Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

DIVERGENT, by Veronica Roth
First published hardcover May 2011
Available from Katherine Tegan Books/Harper Collins

About the Book:

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, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Take:

My daughter heard about this book and bought it in the spring with some of her Easter money. She raced through it and dragged me to the library two days later to check out the sequel, Insurgent. She's now counting the days until the third book is released in October. So, noting that she liked it so much, I added it to my summer TBR pile, and I wasn’t disappointed.

This dystopian YA was a fun, fast read, despite a few minor plot holes and problems. Definitely a fun summer read, especially for fans of The Hunger Games trilogy who are looking for a fix to tide them over until the next movie comes out. There are a lot of strong opinions about this series on both the positive and negative sides of the aisle. I’m more toward the middle of the road, trending toward positive. I liked it. I enjoyed the writing and the voice, and I would recommend it. But. It’s not perfect. And it’s not life changing in the way I thought The Hunger Games or Harry Potter were.

The story starts as Beatrice Prior faces the first big decision of her young life. Her world is divided into factions, as explained in the blurb. At sixteen, each individual is tested for their aptitudes and then must choose which faction to join – but it doesn’t have to be the faction in which they were raised, or the faction that the Tester recommends. Freedom of choice, which is the one chance any teen has – ever – to change their life.

Beatrice was raised in the selfless faction (Abegnation) but never felt like she fully belonged. When her test results – the ones that are supposed to help her decide what to do with her life – come back inconclusive, the Tester uses the word “Divergent” to describe her but warns her not to tell anyone. Beatrice is left to make her choices on her own, and decide how she wants to live the rest of her life.

“Divergent” apparently means she is able to think for herself, a trait that has been bred out of the majority of humans at some point after some unnamed and un-talked about war that left Chicago a devastated shell of a city under tight authoritarian rule. No other cities or global locations are mentioned – the whole world in this book is Chicago, and it’s never quite explained what happened so that it ended up like this, or who is really in charge, or who decided on the 5-faction system.

I can see where this story resonated with my daughter, who is herself struggling with her sense of self and the changes in her friends and her immediate world. And the fact that Beatrice decides to ditch her family and the selfless faction is like a young teen’s dream – the character renames herself “Tris” and joins the Dauntless faction – the thrill seekers and fighters and protectors. Of course she did.

I read through several other reviews that took major issues with the level of violence in the Dauntless training sessions. I thought the fight scenes and training were well-written and fit seamlessly into the whole Dauntless culture that Ms. Roth created. My problem was more with the lack of recovery time or more severe consequences. I also read much criticism about the budding romance between newbie Tris and the “hottest” guy around… I’ll try not to include any spoilers, but want to address this, because I think a lot of reviewers missed the boat on this one.

The story is told from Tris’s point of view, so of course she is more than self-deprecating about her own looks and appeal (especially having been raised in Abegnation.)  Second, she seems to be the only one who finds Four quite so irresistible and intriguing, so it’s not like everyone is fighting over attracting his attention. Yes, her friends think he’s cute, but they aren’t drooling over him. Plus the fact that Four knows who she is and where she came from long before Tris knows all the facts about Four, which means he’s intrigued by her as well. Yes, maybe it’s a little predictable, but certainly not impossible or extraordinary. And I enjoyed the relationship building and the intimacy she created between them by building slow layers of trust. This part of the story worked well, in my opinion, and that alone made it a great beach book.

Bottom line? I would recommend this book for light summer reading. I don’t think it will change the genre and I’m not sure I’d line up early for the movie, but I enjoyed it and read it in two days. I may even read the rest of the series, but it’ll have to wait as my TBR pile is spilling over at the moment.

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