Too bad the title does not necessary imply divergence from present popular Young Adult formulations. Work-shopped from an outline and a list of ingredients came to mind as I grit my way through this one. Is the imaginative twist on post-apocalyptic dystopian construction of society enough to forgive the seams? Likely. More, its saving grace may be in the way it does actually diverge from present YA expectations. That and the understanding that Veronica Roth does have an aptitude for writing.
There is a degree of pleasure in reading with an expectation of formula. We even seek it out. Our comfort zones, they are sometimes called. Still, while I know I am reading something along familiar lines, I don’t want it brought to conscious attention. This was my experience with Veronica Roth’s Divergent. It was as if its own self-consciousness had alerted mine.
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. ~
Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series — dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance. ~publisher’s synopsis
The forming of 5 factions based on personality was imaginative and is well-executed. Within the emergence of dystopic themes, the only thing lacking is that haunting quality a good dystopian story has–possibility. Still, said ingredient isn’t necessary to the resulting enjoyment of the read. Roth shows her excellent writing talent in her world-building which unfolds beautifully and clearly as we follow her unusual protagonist via 1st person.
Hero and Narrator: Beatrice/Tris, though blonde, is unusual in that she is petite. An odd observance, but I couldn’t help but note it. Part of being short and thin is that she is often underestimated. Another “divergence” is that she is somewhat denied her sexuality (even at 16) which I think should be noted: “You sure you’re sixteen, Stiff? Doesn’t feel like you’re more than twelve”(279). “Can he tell that I’m still built like a child?” (324). Still, someone finds her attractive (2 actually do)–is it for her quick wit, her bravery, her aptitude for adjusting to perilous situations? “I like how you look. You’re deadly smart. You’re brave.” (337-8). And the young man who says this is the one to swoon over well before page 337. “Unexpected romance,” really synopsis?
Even if Tris is slow on the uptake, the Reader should guess pretty quickly who Four actually is. They will also likely wonder why his being two years older is such a scandal (337). “Isn’t he a little old for you, Tris?” (364). Nowadays, sure, but this is future and we are sending our 16 year olds off to become adults with hard life-decisions and jobs.
I also didn’t get Four as ever being tough or unkind. I kind of figured he was supposed to be (you know, somewhat Heathcliff-like*), but Tris just looks stupid in her oblivion to Four’s reactions to her. I wish the 1st person was more limited than it was, because the observances Tris makes for the benefit of the Reader (as a 3rd person narrator might) only serve to make her exasperating. She reads the observation one way, but we all know it as an other way. Misinterpretation is real, and so is a false modesty; which is Tris for the last 3/4ths of the story. Of course, a novel with tight reins on its sexuality, can’t allow things to go too fast. After all, the innocence of both Tris and Four are part of its appeal and its difference, isn’t it? Additionally, the novel isn’t all about the romance. Tris is coming of age,** coming into her Self. And then there is that nefarious plot by the bad guys. duh duh duhhh.
Divergent is a book one of a trilogy. Crumbs are left as we are carried through Tris’ initiation process and we collect them into an action-packed ending. This ending puts some things into play in order to sustain the storyline into the next book. I think it would have done well readjusted into a singular tome. Could be I am exhausted by sagas. Roth creates a fun world to play in, dangerous and full of potential story. Fan-fiction writers will have a lot of fun. If book two reads more like a companion than a direct sequel, I could get behind that. Roth’s development as a writer is worth catching book 2 as well.
What I did find interesting in the read was the question of : what it means to be Brave and Selfless, which is a large preoccupation within the book. Christian readers will appreciate the positive way a life of service can be viewed, and that the protagonist comes from a home that believes in God and isn’t self-righteous about it. Roth’s restraint with depicting violence, to the possible detriment of one scene should be a draw for those tired of the gritty nature of many an action/adventure dystopian. As far as current YA fiction is concerned, Divergent is rated G.
Roth is fair in showing up- and down-sides to each of the factions, though perhaps least with Candor and Erudite. Regardless the perspectives she present are intriguing enough, very age appropriate, light yet thought-provoking. The book isn’t so intense as to be inaccessible. She knows her audience. In the end, I find that I am just too old for this book–and its antics–let’s just call me a curmudgeon and get on with it, eh?
recommendations: is enough that it was on most “best of 2011” lists by avid readers of young adult fiction? likely. The action is exciting, there’s tattoos, and sweet sweet romance.
*Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
** Or is female coming-of-age stories about the initiation into relationship with their “destined” mate”? I’m beginning to wonder. Roth seems to be trying to avoid it here, if it is, which I appreciate. The realization of sexuality/sensuality, I can see as coming-of-age.
by Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011; Hardcover, 487 pages.