I first bought Divergent by Veronica Roth last fall at a used bookstore for about $3. I started to read it then but as I read it, I found the dystopian world to be a lot like the one in the Hunger Games, so I put it down.
Since then I have come to realize that when I first started reading Divergent I hadn’t read any other dystopian novels other than The Hunger Games, (besides The Giver) and therefore that was my definition of a dystopian Young Adult novel. I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
But now I have read some other dystopian series, and when I saw the trailer for Divergent, I decided that if I ever wanted to see the movie in the future, which I might want to do, I should read the book first.
So I read it. And I was pleasantly surprised when Veronica Roth’s futuristic Chicago no longer reminded me of Panem.
Beatrice Prior lives in a world that is divided into factions based on virtue. There’s Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless. Beatrice was born into Abnegation, and is taught to be quiet, calm, and to constantly think of others before she thinks of herself.
While Beatrice loves her family, she struggles to maintain these values in her life. When the time comes for Beatrice to chose her own faction, she finds out that she is in fact a Divergent; one who has an aptitude for multiple factions, in Beatrice’s case Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. But Beatrice has to decide which one to join. She is told that her Divergence must be kept a secret, as it is dangerous for others to know about her.
So Beatrice joins Dauntless, changes her name to Tris, and throws herself whole heartedly into Dauntless training. But all the while, it looks like something bigger is going on around her, and while Tris struggles to keep her Divergence a secret, her world starts to change, and her secret might be more important than she originally thought.
Dystopian novels in themselves are inherently formulaic: a seemingly perfect yet controlling society starts to unravel and it is up to a bunch of teenagers to save it. That’s not too surprising. What makes a dystopian novel good then, is how the author uses the formula to tell his or her own unique story, and Roth does this well, in my opinion. There enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The fact that the society is going to fall apart is not what kept me reading, it was the how and why that were interesting. It’s kind of like watching a chick flick and you know the girl is going to end up with the guy, but you watch the movie anyway to find out how it happens.
And of course, what would a dystopian novel be without a love interest? Although there is no love triangle in Divergent, which I find rather refreshing – I tend to get very cynical when it comes to love triangles, and its a pretty big trope that is hard to avoid in YA books lately. What made this love interest different, and even enjoyable for me, was that Tris is already a hugely strong and defiant character. That is clear from the beginning.
But as Tris starts to fall for Four, her leader in Dauntless training, Roth uses this relationship as a means for Tris to find out more about herself, the Dauntless faction, and her society as a whole. It’s not just a girl swooning over a guy. In a similar way, Four also learns about himself, rather than being the perfectly flawed boy that helps a helpless girl through her life. To me, that makes the relationship all the more real, believable, and enjoyable to read. It should be no surprise by now that I am a huge fan of the strong female character and Roth portrays through a variety of different characters and relationships in her series.
As I was reading Divergent, I began thinking – is this book darker than The Hunger Games? It’s hard to be darker than a book about kids battling to the death for public enjoyment, but I saw The Hunger Games as more of a survival story for Katniss rather than a battle. She doesn’t kill unless she needs to. And while the plot of Divergent is different altogether, there is more outright violence simply within the Dauntless faction, and frequently it is this violence and turmoil that pushes the plot forward. I’m not one of those people who condones violence in Young Adult books, I’m all for it; if the story calls for it, then by all means put it in. I really enjoyed reading Divergent and, I am currently reading Insurgent, and I am looking forward to reading Allegiant when it comes out in October, but the comparison of violence was a thought that entered my mind while reading Divergent.
It will be interesting to see how the violence is portrayed in the movie when it comes out next year. Personally, I found The Hunger Games movie to be darker than the book, simply because it was visual instead of verbal. You are being shown something outright as compared to imagining it yourself off the page. So it will be interesting to see how Divergent is translated to the big screen.
One problem I had with Divergent was there were a few times where it seemed like the narration came to a conclusions about the turn of events before Tris did. This was a little strange considering that it is narrated in the first person. It meant that there were times where I felt like I was ahead of Tris when it came to figuring things out, and it made some of her realizations not as gripping as they could have been if they came slightly earlier in the book. This didn’t detract me too much from the series, as I still tore through the book and enjoyed reading it, but I think some of the realizations could come earlier in the narrative while not throwing off the plot, or slowing down the story too much.
All in all I thought Divergent was a good read. I always enjoy it when authors create unique characters and worlds and Veronica Roth does this well in her series. I am currently enjoying Insurgent and I am debating placing a hold on Allegiant before it comes out so I won’t have to wait forever to read it from the library. And now, if I want to, I can go see the movie when it comes out in 2014.