Divergent (Divergent Trilogy)
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has awakened a different kind of hunger in teen readers—one for all things dystopian. However, not everyone can match Collins’ achievement. Her books combined action, worldbuilding and emotion in a way that’s rarely seen. One of the contenders for “the next Hunger Games” is Divergent, a novel about a world in which you are defined by your dominant characteristic.
(Description nicked from the front flap of the book.)
“In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, 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 to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating 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 a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.”
I heard wonderful things about this book before I picked up it, not the least of which was how it was being touted as a successor to Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. And indeed, it has many of the same elements: a female teen protagonist; a daily struggle to survive against her peers; lots of action; and a burgeoning political conflict. But while this book (and presumably, the rest of the trilogy) bears some superficial resemblance to the Hunger Games, it doesn’t really live up to being compared to it.
For one thing, I personally had a little trouble buying into the premise of the Factions. In this world, you are tested with virtual reality simulations to see which Faction you fit into best; however, the test results do not determine where you end up. It’s still a choice. And I’m not able to really believe in a world where you are expected to display one single personality trait above all others. The author goes so far as to have the Dauntless constantly taking stupid, dangerous risks as a matter of course, and I don’t think that anybody can live on the edge of adrenaline for that long.
For another, I think that this book is too long. Cutting it down by about a quarter would have made for a leaner, tighter story. There are several scenes that, while interesting, simply don’t move the story forward. As an example, Tris and her Dauntless cohorts go ziplining from the top of a building one night. It’s already been established that Tris will take risks and enjoy doing so, so an entire fourteen page sequence isn’t needed to make it even clearer. Conversely, I think I could have forgiven the book’s length if there had been more worldbuilding that concerns what is happening beyond the boundaries of Chicago. Do the Factions exist everywhere? What happened to turn Chicago into the way it is today? I prefer having at least the bare bones of these questions answered in the first book of a trilogy like this.
And yet, even though I think this book has flaws, I can’t deny that Roth can be a very evocative writer. The aforementioned ziplining scene may not have been necessary, but it was well-written and does a great job of conveying what the experience feels like. (Yes, I’ve been ziplining, so yes, I can speak with authority here.) The violence, while at times feeling over the top, is written such that reading it is a visceral experience. While reading it, it’s easy to get lost in what’s going on. And when the action finally picks up to a breakneck speed near the end, it displays Roth’s writing strengths to their maximum effect.
Perhaps it’s not fair to continually compare this book to The Hunger Games, but comparisons are going to be inevitable. By such a lofty standard, this book suffers, but taken on its own merits, Divergent is a promising first novel. Despite some of the flubs and bobbles that any new author is prone to, Roth has an evocative writing style that teens will be sure to eat up. I’m curious to see what happens as the story progresses.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on August 20, 2011.