narfna’s #CBR4 Review #45: Divergent by Veronica Roth
This was my second time through Divergent, and it remains the only post-Hunger Games YA dystopian novel to even come close to matching my excitement for that series. I almost didn’t re-read in preparation for the sequel, but I knew that I liked it so much the first time that I’d be asking for trouble jumping into #2 without refreshing my memory. (Sidenote: Getting old sucks. My mind used to be a steel trap for book plots — they went in and they didn’t come out. But as I get older, I have less and less room up there or something. The ole hard drive is filling up. It sucks.)
Divergent follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior through a future version of Chicago (no word yet on how far in the future, although I expect that to come in book 3) where society has split into five factions: the Abnegation (whose members value selflessness), the Erudite (who value intelligence), the Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honesty), and the Dauntless (bravery). When a citizen comes of age, they take an aptitude test that determines which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives. Switching factions nearly always means leaving your family behind.
Tris, who has always felt out of place in her Abnegation family, tests as Divergent — possibly fitting into more than one faction — but her test results are kept secret by her proctor. Being Divergent is dangerous, although Tris isn’t really sure what it means. The story really starts when Tris decides to switch factions: to the Dauntless, whom she has always admired from afar, as they do crazy things like jumping off of trains and buildings and such all the time (and because their wild and seemingly carefree lifestyle is a huge contrast to Tris’s buttoned up existence in Abnegation). As she goes through Dauntless initiation, she has to simultaneously navigate the obstacles thrown at her by her instructors, and she’s also got to stay on top of the complex social politics of the Dauntless initiates, because if you fail at Dauntless initiation, you’re cast out of the faction system and become one of the dreaded Factionless. On top of all that, she has to somehow keep her Divergent nature a secret, even though it quickly shoots her to the top of the rankings. It gets violent and rather terrifying, and it’s one of the reasons the book reads so fast.
The other reason is that Veronica Roth — who began writing this series when she should have been paying attention during her college lectures — is actually a good writer. She has a clear instinct for how to write believable, flawed characters, she’s structured her story so that it never lets up and hits you in all the right emotional places, and the world she’s created (while slightly derivative) isn’t just there to serve those characters and get them into cliched situations — it’s a world created with a purpose. It has thematic backbone. There’s no love triangle in Divergent, but there is a love story, and it’s a good one. Both parties are fully fleshed out, and there’s more on their minds than romance.
If YA dystopias are your thing, check this series out, and even if they’re not, you still might want to check it out. If you don’t like it, you can come back here and punch me in the face. I promise I won’t mind.