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TPG Reviews: Divergent, by Veronica Roth

September 1, 2014

An enjoyable YA read.

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, 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 alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating 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 unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Divergent_cover

My rating: 7/10

Oook…what to say about this one?

I’ll start with the premise, for the benefit of the five-or-so people who don’t already know. Society, in this novel, is split cleanly into five distinct factions defined by certain personality traits. Everyone must chose one on their sixteenth birthday; those who fail the subsequent initiation are cast out as “factionless” and left to a life of poverty. Anyone who doesn’t neatly fit one faction, meanwhile, is considered”divergent”; those who are divergent are killed on discovery, owing to their perceived threat to society.

My one big problem with this book is pretty straightforward: to me, the central freaking premise makes absolutely no sense, particularly by the end. The way the factions work, one would expect divergence to be exceptionally common; instead, it is treated as a rare and terrible thing. Divergence also apparently grants one extra powers in certain situations, because…um…well, because. My suspension of disbelief was more than a little stretched by the end, which robbed the conclusion in particular of a fair amount of its impact.

But with that said: this is, at the very least, a good book. I went through this in about five days flat, which is really quick for me, and I had more issues with it after reading it than I did while I was reading. The book is highly readable – at least as much as you’d expect, given its popularity – and I’d happily recommend it to readers of YA.

Looking back, I think it was Tris herself that really made this book for me. Tris is pretty much the ideal “strong female”, being both physically and mentally tough without becoming unbelievable, and I very much enjoyed her perspective…her excessive selflessness notwithstanding. Tris really is a fine heroine, and one who is fairly easy to get behind.

I wasn’t keen on the narrative being in present tense, to be fair. This book pulls it off a lot better than most, but I still kinda wish it had been done in past tense like most books are. This is more a case of personal preference than anything else, but still.

The other characters were well done on the whole, with Tris’ family being a particular high point. YA books rarely seem to give much time to family relations, so it was refreshing to see it covered here. The main villain was also well-written in my opinion, despite only appearing briefly towards the end.

The setting is both well envisaged and well described, though there are some pretty obvious holes if you stop to think about things. The role of the factionless was particularly odd in my view: early on, they are presented as vagrants and beggers, but it’s also mentioned that they do any job not performed within the factions…which really ought to be most jobs. The faction system in general stuck me as incredibly arbitrary, really, and felt more like an excuse for the ensuing plotline than anything else.

That being said, said plotline is very good indeed, and kept me wanting to read throughout. Thus. I was more bothered by the presented world afterwards than I was at the time.  The world-building isn’t one of the novel’s strengths, perhaps, but I reckon it gets the job down overall.

All in all, Divergent is a good piece of YA sci-fi that readers of the genre will surely enjoy…assuming they haven’t already done so, which I guess won’t be many. Give it a look if you have yet to do so; you’ll be in for a thrilling ride.

 

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7 Comments
  1. If you had written this two days ago I wouldn’t have had a clue as to the central premise. As it is, we rented the DVD Saturday evening. I quite enjoyed the film, though I don’t think I enjoyed it enough to want to read the book as well. I was also bothered by how perfectly everyone seems to fit inside their factions and that having thought processes that differed from others is considered…divergent 😉

    • I’ll probably check out the DVD myself at some point, actually. The book struck me as something that would work well on screen, so it’ll be interesting to see what I end up making of it.

      I think the thing that bothered me the most about divergence were the “powers” (saying that to avoid spoilers) that it granted. It just seemed very out of place with regards to the rest of the story, at least to me.

  2. I read the book last year and saw the movie back in April. It sounds like our overall opinions are the same, but for different reasons. (I had issues with the Tris-Four relationship, among other things.) You made some really interesting points about the worldbuilding that I’d completely missed before but make sense in hindsight. How can they all be expected to be perfect fits for their chosen factions? If this expectation existed in current-day society, we’d have a ton of Divergents.

    But yeah, I tore through that book within a matter of days, too. And like you, I don’t read books that quickly. The word I’ve started using in my book reviews is “unputdownable.” 🙂

    Present tense seems to be the trend with YA lit right now. The Hunger Games trilogy (have you read that?) was written that way. I’m reading a YA fantasy novel called “Storm Siren” right now that’s also narrated in first-person present tense – and the present tense is throwing me off, considering that I’m pretty sure the story’s set in the long-ago past and not in current-day.

    • I’ve never got on particularly well with present tense, for some reason. I always seems…I dunno…stilted, somehow. Past tense narration always feels so much more fluid and natural to me, though that might just be because I’m more used to it.

      Would you recommend seeing the movie? Because I kinda want to after reading this book.

      • I know what you mean about the present tense. I don’t mind it; I think it offers a sense of urgency that past tense lacks. But with the kinds of stories I’d like to write (after the current WIP, of course), I can’t say I’m interested in writing an entire book in present tense.

        Yes, if you like the book “Divergent” enough, I’d recommend the film version. They did make a couple changes (e.g., the ending plays out a little differently, but with the same spirit), but for the most part it’s true to the original story. Shailene Woodley played a much more convincing Tris than I thought she was going to, as well. It’s not a perfect film, but it was done well enough.

  3. I enjoyed this book but was entirely put off by the third book. The world building for me was average and the conflict wasn’t really presented as a social uprising but more of Tris’s internal battle with her place in the system. I hope you plan to read the other 2 books in the series.

    • Definitely plan to read them at some point: it was a good start to the series, and I’m interested to see where it all ends up going.

      I’ve seen other people mention disliking the third book, come to think of it; here’s hoping I end up getting on with it okay…

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