Author: Libba Bray
Published Sept. 18 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: historical fiction/fantasy/mystery
Date finished: Apr. 29 2018
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfield girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her Uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened….
My thoughts (spoiler free)
This book has so many elements that I love. 1920s New York! Spunky female protagonist with magical abilities! Ghosts! Murder mysteries! Diversity that actually reflects the time period! People saying things like “pos-i-tute-ly” and “bee’s knees”! Really, what more could I ask for??
This book was so much fun. One of my favorite aspects was the setting, because I think everyone agrees that New York in the Roaring Twenties is a fantastic setting. Libba Bray did a wonderful job transporting the reader there, through the descriptions of the city and the language that the characters used. I had the strong urge while I was reading to bob my hair and wear a flapper dress and do the Charleston. (But maybe that’s just me…)
I was surprised by how much I loved Evie as a character, considering that a major complaint I’d seen in reviews was that she is unlikeable. I tend to like unlikeable characters, though. There’s no denying that she could be immature and naive and frustrating, but there was so much more to her than that! She ended up being an incredibly complex character whose loud, brash exterior was a cover for her insecurities. It’s one of those instances where I wonder “would people like this character more if she were male?”
“’Oh, Evie, you’re too much,’ people said, and it wasn’t complimentary. Yes, she was too much. She felt like too much inside all the time. So why wasn’t she ever enough?”
Evie was a great main character, and I loved following her along and watching her growth. Also, how great a name is “Evie O’Neill”?? It fits perfectly for her character and I love how it rolls off the tongue!
There was quite a cast of other characters as well: Mabel, Theta, Memphis, Henry, Jericho, Sam, Will, etc. It was an eclectic collection, and each of the characters was interesting in their own way. I especially enjoyed Theta and Henry’s backstory – their friendship was so sweet! And I liked Memphis a lot, too. I wish he’d been more a part of the central plot. Next book, probably…
Ghosts! Murders! Intrigue! Oh my!
So this plot was really engaging. I enjoyed the ghostly murder mystery aspect, and how we got to follow along with Evie and the rest while they put together clues and learned more about what they were up against. Pretty much all of the major characters had their own plot lines, and they all seemed to fit together well.
I do think the plot could have benefited from some trimming down. This book is long, and there are parts that it gets a little slow. A few chapters had me wondering is this all really necessary to include? If it had been shortened just a tad, I think the plot would have tightened up and been more riveting. The denouement after the book’s climax began to drag a little and it could definitely have been shorter.
I think Libba Bray’s language perfectly transports the reader into the world of the 1920s. The descriptions of setting were lush and evocative, and the spooky scenes were tense and chilling. During some of the most intense moments of the book, I had that weird, paradoxical want to put the book down because it was so terrifying, but also needing to know what happened next.
My main complaint is that the point of view would sometimes switch around during a scene, making it difficult to follow who was narrating. I’m not a huge fan of constant POV shifts, and when it happened multiple times per scene, it could be a bit off-putting. I like to have a single scene from a single character’s perspective to add tension because then I don’t know what the other character is thinking!
This book was undeniably a lot of fun. It had hair-raising supernatural elements, fun characters, a fantastic setting, and an exciting murder mystery. Even though it could be slow at times, it kept me interested throughout the whole book.
Another thing that I enjoyed was how it took advantage of the time period in which it took place. The 1920s was such a weird, in-between decade – right after the horrors of World War I, and with no idea of the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II to come. The culture was in flux, and we got to see that so clearly in this book. Characters like Evie and Theta pushed the limits on gender roles, and on the other side, people supported eugenics and the KKK. We got to see so much of this world, beyond just flashy New York nightlife, which I appreciated.
Anyway, I’m really excited to read the rest of the series and see how everything plays out!
“There is no greater power on this earth than story. People think boundaries and borders build nations. Nonsense—words do. Beliefs, declarations, constitutions—words. Stories. Myths. Lies. Promises. History.”