TPG Reviews: Divergent, by Veronica Roth
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.
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.