intrinsic force that pushes us to tackle long hours, limited budgets, and sassy teens sassing back. We have to be passionate about what we do to get out of bed every morning and face the day with a cheerful customer-service-friendly smile and that requires a little bit of nerdom; passion flavored with just a dash of obsession.
Libba Bray fits nicely into that place in our hearts. She’s given us historical fiction with witchcraft, adventures in New Orleans driven by disintegrating brain matter, beauty queens on a desert –but not deserted — island, and now a psychic, flapper, party-girl detective. Her writing is impeccably researched and planned, and you never doubt, reading the 500+ pages of The Diviners, that she was driven by the same intrinsic nerdy passion that we feel every day. She cared about every page, every character, every detail and worked to give them each their due.
That’s why we love her. And, unfortunately, that’s also why The Diviners will probably never win a Printz Award.
I lost about three days of my life to The Diviners. It was a whirlwind romance– me, a young librarian; it, a new ARC with Libba Bray’s name stamped on the cover. I never stood a chance. Frankly, I’m lucky I didn’t wake up dazed and confused in a foreign country with no shoes on and a heart tattooed on my ankle.
This is the kind of book that you read on the subway and wind up missing your stop; the kind where you have plans with people and fake a cough so you can stay on the couch and finish it up; the kind where I maybe kinda couldn’t read it late at night because I live in a pre-war building and Naughty John is one terrifying evil spirit.
But fangirling aside, the book is Dense. With a capital, italicized D. Bray’s determination to create a well-rounded, fleshed out 1920’s New York is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness- – at least where the Printz is concerned. Large sections of text and character subplots feel as though they could have fit better in a second book, and knowing that this is the first in a series makes the choice to include them here seem even more dubious.
The Diviners starts with Evie; a bright young thing with a taste for hooch and a mouthful of fabulous slang (I am bringing “jake” back. You just watch me.) And if it had stayed with her — just with her, and her story, and her as a character — the odds of this being Bray’s second Printz nod would be much higher. But it also would have made this a much less interesting read and a frankly forgettable book.
The beauty of The Diviners is in the details; the flavor of 1920’s New York that pours from every page and the characters that live and breathe on their own. The book is heavy with exposition, but to change it would be to rip the heart from the text. The multiple character POV makes the story complex, but that’s also what makes it feel so real. I’m not sure if it’s tragic irony or just counterintuitive that it seems that the only way to make this a real Printz contender would be to destroy the very soul of the book.
And then there’s The Series Issue.
When coming up with our Mock Printz contenders at my school, we pick books that we like, knowing that most of them are probably not up for serious contention as Printz Nominees. This year we asked one of our most voracious readers to recommend her favorites of the year for consideration. She was thrilled, and wrote back “I shouldn’t include series, though, right?”
No one is quite sure of the unspoken Printz Rules except for Printzers. (That’s totally a thing; like how a person who makes blintzes is a blintzer. Really.) Is a series automatically disqualified/not up for serious consideration? Can only a first novel in a series be considered? Or only if it’s not necessarily apparent that it is a series (à la Ship Breaker)?
I’ve never been in that room for these discussions and probably won’t be for several more years (Ambition. I haz it.) but I’d hazard a guess that it’s not that a series book can’t be considered, but that most can’t stand up on their own by the very nature of being a series. A Printz book should require no preface, disclaimer, or prior research. A reader who picks up a Printz title can’t be asking “Who are these characters? What happened to them before? Did I miss something?” And when they finish, they shouldn’t be left asking “So… when do I get to find out what happens?” It distracts from the writing and detracts from the story. How can you immerse yourself in a universe when you don’t understand how you got there or where you’re going?
There’s no doubt in my mind that The Diviners will build into an amazing series, and that when the second book comes out I’ll lose days to it as well. But this book is a lead in to something greater, and you can feel that as you get closer and closer to the end of it. Plotlines are left dangling with the obvious intention of picking them up later. The multiple character POV sets the stage for more meetings and storyline blending in the next novel. When you’re finished you come to the strange realization that you somehow just read a 600 page book and it feels unfinished.
This will be a great, engrossing, well-written series that will happily take up space on my bookshelf for years to come. I’ll read it multiple times, recommend it to every student I know with a love of historical fiction and sequins, and hold it up as a shining example of just how good a supernatural/occult romance-thriller can be when you take the time to do it right. It just won’t have one of those shiny gold P stickers on the cover, and that’s just fine.
Because sticker or no sticker, my fangirlish love for Libba Bray burns strong. One day I will make her my author BFF and we’ll have lunch and drink martinis together at all of the dark retrofitted speakeasies in the East Village, while calling each other “dahling” in exaggerated accents. And when the waiter asks us if we want anything else, I’ll toss a stylish hand up and say “Everything’s jake.”
So jake, in fact, that The Diviners made it into the Pyrite* shortlist. So I imagine many of you might disagree with Clair — have at it!
*The Pyrite Printz, or Pyrite, is the Someday My Printz Will Come mock Printz deliberation, and should not in any way be confused with YALSA’s Michael L. Printz Award, often referred to here as the RealPrintz or Printz. Our predictions, conversations, and speculation about potential RealPrintz contenders and winners reflect only our own best guesses and are not affiliated with YALSA or the RealPrintz committee. You probably figured that out on your own, but we like to make it clear!
About Karyn Silverman
Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.
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