Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

My feelings are apparently very complicated about this book, because I've had this window open for hours now and haven't been able to figure out where to start. So. Basically, my issue is that for the first 200 pages or so, I thought this was a page-turner but didn't actually hold up very well. But by the end, some of my issues had been addressed, and I really liked certain things, and . . . OH I DON'T KNOW.

Backing up! Divergent is about a post-apocalyptic society (in Chicago, I think) where the people have divided themselves up into five factions based on the virtue they think is most important: Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (truth), Amity (peace), Erudite (intelligence), and Dauntless (bravery). Which faction you're in defines basically everything about your life, from what you wear to what job you have to who your friends are. Kids grow up in their parents' faction; when they're 16, they take an aptitude text (with non-binding results) and then choose which faction to join for the rest of their lives. I really liked this idea, and thought both the way things were divided up (e.g. Abnegation controls the government because supposedly the selfless can't be corrupted) and the way it all broke down (Not going to spoil you!) were well thought out and believable. I did want some sort of explanation for why those virtues in particular were chosen - what about Kindness (though that's in some ways similar to Amity) or Industriousness? The latter, I'd think, would be particularly helpful in a post-apocalyptic society.

Our heroine, Tris, grew up in Abnegation, but her aptitude test gives her inconclusive results (where the "Divergent" in the title comes from), which is never supposed to happen. She's told that it would be dangerous if anyone found out, but not told why, and she chooses to enter Dauntless. (This all happens right away. Don't worry; I'm not spoiling you.) And this, honestly, is where she lost me for a while. I get why she didn't want to stay in Abnegation, but the idea of choosing Dauntless - where she's forced to fight and do all sorts of crazy dangerous things - is so far from my own psyche that I needed more help than the text gave to understand her choice. For me, and a lot of readers, I assume, the obvious choice given what we know about the factions at the start would be Erudite. They get to read all the time! It's not clear why Tris rules it out automatically, and though we later find out bad things about Erudite (and all the factions, really), that doesn't make it make more sense at the time, and some of them Tris herself doesn't know until later, so she couldn't be reacting to them at the start.

I think that is my issue with the book in a nutshell: For the first half of the book, I thought it was pretty contrived. Things seemed to be happening JUST so they would cause conflict between Tris and those around her (or internal conflict in Tris), not for any authentic narrative reason. Some of these things are addressed later, and they're not actually contrived at all - we just don't know the factors that make them make sense. The wait is necessary, because they make good reveals, and the characters themselves don't find things out until later. In some cases, these issues have to do with the structure of the world, so it's reasonable that Tris is reacting to them without understanding them, but in other cases, it really feels like the characters are reacting to things that haven't happened and knowledge they don't yet have. But the second half of the book is plotted really well, so I almost forgot about my issues with the first half. I DON'T KNOW.

One thing I have absolutely NO qualms about is the romance. Four, the hero and romantic interest, is an ideal YA hero, by while I mean that he's dreamy but also a decent guy and ALSO sufficiently flawed, so he doesn't feel fake. And once Tris gets past the "What am I feeling? I couldn't possibly be attracted to anyone!" thing that inexplicably plagues dystopian heroines (yes, I'm looking at you, Katniss), the love story proceeds perfectly. There's no love triangle (a nice change!); there are believable, hopefully surmountable obstacles, and those obstacles are both internal and external. The way the characters are drawn, it makes complete sense that Tris and Four would be attracted to each other AND would actually make a good couple - none of that "We're so different but just randomly meant for each other!" nonsense. And their chemistry is SCORCHING. They have one of my favorite YA romances in recent memory, and I've honestly found myself worrying about whether something will come along to break them up in the sequels.

So, yes, sequels. This is the first in a trilogy; the second, Insurgent, comes out next year. Whatever my qualms with this one, I'll definitely be reading the rest, both because I want to know what happens and because I'm interested to see how Roth develops as a writer. Divergent was her first book - I think she wrote it while she was in college - so I'm hoping some of the issues I had with it will be improved in the rest of the trilogy.

(And since this was Divergent and the sequel is Insurgent, I've been having fun coming up with options for the third title. Convergent? Emergent? Resurgent? Detergent? Ha. Yeah, I'm going to stop because at this point none of these are looking like words anymore.)

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I SO agree with everything you said. Especially about Tris and Four <3 I can't wait for INSURGENT!