You know what? I’m just going to slam this book down on the table and say: NEW! FAVOURITE!
I absolutely adored this book, and I’m softly kicking myself for waiting a month after I finished listening to the audiobook to review it. Brain is dusty on the details already 😭 But I need to tell you how so so good it is because it deserves way more hype and love. It’s one of those stories that’s intensely well written, with gorgeous attention to detail, and characters who you grow to love and respect and root for with total passion. I fell into this book and I could not get up.
Also it literally gives you humour, plot twists, harsh historical truths, murder, ghosts, and heart-wrenching gut-punches. I am like, WRECK ME AND LOVE ME, and this book complies.
We follow Alter Rosen in Chicago, 1893, as he works for a pittance in several jobs trying to earn money for his sister and mother to come over from Romania. Alter is Jewish and the book is lovingly, angrily, and powerfully Jewish to its very core. There are also a lot of cultural details and history — it really peels back the layers of Jewish life and lets you see the bleeding corners, and also the fierce pride and joy. So so loved reading that. But the casual to violent discrimination Alter faces everyday is sobering. He just wants a better life for his family, and he’s so dedicated to sending money to them. He’d just eat potatoes and nothing else for weeks if it meant saving them.
But things get complicated when Alter’s roommate (Yakov, a Russian Jewish immigrant) is murdered and his ghost attaches to Alter. If Alter wants to be free, he needs to find out what happened to Yakov.
Time to cry over Alter Rosen 😭🙌🏻 The absolute most softest and loyal boy ever, who just has an absolute heart of GOLD. He is somehow so uptight in his goodness and yet so soft and often insecure that he makes your heart melt. He also focuses super hard on work + future plans, so that he doesn’t have to acknowledge his sexual identity. Alter is just like, so gay. And he denies it to himself because he thinks it’s against his religion too.
Also side note? I appreciate how the book took time to unpack religious bigotry against queer people. Even the moments they talked about the bible’s mistranslations. Some of Frankie and Alter’s conversations about it were brief but amazing.
Now we talk about FRANKIE, AKA MY FAVE. Basically if Nikolai x Kaz (from the Grishaverse) had a baby, it would be Frankie. He is a smooth-talking, charming, utterly morally grey thief 😂 Okay he has his own moral code, which he follows with cheerful dedication while he’s flirting and throwing about quips. He is just so anti-establishment and also, super pretty while he’s at it. Queer, Jewish, and in love with Alter (WHO IS TRYING NOT TO LOVE HIM BACK).
Alter worked with Frankie briefly as a thief when he was destitute, but then Alter and his Golden Boy Conscience fled and the story has only just started when Alter, now working in a print shop, stumbles into Frankie again. And everything goes terribly right and wrong at the same time.
There is almost a tiny love-triangle? Alter had a crush on Yakov, but now that Yakov is a ghost haunting him, and Alter is working with Frankie to solve the mystery…his feelings for Frankie are back. Or really, they never left. We do stan a flirt x serious boy x dead boy triangle though. Especially when Frankie is like: “am i competing with a ghost” and is not too pleased.
Also shout out to Raizel, who is a teen girl who Alter was meant to be matched with, but since he is very much too gay, they are just friends. She is so anti-establishment, abolish the upper class, let’s-protest-everything, eat the rich. I love her. 😂
I loved it!! Such excellent narration, plus the narrator occasionally did those old-style Chicago accents (I think that’s what it was okay, I am too Australian for this) and it was just really good 😍👌🏻 I loved it so much I also went out and bought a physical copy too.
- incredible characters who are so complex and thoughtful and beautiful
- gorgeous writing that hones in on details to make every scene dimensional and poignant
- rich historical setting
- ghost story but also murder mystery
- tackles anti-semitism and historical queer oppression
- commentary on the cruelties that immigrants face
- take you all over Chicago in the 1800s
- SOME HUMOUR TOO
- Stalking Jack the Ripper vibes meets some Six of Crows vibes (not the heist, but the characters)
- the ending will PUNCH you but also rebuild you but also punch you a little more
- gay panic + there’s only one bed + the flirt x the serious one tropes
At risk of never shutting up from my gushing, this is an absolutely incredible book and I think about it all the time.
Title: The City Beautiful
Author: Aden Polydoros
Date Published: October 5th 2021
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Purchase: Book Depository, Blackwells
Add it on Goodreads
Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.
But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.
Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.
Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.
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