Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Diviners by Libba Bray

It's 1926, and seventeen-year-old Evie O'Neill has been sent to stay with her stuffy, old Uncle Will in New York City after a parlor trick goes awry. Determined to make a name for herself, she maneuvers her way into the nightlife wrought with speakeasies, chorus girls, and underground parties. She quickly learns that New York City is the perfect place for a small-town girl like her to reinvent herself. The only problem is that New York City is also the perfect place for evil to prey on innocent victims. Pretty soon, as bodies start piling up, Evie's "parlor trick" becomes the only thing that can stop a serial killer.

Bray's masterful portrayal of Prohibition Era Manhattan pulls the reader into a world of flappers, speakeasies, and propaganda. The novel is full of murder and suspense that plays off of the supernatural and occult. As multiple subplots collide, readers gets introduced to unique urban legends and historical information.

Bray effectively uses New York City and the Harlem Renaissance as backdrops that address larger social issues facing America during the 1920's: racism, religious fervor, decadence of youth, police corruption, aftermath of WWI, and feminism. Through characters such as Theta Knight, Mabel Rose, Sam Lloyd, Memphis Campbell, Henry DuBois, and Jericho, social issues come to life and humanize struggles people faced. Unfortunately, with so many characters and so many subplots, it takes a long time to set up each context. There were times that remembering information about each character and plot was challenging. So much build-up (and flipping back-and-forth between stories) runs the risk of readers losing interest. Sometimes less is more.  

Revolution by Jennifer Donnally

Andi Alpers knows tragedy. After the sudden death of her ten-year-old brother, she’s watched her family systematically fall apart. Her mother coped by slipping into a deep, vegetative depression; her father coped by falling in love with his twenty-five-year-old colleague; and Andi coped by drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and music. When she faces possible expulsion from a prestigious school, her father decides to reenter her life. As a last-ditch effort to save his family, he checks Andi’s mother into a mental hospital and takes Andi with him on a business trip to Paris, where he’s supposed to conduct DNA tests on a child’s heart to see if it belongs to Louis-Charles, the missing son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

While in Paris, Andi finds a journal written by Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age who lived during the French Revolution. As Andi reads Alexandrine’s journal, truths about the revolution unfold and reveal the cruelty performed on the young prince. Drawing parallels between Louis-Charles and her little brother, Andi slowly finds a new way to cope with her brother’s death. She starts to make friends, fall in love, and care about living again. While exploring the catacombs one night, Andi finds herself transported to 1795, and she has one, last chance to save the prince…and herself.

This book needs a prologue. The entire time I read this novel I felt as though pertinent information was missing. I never developed a connection with Andi, her brother, or their story. A connection between reader and characters would be much stronger if the reader had a glimpse of the family before the tragedy to create perspective.

Andi was supposed to be a musical prodigy writing her senior thesis on the composer Malherbeau. Although research was necessary to add to the depth of this novel, it was steeped in unnecessary information that broke the flow of the plot and dulled the interest of the reader. All of the musical references and descriptions grew monotonous and made me want to set the book down and not pick it up again.

Another frustration with the book was the romance between Virgil and Andi. This entire relationship was forced and artificial, and it needed to be omitted. I understand that Virgil was supposed to mirror Virgil from Dante’s Inferno as he led Andi through the catacombs of self-discovery, but it failed. I despised this plotline.   

Overall, I gave this novel three stars because I loved learning about the French Revolution. I wish the author had eliminated Andi’s plotline and focused entirely on Alexandrine, Louis-Charles, and the events of the French Revolution.