Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you. Pass initiation. Do not fail! Thrilling urban dystopian fiction debut from exciting young author. In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior's world, society is divided into five factions -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) -- each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a "perfect society." At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family's group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy, but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly "perfect society." To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.
I rarely give up sleep for a book, but when I finally put down Divergent after an all day reading session I realized it was 2 a.m. I just couldn't go to sleep until I saw how it all turned out.
The basic premise of the novel was so different, I was intrigued from the start. In a future society (set in what used to be the city of Chicago), citizens are divided into factions based on a high-tech virtual reality apptitude test. People are placed in either the Amity, Erudite, Agnegation, or Dauntless faction based on their reactions to sorting test scenarios. Each faction values one virtue above all others. Dauntless is built around the concept that courage is the most important character trait a person can have.
The main character of the book--Tris-- doesn't fit into one single category, and thus is allowed a choice between the factions. Although born into the self-sacrificing Abengation faction, she chooses to join Dauntless, and after a slow start the book takes off describing the hellish experiences of initiation into the Dauntless faction.
Tris is an interesting character, and not the typical warm and fuzzy YA heroine. In fact, I'm not entirely sure she's a likable character at times. I think the author did this on purpose to add some depth and complexity to Tris. Once she sees that Dauntless has developed a warped sense of what courage truly means (they've become ruthless and can be cruel), she still sticks with it. There are some points where Tris is very nearly as cold as the "bad guys" she faces down in her faction. I'm hoping to see a somewhat softer and more humane side to her character in the sequel.
The love interst, Four, is not that interesting to me. We did at least get some backstory on him and I'm glad to see how he became the person he is. As with a lot of YA novels, I'm not clear at all what attracted Tris and Four to each other and how they went from strangers to literally willing to die for each other so quickly. Still there was plenty of good stuff in the book to keep me turning pages as fast as I could.
Veronica Roth can write a gripping fight scene, that's for sure. There were several scenes that were downright brutal, and more squeamish readers might find them hard to stomach. There are several deaths in the book, but I never found myself emotionally invested enough to really be upset. That's probaly the one thing that kept me from giving this book five stars. The lack of compassion between the characters kind of rubbed off on me as a reader. I had a hard time caring as much as I think I should have when certain characters were killed off. Plus, there were some things that didn't add up for me. For example, I didn't find it believable that such a huge part of the population would easily fit into only one category. People aren't that cut-and-dry in their personalities, and Tris being "divergent" (having tendencies of more than one faction) didn't strike me as being all that unusual even though it was supposed to be a rarity.
Even with the things that bothered me, I still really enjoyed the book. I recommended it to friends as soon as I finished it, but I'm not preordering the sequel. I'll read it, but probably will wait until it's at the library. Unless someone wants to send me an ARC, obviously! :)

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