Review: Divergent

Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen
Books May 2011

In the future, the world is divided in five factions: Erudite, for those who valuable knowledge; Amity, for those who value kindness and interpersonal harmony; Candor, for those who value honesty; Abnegation, for those who value altruism; and Dauntless, for those who value courage. Every teenager is confronted with a choice during their sixteenth year – stay in their parents’ faction, or leave their family behind and join a new faction. A test that determines natural aptitude is supposed to guide this choice; the test tells teens which faction their personality fits into most naturally. But when Beatrice takes the test, her results are strange. She doesn’t fit naturally into one faction – she is Divergent. The tester covers up her results and tells her never to reveal her Divergent status, but the results leave Beatrice even more confused. Will she choose Abnegation, her parents’ faction? Or will she leave them behind and find a new family? Her choice will have greater repercussions than she ever imagined.

I have to admit I found it a bit difficult to review something that’s been so aggressively hyped in the blogosphere. Going in to a reading experience knowing that this series has been called “the next Hunger Games” changed how I read the book; it certainly made me more critical and more attentive (maybe I should only read things that have tons of buzz!) I should also note that the rest of the review contains spoilers for an event that happens early on.

So, is Divergent the next Hunger Games?  Eh, not quite. It’s a little too long, and the external plot (as opposed to Beatrice’s struggle to fit in to her new faction) is developed too slowly. The writing’s fine, but there are places where it could have been tighter and cleaner. My biggest problem with the book was that I couldn’t get behind the premise. It’s interesting to think about the factions, and which faction you might choose. Unlike the very best dystopias, however, I couldn’t believe that any society would actually make the choice to live in five factions. It didn’t seem like a natural outcome of any conflict, so as interesting as the factions were, and as thorough as Roth’s world-building was, I was never able to completely suspend my disbelief about the basic structure of the society.

That said – it’s a great, fast-paced, engrossing read. I finished in less than 24 hours, and it’s almost 500 pages long. Beatrice is a kick-ass heroine, and it’s pretty fun to watch her pick herself up and dust herself off time and again. One can’t help rooting for her, even though she’s not always the nicest person. The best part of Divergent, though, is the romance. The characters are mutually respectful, and it’s clear that they admire each other. It’s also surprisingly sexy (but still appropriate for high schoolers) and frank about sexuality. That’s uncommon in dystopias, at least in recent examples I can think of. The romance was almost ruined, at least for me, by the love interest’s extremely unfortunate name, but I got over that eventually. Recommended for the dystopia fans in your life, and for people like plot-driven, character -rich reads and reading the next big thing.

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