Aliens are invading the Teen section. Unlike a certain two-hearted bowtie-wearing alien doctor, the extraterrestrial visitors of Margaret Stohl’s Icons and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave mean us harm. Not only will both titles make you want to build a tin foil hat and prepare your emergency kit, they also release on the same day. How do you choose which one to read first?
Icons is Margaret Stohl’s solo debut; it’s the easy first choice for fans of the Beautiful Creatures series. Instead of a complex world in and beneath tiny Gatlin, Stohl builds a complex world in post-invasion Los Angeles. I loved seeing familiar landmarks like the Griffin Observatory transformed. I also enjoyed the insertion of research documents or transcripts in between chapters, as it reminded me of video games where you hunt for scraps of the history as you play through the present storyline. Too many details would give things away, but Stohl has obviously given considerable thought to how the history of her world has shaped its present.
The biggest draw of Icons is the concept of the Icon Children. Read a little deeper and you can see their group dynamics as an exploration of how emotions work within our psyches. Similar to the Casters (from Beautiful Creatures) and their individual powers, the idea of what being a Weeper, Rager, Lover, or Freak means and how it affects every aspect of that character’s life is fascinating. Thus, the book is far more about the characters of Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas than it is about the aliens who conquered their world.
In Icons, the future is occupation and oppression. The aliens may not walk among us, but no one forgets the hold they have over Earth. As the story happens after the invasion, the world you see is the result of years of servitude. Because society has returned to a status quo, Icons reminds me of classic science fiction like John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.
Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is a book so gritty you feel sand crunch in your teeth. Yancey drops you into the invasion, as The 5th Wave could happen tomorrow—and the immediacy of that dread is heavy in the air. Described as both “Ender's Game meets The Passage” and “Dark Inside meets The Host,” The 5th Wave is a must-read for all fans of Divergent and The Hunger Games.
Extermination is the modus operandi of the aliens in The 5th Wave. Grief and loss saturates this world—it is survivalist, militant, dark, and violent. Within the first hundred pages, Yancy grounds the tale in realistic details so you feel the isolation of the woods and that quiet stillness that happens when you leave the hum of the city. Only this silence blankets the entire earth.
Both Icons and The 5th Wave have romantic subplots. Both explore the ideas of family and loyalty. Both feature strong characters learning to be emotionally vulnerable and emotionally vulnerable characters learning to be stronger. But Icons is a tighter, more character-driven story, and The 5th Wave is an ambitious, more plot-driven story. Icons made me believe any of us could save the world from aliens; The 5th Wave made me believe it needed saving from aliens.
Read Icons first if: You’re a fan of Beautiful Creatures. You like stories that start smaller and build to big emotional climaxes. You want a story balanced between light and dark moments, with lots of science fiction references and jokes. You like anime. (Especially if you like Sailor Moon.) You get excited about Doctor Who.
Read The 5th Wave first if: You want a gritty, Christopher Nolan-like approached to alien invasion. You loved Divergent. You can’t wait to watch Ender’s Game on the big screen. You play Halo. You want tons of action. The more plot twists a book has, the more you want to read it.
Requiem is the fitting finale to Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy, an ode to the things lost and found by Lena and really, everyone, as we enter adulthood. All of Oliver’s books are beautifully written; their lyrical prose pulls you through the story and into this future world where love is a disease—dangerous, illegal, and much harder to extinguish than anyone thought.
Told in alternating POVs, Requiem moves between Lena in the Wilds, as she fights for the resistance and against her feelings for both Julian and Alex, and Hana in Portland as she navigates her post-cure life and upcoming marriage to Fred Hargrove. It’s interesting how Lena and Hana went in opposite directions as they grew, and I enjoyed Hana's comments on this in Requiem.
Oliver’s trilogy is a superb example of how a talented writer can use setting as metaphor, allowing the outer world to convey the inner world of her characters. In Delirium both Portland and the Wilds took turns acting as an idyllic world, but as the story progressed both places are shown to be full of as much darkness and strife as they are joy. One of the things I respect this trilogy for is its honesty about what escaping civilization would really be like. I also love how this series is distinctly not-paranormal but Oliver ties the delira together with the idea of vampires or other monsters, showing how in this future society the idea of love has been transformed into the monsters of our horror stories.
Within Requiem are many of the needed confrontations and reconciliations between characters. Both Lena and Hana have some choices to make, and they both struggle against different obstacles to find the courage to seize control of their lives and futures. We’ve been hearing from some readers that Requiem wasn’t what people expected, but when you consider what the trilogy set out to do, I think Oliver has accomplished it magnificently. (There was a similar response to Mockingjay, after all.)
The final scene of Requiem, which I can’t say much about without spoiling, is perhaps the most poignant section of the series. It uses a metaphor that Oliver has presented again and again throughout the trilogy, neatly tying together the underlying message of the importance of love in all its forms. I can’t wait to see where Oliver takes us in whatever she writes next.
Lisa McMann's Crash is the first book in her new paranormal series, The Visions. In Crash, a young woman named Jules is haunted by a reoccurring vision of an accident that results in nine body bags in the snow. The vision takes over television shows, billboards, and even begins to play across windows. Jules worries that she's going crazy, and the terror of doubting her own mind is intensified by her knowledge of her family's history of mental illness.
Mixing the pacing of a thriller with a strong narrative voice, McMann uses these visions as a catalyst to discuss the stigma of mental illness. I found Jules and her quirky (sarcastic) sense of humor endearing, it made her real and made me able to feel worried for her as I wondered while she did if she was having a psychological breakdown.
The book sets up a Romeo & Juliet-esque feud between two Chicago restaurant families, and I predict the secret of their feud will have some involvement in the explanation of the visions. This is another strong, quick read from McMann sure to please her fans and any readers looking for an accessible read with a paranormal hook.
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Indigo Teen Blog (ITB): Welcome, Lisa! I laughed so hard about Jules and her siblings driving around in that amazing meatball truck. What's the oddest food truck you've ever seen?
Lisa McMann (LM): I think the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile is pretty odd. :) I also saw one shaped like a paddle pop.
ITB: One of the things I loved about Crash was its strong sense of character voice. Did Jules pop into your head fully formed or did you meet her as you wrote?
LM: I don't think any character is ever fully formed until you've reached the end of the book (and then you go back and revise her so she is consistent). But I generally have a good sense of what my main characters will be like before I start writing. That was definitely the case for Jules.
ITB: Given the Romeo & Juliet-level of feuding restaurant families in Crash, I have to ask which is your pizza of choice: Deep dish or thin crust?
LM: If we're talking Chicago pizza, I have to go with deep dish. There's nothing like it.
ITB: Another thing I enjoy about your books is how they use fantastical elements to examine mental illness. (For example, the OCD in Cryer's Cross and the depression/hoarding in Crash.) What comes first for you: The fantastical element or what you'd like to use it to discuss? What draws you to examining mental illness in your books?
LM: The fantastical element always comes first -- the hook, as we call it. Girl has a vision of a truck hitting a vision and an explosion. The intricacies of her life follow. There must always be more layers. It's the layers that make the main character react in the ways she does. As for mental illness in my books, the inspiration for Kendall in Cryer's Cross comes from my daughter, who has struggled with moderate to severe OCD (she, like Kendall, now keeps it in check, but it's still there). As for the hoarding, I've just always been intrigued by a person's need to hoard, what triggers it, etc. So I was studying that and it fit for this series.
ITB: I love Jules' brother, Trey. He's my favourite character. In fact, I loved how Crash was as much about Jules' family as it was about her. Will the next book be about Sawyer and his family?
LM: I love Trey too. He is the brother we all wish we had, isn't he? You'll get to see more of both Trey and Sawyer in Book 2. As for Sawyer's family...not so much. But we learn things about them through Sawyer.
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If the Mayans are correct, then this world is not long for us. In the spirit of "what if?" we asked on @IndigoTeenBlog which one book best prepared you for the apocalypse, and the majority answered Suzanne Collins'sThe Hunger Games. We dug deeper, thought hard, and we've come up with a few other titles that may help. Here are 21 books you should read before the world ends on Dec 21st. (A couple of these are found in adult fiction, but they're teen reader appropriate.)
- Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
- Poison Princess by Kresley Cole
- Blood Red Road by Moira Young
- The Diviners by Libba Bray
- Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brenna (Note: We felt like the world ended on the last page of this one.)
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Note: In case we need to find Glendower to fix things for us.)
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
- Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
- Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
- Gone by Michael Grant
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner
- The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
- This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
- Divergent by Veronica Roth
- The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (Dec 18)
- The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
- Good Omens by Terry Prachett & Neil Gaiman
Just to be safe we asked the Indigo Fiction Blog team for a list of 21 adult titles to help you prepare.
- The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
- White Horse by Alex Adams (trade paperback Dec 18)
- World War Z by Max Brooks
- The Passage / The Twelve by Justin Cronin
- Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
- The Stand by Stephen King
- Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller
- Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
- Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
- The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
- On The Beach by Nevil Shute
- Zone One by Colson Whitehead
- The Blondes by Emily Shcultz
- Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt
- Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
These two lists make 42 books, so stock up your bunker library! We'll see you on Dec 22nd. Or we won't because the world really did end. In that case, we'll be glad Team Teen member Kate (not pictured above) took those archery lessons.
Ladies and Gentleman, readers of discerning tastes who seek the finest of entertainments, may we interest you in a fabulous new tale from Toronto resident, Lady Adrienne Kress?
Kress describes The Friday Society, her Teen debut, as "Steampunk Charlie's Angels—without the Charlie." It's an incredibly accurate description: imagine the fun, adventure, action, and female-friendships of Charlies Angels set in the Edwardian period—and then add the utter coolness of steampunk to the mix.
Are you a fan of Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices or Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy? Then you're going to adore The Friday Society. This is a book of three bright, bold young ladies who band together to thwart crimes and save their city. Kress balances the multiple POVs of the girls, giving each character her own distinct personality while maintaining a unifying tongue-in-cheek style of narration, and resolves the interweaving plots in a satisfying way.
I admire how Kress emphasizes the camaraderie of Cora, Nellie, and Michiko—a trio of go-to "Girl Fridays" who assist three powerful men of London. While I like each of the girls, Michiko might be my favourite; Kress writes an English as second language character in a way that's both respectful and realistic.
In general, Kress has a knack for characterization and culture-building. Reading The Friday Society, one can tell that she's an imaginative author who has taken the time to immerse herself in the culture of steampunk, but she presents it in a way that is fun and accessible. Kress' flavor of steampunk is vivid, lively, and fantastical—she doesn't try to emulate Victorian-style prose. She has created something very much her own.
While this book acts as an origin story and therefore stands alone, I hope The Friday Society will be the first of several novels featuring these lovable characters. Can't wait to see where Kress' imagination takes the girls—and us—next!
The Friday Society is now available.
It's time for the most exciting post of the year: The Top Ten List! This year all the members of Team Teen worked together to compile a master list of the must read Teen books from 2012. We're very proud of this one; it's a perfect mix of all the books we love and the books we think you'll love, too.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. When we asked around the office, this was one of the titles everyone mentioned. We loved Green's endearing characters from page one; his quirky humour had us laughing at a cancer book—something we never thought we'd do. (Our review and Q & A with John Green.)
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. We want to get in the Pig (Gansey's car) and go on adventures with Stiefvater's mature and well-developed cast. From smart commentary on wealth and privilege, to witty banter and magic, this lyrical book is like a teen Indiana Jones with Welsh mythology. (Our Q & A with Maggie Stiefvater.)
The Diviners by Libba Bray. Team Teen pos-i-tute-ly thinks this Jazz Age fantasy is the bee's knees, the elephant's eyebrows, and the cat's pyjamas. This is the 1920s as only Libba Bray can write them with her observant blend of humour, intrigue, and magic. Surprisingly creepy—but we aren't complaining! (Our Q & A with Libba Bray.)
Cinder by Marissa Meyer. When Beijing’s number one mechanic, Linh Cinder, finds herself repairing the Prince’s beloved android, she unlocks a galaxy’s worth of adventure in this sci-fi take on the classic Cinderella. We love this re-imagined fairy tale’s high stakes action, beloved supporting cast, and Whedon-worthy delicious snark.* (Our review and Q & A with Marissa Meyer.)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Seraphina lives in a medieval world where dragons can fold themselves into human shape. They live among humans as gifted academics, who are baffled by human emotion. Seraphina is a talented musician with a head for solving mysteries, who quickly finds herself deep in palace intrigue as she tries to keep her own dangerous heritage a secret from those closest to her. We can’t get the melody of this lyrical tale out of our heads.* (Rachel Hartman's guestpost.)
Insurgent by Veronica Roth. We were early fans of Divergent and Insurgent has more action, more danger, and more Four! We loved learning about the other Factions, and we can't wait to see how Tris will save her world in the third book of Roth's trilogy. (Our review and Q & A with Veronica Roth.)
Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garica & Margaret Stohl. The final book of The Caster Chronicles was everything we hoped for—and a reminder of why we fell in love with Beautiful Creatures. We'll miss Gatlin, with all its secrets, magic, and pie. (Our review.)
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare. We always love catching up with the Shadow Hunters—and City of Lost Souls returned our favourite antagonist to the series! We're really looking forward to Clockwork Princess to help make the wait for CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE easier. (Remember the amazing COLS Scavenger Hunt Contest?)
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan. Unspoken charmed us, made us laugh out loud, and then broke our hearts. From lady detectives who do victory shimmies, to dangerous bad boys with hearts of gold, this book has everything we love! (Our review.)
Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel. We're big fans of Oppel's The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein and enjoyed last year's This Dark Endeavour, but this sequel is one of those rare gems that outdoes the first book in the series. Can't wait for the next one! (Our review.)
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. The follow-up to Delirium introduced us to new characters, answered some questions, and left us starved for next year's Requiem. (Our discussion post and Q & A with Lauren Oliver.)
Reading the last book in a beloved series is a bittersweet moment. The final volume of The Caster Chronicles, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Redemption, is the book that I’ve been waiting for all year. The Caster Chronicles and I have a history; each book arrives with an understanding that I’ll be up reading until it’s finished. It's a conversation with friends that lasts far longer into the night than you intended, but you can't bring yourself to leave. Beautiful Redemption is the last meeting of old friends, so each word—each time it makes me smile or brings up a memory of what we’ve been through together—means all that much more.
How late was I up? Well, I was fortunate enough to receive a publicity copy early from Hachette Book Group Canada. As I had been rereading the previous three books (Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, and Beautiful Chaos), when I finished my reread I started Beautiful Redemption. It was 11:00 pm on a Saturday night, and I thought I’d read a chapter or two. Uh yeah, that didn’t happen. I stayed up until 4:30 AM on Sunday morning because I didn’t want to let it go.
After I got a good sleep Sunday night, I started rereading Beautiful Redemption. This time I read it slow and savoured each chapter. Beautiful Redemption is the best of the series—my favourite by far. (That had previously been Beautiful Darkness.) This is a fair ending, a real ending, and it finishes the story that the series set out to tell.
While it's true The Caster Chronicles is the love story of Ethan Lawson Wate and Lena Duchannes, it’s always been so much more than that to me. These books are about being Claimed—by your family, your friends, your town, and yourself. I’m so pleased with the way these characters have grown together through all of the trials they’ve faced and adventures they’ve had.
One of the best parts about Beautiful Redemption is how it allows us to get inside Lena’s head, so we get to see what she thinks of characters we’ve come to know via Ethan. One of my favourite scenes is Lena and Link driving in the Beater when she makes all the lights turn green for him. It’s a tiny little detail, but it tells you so much about how well she knows him.
But what I love most about this book is Ethan and his journey. This entire series has been about finding one’s place, and Ethan Lawson Wate undoubtedly finds his. It’s not an easy task—after Beautiful Chaos it’s a rather difficult one—but to quote Amma: “The easy thing and the right thing are seldom the same.”
This sentiment has been the perfectly-formed crust of the narrative; in Beautiful Redemption, it is matched with a line from Macon Ravenwood that completes its blue-ribbon winning pie: “These things are difficulties, not impossibilities.” Ethan and Lena have faced difficulty after difficulty, but they come to understand it’s not impossible to do what needs doing—and you don't have to do it alone. Anytime your friends realize that, it's a proud moment. (Whether they're imaginary or not.)
If you’ve not read these books, you must give them a try. They are a whole lot of very true things wrapped up in fun and romance and magic hidden in plain sight. While I am sad to say goodbye to them, I know we'll see each other again in February for the movie. I can't wait.
Do you enjoy witty banter, great characters, daring adventures, lady sleuths, bad boys, mysterious manor houses, and tasty pastries? Meet your next favourite book: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, the first book in The Lynburn Legacy trilogy.
Fact: I have a love for everything Sarah Rees Brennan writes. Also fact: Unspoken is her finest, funniest, and most fun book yet. It’s no mystery why Unspoken is one of Team Teen’s top reads for this year.
Here's the set up: Kami Glass has always had an imaginary friend named Jared. She hears him in her head, and he's gotten her through every awful moment and celebrated every wonderful thing that has happened in her life. He's the person closest and dearest to her. Her family and friends think this is, well, a bit strange but they love Kami and this quirkiness is part of her normal life. But one day Kami finds out that Jared is a real person who exists outside of her head. It's bad enough he knows what she's thinking and feeling, but he's also one of the Lynburns—the mysterious family revered and feared in Kami's hometown of sleepy little Sorry-in-the-Vale.
Kami isn't about to let this stop her. No, she is a journalist—an earnest investigative reporter who understands you occasionally need to overlook property laws in order to get to the truth. There are creepy noises in the woods on the Lynburn estate, someone tried to shove her down a well, and the Lynburns are definitely involved.
So Kami gets her friends Angela and Holly, and her new friend Ash—who is Jared's cousin—and Jared, who is her now-not-so-imaginary friend, to help her investigate. (By which I mean she tells them they're all investigating with her.) Kami’s investigation leads to the truth about both Sorry-in-the-Vale and the Lynburn family—and her connection to them.If you aren’t fully convinced that you and all of your friends should read this book IMMEDIATELY, let the other members of The Team Teen Nosy Parker* present their evidence:
“Unspoken is delightful, fun, and beyond CHARMING. Aside from a perfectly dreamy setting and clever writing, I found myself totally enchanted by the excellently angsty characters. Kami is like Veronica Mars; sleuthing her small town into submission and dazzling with her smarts. This one is an excellent read for mystery fans, paranormal lovers, and really any Teen book reader who loves a good turn of phrase. Did I mention the charm factor? Because it is. Charming. And I can’t wait for the next book.” —Kate Newman, Teen Assistant Category manager
“This book makes my checklist of charm! Clever sleuthing, delicious snark, imaginary friends that turn out to be real and might be your soulmate, a town full of secrets, myth and sorcery and, did I mention the delicious snark? Prepare to be lulled into a gentle sense of YA security as you hang out with these lovely characters ONLY TO HAVE YOUR----------well, I’ll stop there. You’ll see.” —Natalie Garside, Teen Inventory Analyst* Another reason to read Unspoken is so you get this joke!
One of the books Team Teen is most excited about this fall is Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys. In this first book of her new The Raven Cycle series, Stiefvater introduces us to Blue Sarget and the Aglionby boys: Gansy, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. Blue is the daughter of the town pyschic in sleepy Henrietta, West Virgina, who has grown-up being told that if she kisses her true love, she will kill him. The boys all attend the private Aglionby Academy. They have no reason to cross paths until one St. Mark's Eve when Blue sees Gansey walking the ghost road.
This means two things:
1) Gansey is going to die in the next year.
2) Either Gansey is Blue's true love or she will be the one who kills him.
Add in a quest for a long-lost Welsh king, ley line magic, and heart-squeezingly well-written relationship dynamics and you get a story that is kissed with magic and prophecy, filled with adventures and friendships, and an observation of the bonds created by money, family, and friendship. It is, in my opinion, the best book Stiefvater has written yet.
We are so delighted to have Maggie Stiefvater here to answer a few questions. She also shares a peek into Gansey's infamous journal. Welcome, Maggie!
Indigo Teen Blog (ITB): For our readers: what can they expect from The Raven Boys?
Maggie Stiefvater (MS): Rich boys, fast cars, helicopters, magic and all kinds of Latin. It's the first book in a four-book series, so the trouble that goes down in this book is just the beginning.
ITB: How does your musical back ground influence your work?
MS: Oh, well, in three big ways. The first is that I have to listen to music while I write — I rely on it heavily to keep my chapter in the mood I want for it. And secondly, in that I think of my books as a mix CD, where the tone and length of each chapter builds on the last just like in a well-made mix CD (I spend a lot of time reading my words out loud, too, for rhythm). And finally, because I write music for each of my books — all those songs are available for free download on my website (www.maggiestiefvater.com) and are also the background for the trailers for each book.
ITB: Is there a “real” Gansey’s notebook and may we see it?
MS: There are actually two of them. One of them is somewhere in the Scholastic offices in NYC, and the other is in my office in Virginia. YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE IT? I thought you'd never ask.
ITB: What made you choose ley lines and the lore of an ancient king?
MS: This is a hard question to answer as it requires considerable memory-work on my part. I wrote the first draft of this novel when I was 19 or so — 9 or 10 years ago. And it wasn't the sleeping king novel idea wasn't a new idea for me even back then, either. As a history major, I'd been entranced by the combination of history and myth for a long time. Now, the ley lines — that I remember. I needed a way to get a long-dead Welsh king over to Virginia, and the ley line stuff tied in perfectly. Marriage made in medieval heaven.
ITB: Did any major plot points change as you did researchfor this story?
MS: I have yet to write a novel where they didn't. The biggest challenge, however, was balancing the personalities of the boys. Because they were so tightly knit, just one tweak of one character would create a domino effect through the rest.
ITB: The Raven Boys is delicately balanced between dark and light, levity and heartache. We know you worked with David Leviathan. Do you feel he helped create that balance through editorial support or was this something that you found on your own while drafting?
MS: I love working with David; the fact that he's an author in his own right means that his notes come already translated into writer-language. Convenient! But generally by the time he gets a manuscript, it is pretty complete. The folks who see it in bits and pieces from the very beginning are my critique partners, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff. Even then, their job is not to impose their own styles but rather to see what I'm trying to accomplish and make sure that THAT is what ends up on the page.
ITB: The locations are beautifully built out for readers from Blue’s house to the woods. Is it important to you, as a writer, to set spaces that are as evocative as the characters?
MS: Absolutely. Our settings make us who we are. To not build them up as lovingly as the people in them is to only tell half the story.
Thank you again to Maggie Stiefvater for answering our questions and our friends at Scholatic Canada for facilitating this Q & A. The Raven Boys is available now, and you can meet Maggie Stiefvater at Chapters Brampton on September 25th at 7 pm!
Libba Bray's newest novel, The Diviners, is the bee's knees. It's already a fall favourite among Team Teen, so we know that you're going to love it, too.
Set in the roaring '20s, The Diviners follows a diverse cast of characters through a New York populated with jazz clubs, flappers, and secrets. People with psychic abilities, known as Diviners, are reappearing. Why are so many of them gathered in New York? What purpose do the Diviners have?
This first book in Bray's new series focuses on Evie "Evil" O'Neill, a Zelda Fitzgerald-like teen flapper, with a talent for getting into mischief. Evie can also see people's pasts and learn their secrets by touching their personal items. In fact, this unnerving skill is the reason Evie had to leave sleepy Ohio to come to New York. She's staying with her uncle Will, who happens to be the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--or as everyone else calls it: The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When a serial killer named Naughty John begins stalking the streets of New York, can Evie solve the crime?
We're pos-i-tute-ly thrilled to have Libba Bray on the blog to answer a few of our questions about The Diviners! Welcome, Libba.
Indigo Teen Blog (ITB): Part of what gives The Diviners such an authentic tone is its use of 1920’s language. The words the characters speak really help to identify them and the social group they belong to. Is there any difference in crafting the language of a historical period versus a contemporary one? What kind of research did you do into the era?
Libba Bray (LB): There’s pos-i-tute-ly a difference.
As part of my research, I looked into the slang of the day, which was really delicious. When you have access to phrases like, “flour lover” (a girl who might want to go easy on the face powder next time), “the elephant’s eyebrows” (something awesome), “dewdropper” (a real slacker of a guy), “ossified” (drunk) or “Bank’s closed” (Sorry, pal, you’re not getting a kiss out of me tonight), it makes your job a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to drop those into a conversation? I also find reading the fiction of the time period to be extremely helpful because it’s a bit of a time capsule. Reading newspapers and advertisements opens a window as well. As a former advertising copywriter, I look at ads because they give you a sense of what people valued, what their aspirations—and in many cases, their fears and prejudices—were.
In terms of broader 1920s research, about four years ago, I started reading up on the period. Some of the books I found useful include Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s by Ann Douglas. Playing The Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars by Shane White, Stephen Garton, Dr. Stephen Robertson, and Graham White. Only History: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen. Jesus and Gin: Evangelicalism, the Roaring Twenties, and Today’s Culture Wars by Barry Hankins. The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents by Jeffrey B. Ferguson, and From The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States by Priscilla Murolo, A.B. Chitty, and Joe Sacco, among many, many others.
Then there were trips to the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries, the New York Historical Society, the Paley Center for Media where my terrific assistant, Tricia, and I could listen to old radio broadcasts, and the MTA Archives and Museum where we waded through countless pictures of 1920s New York City and where we sat in an actual 1920s subway car. (Today’s factoid: It had ceiling fans.) I employed the expertise of two historians who led walking tours through Harlem and the Lower East Side, and, I hit up my librarian friends like Elizabeth Irwin High School librarian, Karyn Silverman, who used to teach a unit on the 1920s. Finally, when it became clear that the breadth of what I needed/wanted to know was too vast for my puny, haphazard, untrained research skills, I hired an expert: librarian and self-proclaimed “research maven” Lisa Gold came to my rescue, helping me find what I needed, everything from primary sources on Ziegfeld Follies girls toimmigration statistics to the etymology of the word “honey” as a term of endearment to answer a fact checker’s query. Lisa is amazing. Visit her here: www.lisagold.com
Obviously, I couldn’t have done this without a village. As I say, when the going gets tough, the tough get a librarian. Truth.
ITB: Did you dress in costume to help you get in the mood to write? Listen to specific music?
LB: I only write in costume. This will be interesting when I finally write that llama pirate-anarchist-Dolly Parton musical the world has been clamoring for. (Truth: Mostly, I write garbed in comfy jeans and concert t-shirts. For sartorial splendor, look to other writers.) I do make a playlist for everything I write and The Diviners was no exception. The act of figuring out which songs will create just the right mood for the book is a part of the writing process for me. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself when I’ve missed my deadline once again because I’ve been messing around on iTunes. (You can find my playlists on my website—www.libbabray.com—if you’re so inclined. And if you’re really inclined, you might be a hill.)
ITB: How did you approach writing the characters from multiple points of view?
LB: With fear and trepidation. And lots of coffee.
Given the nature of the book, I didn’t see any other way to do it than to write from multiple POVs. It’s a big, sprawling series, and I really wanted that omniscient, old-fashioned storytelling feel. I’d done multiple POVs for Beauty Queens, but that was smaller scale compared to The Diviners and, I will not lie, I was absolutely terrified. Many a morning, I’d wake in a sweat, thinking, “What have I done? I can barely organize my sock drawer. In fact, I do not organize at all. What made me think I could tackle all of this?” And then I’d swill some antacid, put a bullet between my molars, and place my fingers on the keys.
I took comfort from rereading one of my favorite books, Stephen King’s Salem's Lot. He is terrific at shifting from one POV to another in a way that is seamless and doesn’t make you feel lost. By the time you finish that book, you’ve been in the heads of almost everyone in town. So, when trying something that feels scary to you as a writer, I say look to those who do it well, like King, as your mentors. But when writing outside of my culture, I approach that with humility and respect and as much research as I can gather.
ITB: There seems to be a rise in interest in the turn of the last century and the first few decades. Why do you think that is?
LB: I think because so much of what was happening then resonates with what we’re facing now. Obviously, in the current economic climate, we can’t help but look back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, with the stock market crash and the Great Depression.
Certainly, the 1920s were a rich historical period, something that felt entirely new and exciting—glamorous flappers, jazz, Prohibition, the emergence of radio, the Harlem Renaissance, gangsters and bootleggers, wild parties and political scandals like the Teapot Dome affair. And the fact that we know this wild party is all leading up to a very big crash informs the period with a certain suspense that makes for great, thoughtful reading.
ITB: You speak to many different political and social conflicts during the period. How do you think that contemporary readers will relate to what happened then to what is happening now?
LB: That really was my inspiration for writing The Diviners. I wanted to write about post-9/11 America and to explore the things that were troubling me as an American, like the Patriot Act, the almost casual way we were ceding our civil liberties in exchange for “Homeland Security,” the elevation of corporate greed above human interest, the justification of torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the rise in xenophobia and far right-wing hate. I came across that famous quote, oft attributed to Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in a flag and waving a cross.” And I thought, “Hmmmm…”
I began to wonder, question, “Well, what does it mean to be ‘American’? Who are we?” As I began to research the 1920’s, I saw interesting and, at times, disturbing parallels between where we were then and where we are now: Labor unions were under attack. A wave of post-WWI terrorism in the U.S. had bred fear and a suspicion of “foreigners.” There was a nasty streak of nativism that found its way into everything from the eugenics movement to the KKK to the Immigration Law of 1924. Evangelicalism was on the rise, with popular evangelists such as Aimee Semple McPherson and Billy Sunday preaching about the loss of “traditional American values” even as capitalism became the new god, with advertising executive Bruce Barton’s book, The Man Nobody Knows, presenting Jesus as “The Founder of Modern Business.” The famous Scopes Trial about the teaching of evolution in the public schools had taken place in 1925. Modern advertising began to shape the ideals and aspirations of Americans through campaigns that capitalized on their fears and desires, advocating keeping up with the Joneses and lionizing a youth culture. And of course, there is the run-up to financial collapse and the Great Depression.
Today, nearly one hundred years later, we’re still facing many of the same issues: We’re arguing over the teaching of evolution in schools. The flames of anti-immigration fervor arebeing fanned by certain segments of the population. We’ve suffered an economic collapse. Fears of terrorism have created a whole “Homeland Security” state and fostered a sense of xenophobia. Racism is alive and well. Labor unions are under attack. The religious right influences politics, trying to enact “prohibitions” that harken to a murky, mythic past of “traditional American values.” Corporations reign supreme and there’s a huge wealth gap. Everybody wants to be a millionaire, and our various media vie for our product dollars by shaping our desires, fears, and aspirations into needs which can then be exploited.
This is why it’s good to read history.
ITB: Naughty John is immensely creepy! Can you discuss your inspiration for him? And do you imagine what those markings he has looked like? Is there a place we can see them?
LB: Why, thank you. I’m often complimented on my creepy. Oh, wait…
Barry Lyga was writing I Hunt Killers while I was working on The Diviners, and we sometimes compared our serial killer notes. (That statement pretty much just killed any chance at future dinner invitations for us, I’m sure.) I borrowed a bit from H.H. Holmes, for sure, what with the house of horrors, as well as drawing inspiration from “Sweeney Todd”, carnival barkers, Victorian photographs, and my overactive, anxiety-ridden psyche.
I also took inspiration from religious zealots like David Koresh and Jim Jones. Having grown up in the church (my father was a Presbyterian minister), I’m always fascinated by questions of religion and spirituality, by that fuzzy line between idealism and the danger zone of religious fanaticism.
ITB: If we wear headache bands and bake cupcakes, will you come over for tea?
LB: You had me at cupcakes.
 Bullet might be a slight exaggeration. “Bullet” may, in fact, refer to chocolate chips, straws, ice, and jelly beans. Please do not put bullets between your teeth. They’re a choking hazard and it makes your dentist unhappy.
Thanks again to Libba Bray for answering our questions and to our friends at Hachette Book Group Canda for facilitating this Q & A. The Diviners releases this week, so make sure to get your copy.