Evie O’Neill is a 17-year-old tear-away whose parents send her packing to her museum curator uncle’s house in New York to learn some lady-like habits and stop her party tricks. She becomes swept up in the bright lights of the big city – but fails to notice, along with the rest of Manhattan, the ruined mansion at the top of the island. Built hundreds of years ago, it has been empty for a long time – but something shifts inside it on a balmy summer evening, and life for the young, vibrant crowd of New Yorkers isn’t the same as it was. A number of teenagers go missing – all unconnected; all are found in various states of disembodiment across the island. But Evie has a secret – one that frightens her as much as excites her.
Divining the future of YA
17/09/2012 by Stacey Bartlett
Libba Bray’s new supernatural YA series The Diviners is a gin-soaked jazz-fest of glamour, prohibition and murder set in 1920s New York
“I love the supernatural genre and I love history so it was sort of a no-brainer to do a supernatural historical,” Bray says from her New York apartment. “I wanted to write something set in the 1920s because it’s such a rich historical period and I was really fascinated by it. When one thinks of the 1920s what immediately comes to mind is flappers and follies and speak-easies and jazz and the Harlem renaissance. There was just so much going on, and prohibition had brought about organised crime, and the slang is amazing - the language is so colourful and wonderful - and when one thinks about all of that they are great set pieces to play with.
“But as I began doing the research I began to discover these sort of uncomfortable parallels between what was going on in the 1920s and what was going on in post-9/11 America, and those were really fascinating to me. In the early 1920s there had been a wave of anarchism and terrorism, and people - because they felt afraid - began to retaliate with all this anti-immigration legislation. If you look at history you’ll see it has tentacles, and if you’re not looking they can come up and slap you in the back of the head.”
Bray has always had a “life-long love of horror. I grew up watching Hammer horror films and was always into ghost stories and things like that, so I think as an impressionable child I very much believed in it.”
The author, who also wrote The Gemma Doyle trilogy, said "writing saved my life”, after a tragic car accident at 18, which made her lose her left eye. “It was certainly a defining moment in my life,” she says.
“It was three weeks after high school graduation, so that’s the summer when you’re kind of anticipating college and going away, and the whole world seems like it’s yours for the taking. And I had grown up in a small town in Texas so I very much wanted to get out of there and was looking forward to kind of being able to do just that, and I just had this horrible accident in the rain and I demolished my face in addition to losing my left eye.
“I think there’s such a sense when you’re young that you can do anything over, that there’s always a do-over button, and it was the first time that I really came face-to-face with mortality, [I thought] this is going to be the rest of my life. And also I didn’t look the same. But on the plus side – it was horrible and I felt broken on the inside as well as on the outside –the way I dealt with it was that somebody had given me a journal as a graduation gift, and I began to write in the journal. And it was that act of just writing down everything I felt I couldn’t say out loud that saved my life, and that was when I really began to write.”
Any question of whether Bray thinks The Diviners might be too scary for YA readers, with its eerily supernatural murder scenes, is met with a guffaw: “Well then I have done my work! It always depends on the child; it always depends on the teenager. One of the things I was conscious of when I was writing The Diviners is that in all the murders there is the suggestion of what might happen, but we don’t actually see it happen. We see the set-up and the aftermath, and I think part of that to me is because I think things are scarier when our imaginations can fill in - and also because I really just don’t like gratuitous gore.”
With Evie’s adventures set to continue for three more books and the film rights for The Diviners bought, let the divining begin.
The Diviners is published on 18 Septemberby Atom. Photograph courtesy of Vania Stoyanova.