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Book Review: The City Beautiful

A killer stalks the streets of Chicago. A killer who preys upon young Jewish immigrants. It is a dangerous time to be alive as Alter Rosen, recent Jewish immigrant from Romania, well knows. Living in the slums and tenements along Maxwell Street, Alter struggles to make enough money to keep himself alive as well as bring over his mother and sisters from Romania. But life isn’t all struggle, he’s got friends. Particularly the gentle and kind Yakov who Alter loves dearly. But when Yakov is brutally murdered, Alter’s life changes. Now possessed by a Dybbuk of his slain friend, Alter joins forces with a boy from his past to hunt down a vicious killer before it’s too late and Alter is fully consumed.

Set against the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, The City Beautiful is an oftentimes deep and disturbing glimpse into the world of that time. The city is dirty and corrupt, crawling with con-men and tricksters who are eager and willing to take advantage of the arriving immigrants. This is the city that so many people came to seeking a better life only to find more poverty and strife. This is the city that played home to H.H. Holmes as well as inspired Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” And because of that this book needs a heap-ton of trigger warnings.

Triggers for the following: Child Sexual Assault/Rape, Character Death, Antisemitism, racism, classism, xenophobia, graphic descriptions of blood and gore, graphic descriptions of funerary practices, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, general cruelty, and more I’m definitely missing. Please make sure you’re in a good place before reading this book.

Because this is a good book. While the subject matter is definitely outside my usual fare, it’s a well-researched story about Jewish Immigrant Life in America in the late 19th century with very mystical/horror elements. And it’s definitely horror. At times this book reminded me of Stephen King’s “It” mixed with Lovecraft Country. I liked the fact that this featured an LGBT character who is still coming to terms with that that means for him. It’s realistic for a time and culture where homosexuality is very much looked down upon and even punished.

And this story is a romance. While Alter’s first love does die as a catalyst to the overarching plot, there is a very nice slow burn second chance romance between Alter and a sort of Artful Dodger-like character named Frankie. And I did like Frankie. He’s a tempter, while Alter is the atoner. It’s an interesting mix.

However, my favorite character was Raizel, one of Alter’s friends from the tenement where he lives. She’s a reformer who wants to be a reporter and it’s nice to see a solid Male/Female friendship in YA. Especially a LGBT one – where members of the opposite sex are often denigrated. She’s got her own goals and she’s not a shrinking violet. I kind of love her. LOL

That said, the book isn’t perfect. It’s a very slow start with some uneven pacing between the 10 and 40% marks. After the 50% mark the story picks up and it’s a nice ride to the end. Looking back on it, I can see why the author took the time to set the scene and lay out the clues, but it wasn’t apparent on the first read through. That said, this book definitely has re-read value… so that’s something.

In all, I enjoyed this book despite it taking me several months to read. So I’m going to give this…

Four stars

If this is your jam, you can get it here.

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I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley.

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