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. – Goodreads description
I’ve heard so much furor about this book – and even more about the series finale – that I’ve been going back and forth on whether I really wanted to read it. Between my desire to experience the story – because only a good one could create so much chatter – and fear that I’ll become way too attached and that Allegiant will break my heart (please, please, PLEASE don’t give away ANYTHING in the comments. I’m begging you.)
And now that I’ve finally finished the first book in the series, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need an entire case of Kleenex to make it through the rest of these books!
At first Roth’s dystopic version of post-conflict Chicago made me go, “Huh? The fuck?” But as I continued to read it started to slowly make more sense to me. There’s suspense and drama right from the beginning. There are characters you come to root for, and others you come to despise. There are even some you go back and forth on.
As I read, I came to love the concepts behind the factions (though not their practical application as it had become distorted and vicious). I particularly loved the basis of Dauntless – though this was probably informed more by my love of black clothing, tattoos and piercings than anything else. I definitely am not a fan of heights.
The world Roth created was so powerful that as I read, I constantly imagined myself living in it. Which faction would I choose? How would I deal with the bullying and cruelty of the other initiates? Would I survive the tests involved in initiation? My empathy for Tris as she faced these difficult situations drew me wholeheartedly into her world and made me very attached to both her and Four (aka Tobias).
I liked that Roth didn’t pander to the overdone tropes of insta-love or the dreaded love triangle. I liked that I could enjoy Tobias and Tris falling for one another without the annoyance I normally end up feeling. Of all the YA books I’ve read in the last year, this one reminded me most strongly of The Fault In Our Stars – of the relationship between Augustus and Hazel. Obviously this isn’t the same, but the feeling it evoked in me as I read was similar. Granted they do “fall in love” pretty quickly, but so much happens in the plot that it doesn’t feel forced or rushed. So I’m okay with it.
Because I have to, I can certainly point out a few things that weren’t perfect about the book. The premise, while I became accustomed to it, did turn me off a bit at the beginning. The factions are just so extreme, and such a huge commitment. Dividing and ghettoizing people based on one personality attribute that is supposedly stronger than the others seems as absurd to me as dividing people based on gender or skin colour. But then again, maybe that was part of the point – to highlight just how absurd such prejudice is. And how unsustainable.
The thing I struggled with the most, however, was the idea of choosing an entire life when you’re 16 based on one personality trait. And the fact that these kids then had to choose to leave their families, face tests they may or may not have an idea of, and if they fail, be cast out of society permanently. A little harsh, no? The other issue for me was that no one’s personality is that one-faceted. Sure, some people are more generous than others. Some are more courageous. Some are more intelligent. But does that preclude them from also being kind, selfless or honest? And shouldn’t we all aspire to all these things? Isn’t focusing too much on any one aspect detrimental?
Of course, these are some of the issues ultimately faced by Tris and Tobias, and Tobias discusses his desire to be more than just one thing. But honestly, I’m surprised everyone wasn’t divergent!
There are definitely some aspects to this series that scream Hunger Games – like the factions that mirror the districts (right down to one faction based within the major city taking control and using the others to service its interests), the different styles of life and dress between the factions, different societal roles they each play, the way teenagers are torn from their families and thrown into life-threatening situations. Sure, it’s not the same. But there are some echoes.
That’s all fine, though. You know why? Because even though the premise of the Hunger Games was fascinating, Divergent is much, much better written. And in the end, as the story progresses, it becomes more unique and less like anything I’ve ever read before – HG included.
I’m apprehensive to continue on with Insurgent and, eventually, the dreaded Allegiant. Call me a pussy, but I have a feeling that Roth will be ruthless with her characters (though not George R. R. Martin ruthless, cos no one is quite that bloodthirsty), and that makes me very, very nervous. But one of my many character traits is curiosity, and I just have to know – so I’m on to Insurgent!
I also cannot wait to watch the movie:
Author: Veronica Roth
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Released: April 25, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia, Conflict
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