Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011I’ve been hearing about Divergent for a long time now, either from people on Twitter or book podcasts or whatever. I’m typically pretty late to book trends; I didn’t start reading The Hunger Games until the first movie came out, and the same is true with Harry Potter. Whatever. I get around to things when I want to get around to them.  The same goes for blogging.

I had the fortune of going into this pretty cold, too. I can honestly say I knew next to nothing about the Divergent series before starting it, other than something about their being factions, and even that was pretty vague. I’d like to think that this gave me a tabula rasa with which to approach the story, but if you’re even the slightest bit postmodern, you know that that’s actually impossible.

Anyway, the book.  Divergent is a dystopian novel set in Chicago during a period called “The Great Peace,” and the entire population is split up into five different factions (Dauntless, Abegnation, Erudite, Candor, and Amity) based on personality traits that their inhabitants choose to exhibit the most.  The story begins with a young girl, Beatrice, and her brother, Caleb, going to school for what is called the Aptitude Test, a simulation which determines which faction you’d be best suited for. The individual ultimately decides what faction they want to belong to, but they only get to choose among the five, and they only get to choose once.  From there, they are subject to an initiation period for their newfound faction which, should they fail, they will be forced to leave said faction and be “faction-less,” effectively, poor and homeless.

Anyway, Beatrice sits for her aptitude test, the results of which are ruled “inconclusive” based on certain choices she made in the simulation.  Her results show an aptitude for multiple factions, labeling her as “Divergent.” Her test instructor warns her not to share the results with ANYONE, as being Divergent is dangerous, and likely to get a person killed. Her instructor registers her results manually as “abegnation,” her home faction.  The next day, at the Choosing ceremony, where the kids who took the test choose their factions (great thing to have 16-year-olds do; make life-changing decisions they can’t undo…oh wait…high school.  Duh.), Beatrice does the unthinkable and leaves her life in Abegnation, a group known for practicing selflessness,  for the Dauntless faction, a group known for bravery, which they seem to confuse with daredevil stunts.

Let me get a few gripes out of the way first, here:

  • This is a stupid, stupid way to do government. The belief (according to the book) is that it is personality that causes division and war amongst humanity, not religion, nationalism, or other ideology. I can see where they’re going with this; man is inherently imperfect, and it’s this imperfection that infects ideology, but…why the hell would you then DIVIDE people up based on character traits that EVERYONE has the capacity to carry and practice?! I’m sure this gets explained in the next two books, but seriously…what a stupid idea.
  • The language is REALLY simple, even for a YA novel.  It’s even to the point where it’s grating. I’m letting this go for the most part, though.  Why?  Well, because I listened to this on audiobook, rather than getting a physical copy, and I think the actor they chose to read the story may have just rubbed me the wrong way.  Then again, it could just be the fact that the story is told in first-person through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old girl who probably isn’t going to be so great at mimicking male voices. It’s a gripe, but it’s not a valid gripe.
  • There ARE some similarities to The Hunger Games, at least with regard to setting (dystopian novel during a period of “peace” where everyone is split up into groups for one reason or another).  There’s also a young 16-year-old who winds up plotting to overthrow the government. Beyond that, it’s not much like The Hunger Games, but I did have to resist comparing.  Beatrice and Katniss are two completely different characters fighting for different things, so remembering that is important when you’re going into this book.

All that being said, I actually really enjoyed this book.  I wouldn’t go in expecting a masterful novel, but why would you?  Roth isn’t looking to write the next Brave New World, so to compare would be unfair.  The pace is well kept, and you’re always anticipating what’s coming in the next chapter while sitting on the edge of your seat (some of it was easy to guess, though). I also think she’s doing a really good job at empowering Beatrice. She has to work out a lot of things to see that she’s strong, so her character isn’t perfect from the start, and that’s good writing, in my opinion. Either way, if you’re into YA, you’ll be into Divergent. Looking forward to the next two books!

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