Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: YA, Dystopia

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publishing Date: May 3rd 2011
Hardback: 396 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one in a planned trilogy

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

First of all, must everything be compared to the Hunger Games? Some people act like Collins created the genre and it's really starting to annoy me. Guess what, she didn't. Just because the Hunger Games was widely popular doesn't mean it's the be-all end-all of dystopia. In fact, Collin's books borrow heavily from others. Has the popularity of her books led to influx of YA dystopia novels lately? Most likely. But this doesn't mean anything about individual books. Some of the books that have come out have been good. Some bad. Yeah, it's unfortunate that there seems to be more of the latter rather than the former, but people need to get over it. The Hunger Games itself had major world building issues and fell into cliched characterizations (I loved the books but talk about major fail when it came to the socio-political aspects). I don't mean to be all ranty, but it's starting to annoy me how Collin's books are treated like the New Testament of dystopia and how dare anyone dare to write a book that deals with similar tropes.

Now that that's out of the way, I do have to admit that this book had major issues. For one, the entire structure of the world Roth created fails for me. Society is divided into five factions that cultivate five virtues? While it's a really interesting idea, Roth doesn't come close to giving readers any of the information needed to buy into this concept. I need to know why society became this way for me to find it believable (beyond "there was a war"). I need to know how it was formed as well. Who decided? How were the virtues selected? Why haven't other virtues been added to the mix? And most importantly, who enforced this strange new caste system? If the idea to form these factions was to avoid war, then how does a system that inherently pits factions against one another by reinforcing an exclusionary group mentality do this? How does tearing families apart help? If there was a strong central state power then I could see the benefit because it would replace loyalty to family with loyalty to state, but since the factions are distinct and separate this loyalty ends up spread all over the place. It just seems like a rather silly way to avoid conflict if you ask me.

Secondly, this story tends to focus on action at the sake of character development. I actually started to get the impression that Tris didn't really have the capacity to genuinely care for other people. She'll ditch her friends in a heartbeat, put them in danger without second thought, and then actually think it'd be better for them to die then to have to face up to the repercussions of her actions. Even Tris' love interest is really just there to stroke her ego and tell her (and the reader) exactly what they need to know in order to further the plot. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of things to like about Tris. She was conflicted and flawed and I love that in my characters. But sometimes I got the impression that Roth didn't mean for Tris to be so flawed. As the reader it seemed obvious that Tris didn't always rise above the ugliness, but Roth gave Tris so much righteous indignation that it was hard to know whether Tris' shortcoming were on purpose or not. This tends to happen when characters are allowed to win every argument and always have a justification for their failures (god forbid you disagree with her about how the government is run). And while Tris started out weak and had to work hard at training, she ended up being a little too good at everything. The whole divergent aspect was largely ignored, expect when needed to add some false sense of danger and immediacy to the plot, and some things just didn't make sense for me. If being able to change your dreams is something that "the powers that be" look for, then would Tris' antics in the last part of her initiation mean she pretty much gave up the hooch? I may have misunderstood this part, but it highlights the way the reader was told Tris had to be careful, but she never really had to act carefully. (She also seems to be a bit anti-intellectual which is amusing.)

I had more issues with the story, but I do have to say that I enjoyed the book overall. Maybe that's why I'm so critical of what I see as shortcomings in the story. Either way, this is one of the more interesting YA dystopias I've read and I do plan on reading the sequel. Maybe some of the unresolved issues I had with this book will be resolved in the next (though I hate when authors assume that I should accept that sort of ambiguity). Even though though Tris was a bit too much of a bad ass for my taste, she was still someone you could root for. I hope we get to see more of some of her friends and brother in the next book, since they're what really gave Tris any kind of warmth or personality.

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Good but not great.

Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone

1 comment:

  1. I finished reading Divergent last week and really enjoyed it. I just need to write my review now ... hope it turns out as good as yours. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    charmaine of IT Consulting Dallas