A Critical Review of Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Have you ever picked up a book, expecting to be disappointed by it? I was anticipating feeling let down by Divergent and I figured that there was no way that it could reach my expectations of teen dystopian fiction, which had been set for me by The Hunger Games. I thought that it was very likely that this book wouldn't be able to meet the expectations that I had, and that it couldn't possibly be as good as I'd been told it was.
Well, once again I was totally wrong. Divergent didn't disappoint me in any way at all. In fact, I was tremendously impressed with the story that this book tells. I had expected to be let down in terms of characterization (as I have been frequently with teen fiction lately) and plot, but Ms. Roth shone in both areas, restoring my faith in the Young Adult genre (and I'm glad that she did, because I was getting close to giving up on reading this genre after the last book I finished).
One of the best things about this book was that the romance was understated instead of making the romance the central theme of a novel that didn't need it in the first place. The characters were solid and believable, realistic and sympathetic. If any book is trying to be the teen dystopian trilogy, this one comes the closest to comparing to The Hunger Games. And in some ways it was better.
In my review of Divergent I'll tell you what I loved about the book, what I disliked about the book, and make a few comparisons to The Hunger Games to boot.
This is a spoiler-free book review of Divergent, by Veronica Roth.
A Brief Summary of the Novel
Beatrice Prior lives in the post-apocalyptic city of Chicago, Illinois. The city is largely in ruins and is protected by a fence that goes around the entire community. Within the city there are five factions, each faction based on a virtue. These factions are: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), Erudite (intelligence), Dauntless (fearlessness) and Candor (honesty). At the age of sixteen, each student in Chicago undergoes aptitude testing to determine into which faction he or she would best fit, and is then required to make a decision about which faction to belong to.
Once the faction is chosen, however, there is no going back, and choosing a faction into which you weren't born means leaving your family behind, and possibly never speaking to them again. Faction before blood is the motto of this dystopian society, and faction is your family once you've chosen.
But something goes wrong with Beatrice's test, and she must choose her faction more carefully. Will she choose to abandon her family or to remain with them in Abnegation, giving up everything of herself? What threats await her special status as a citizen of Chicago? Her decisions may affect more than herself and her family. They may affect the entire city.
I got into the middle of this book very quickly, and it only got better from there. The book is fast pace and it gets straight into the middle of the action in the first three chapters of the book. There's no delay before the story gets started, no slow and tedious introduction of the characters, no struggle to get through page after page of info-dump (which is a more and more common occurrence in teen fiction).
That being said, I was also struck by the fact that this book is written to a juvenile audience. I get the sense that what was classed as "mid-grade fiction" ten years ago would now be classed as "young adult" fiction now, with the "young adult" fiction of ten years ago being classed as "new adult" today. Roth's characterizations are powerful, but her writing style didn't seem to suit her audience.
But that's okay. I was able to overlook the writing style because the characters were powerful. I want to say that the story was amazing as well, but this book, while action packed, is a bit wanting in the story department. I'll get to that in a moment.
What I Liked about Divergent
I liked the fact that it didn't take me 100 or more pages to get involved in the story. I was introduced to the dystopian society of Chicago, got a feel for the factions, had an understanding of the conflict in the story and delved straight into Tris' head, where I was able to settle down and enjoy her.
I enjoyed the fact that Tris was realistically sixteen years old. I believed her age in spite of the dystopian society (which can make teenagers more mature than they might be in our modern societies). I loved that she was weak in some ways and strong in others. I felt that she was an appropriate heroine for teenagers to read and enjoy because she is an example of a self-assured and competent young woman.
I enjoyed Four. I thought that he was also realistically flawed without being perfectly imperfect. I liked the way that he treated Tris, and the way that he treated other people. He was enjoyable to read and the first hero in a dystopian romantic novel that I've ever liked straight from the start.
I loved Eric as a villain. You'll have to read the book to see this one for yourself because he's hard to describe, but an excellent antagonist.
What I didn't like about Divergent
As usual, I'm going to do this in list format, and as usual, this list will probably be longer than the list above in spite of my five star rating of this book. While I loved this book, there are some serious flaws.
- I felt that it was written for a younger audience. There are volumes in Harry Potter that are written at a higher level than this book was written. This isn't a criticism of Roth's writing so much as it is a statement of the fact that I think she may have been writing for a younger (than teen) audience. Or this is becoming a trend in teen fiction, which is also possible.
- The characters are stronger than the plot. There's a definite plot here, but it didn't need a book this long to tell the story of this version of Chicago. That's frustrating. Most of the book is taken up with the initiation period that Tris experiences in her faction. This is time consuming, and while thrilling (as we wait to find out if she'll make it through initiation), I'd have liked to have seen more storyline.
- It's extraordinarily violent. This is coming from someone who read through The Hunger Gameswithout ever becoming especially squeamish about the violence. There is a lot of blood and a lot of bloodshed in this novel and that's something that I wasn't prepared for.
A Comparison to The Hunger Games
First of all, I am reasonably confident that readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games will enjoy Divergent. When I first heard this recommendation and connection, I thought it was ridiculous. After all, I was also told that Harry Potter fans were bound to love Twilight and that Twilight fans would enjoy The Hunger Games. The problems with these connections is that they are very flimsy. There is no connection between the fantasy of Harry Potter and the paranormal of Twilight or the paranormal and the dystopian society of The Hunger Games.
Below is my assessment of the two novels, in comparison.
The Hunger Games
Self-Centered. Strong-Willed. Stubborn.
(Mostly) Selfless. Strong-Willed. Aggressive.
Yes. Love Triangle.
Older Teens and Young Adults. Adults.
Young Teens through Young Adults.
Will there be a movie?
Yes! Divergent will be a movie. It is set for release on March 21st, 2014. Yes, I plan on seeing it.
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