Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Divergent (Veronica Roth)

I must confess, the first time I heard about Divergent, I may have rolled my eyes. One of the things that really tires me about young adult books is how trendy they are: if a book belonging to one niche becomes popular, suddenly the market is flooded with those kinds of books. Harry Potter saw the rise of books about witches and sorcerers and medieval dragons and such. Twilight birthed loads of vampire/werewolf books (I still get upset every time I see that Barnes & Noble has a "Teen Paranormal Romance" section separate from the other YA books).

Ever since the success of The Hunger Games, I've seen a stream of nonstop dystopian fiction.So when I saw that Roth's Divergent was another futuristic-society-gone-wrong book, I felt like it was safe to pass it up. I read The Hunger Games, I'll pass. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of dystopias because it can allow for some really unique and enjoyable world-building, but at some point, enough is enough.

And then the book won the Goodreads Choice Award for favorite book of 2011, and I was paying attention. The book has amassed over 100,000 ratings in 14 months, and its average rating is 4.39 (as of my writing this post). Such popularity and positivity is not something to be ignored, so I decided to read the book.

I came away (slightly) disappointed. Set in a Chicago of the future, society has been divided into five factions, each favoring a particular trait: bravery (Dauntless), honesty (Candor), selflessness (Abnegation), intelligence (Erudite) and kindness (Amity). When every child is sixteen, they must take an aptitude test to determine which faction best suits them, and then they are allowed to choose which faction to join. Something that wasn't clear to me while reading was whether the aptitude test results dictated your choice. Does getting a Candor result mean you must join or stay in Candor, or can you switch to Amity despite the fact that you didn't test well for that faction? I'm not sure if I just missed something while reading or if something wasn't explained. Oh well.

Our heroine, Beatrice Prior, belongs to the Abnegation faction and feels out of place. Her placement test reveals that she is Divergent--equally suited to Dauntless, Abnegation and Erudite. Her test administrator warns her that this result is dangerous, that she shouldn't tell anybody because it could mean her getting killed. At the choosing ceremony, Beatrice surprises herself by choosing Dauntless, and the next 350 pages or so details her coming to grips with her choice and training to be a member of this new faction.

The book sags here. Beatrice (who shortens her name to Tris) spends a lot of time internally pondering her choice (did she make the right choice, is this the right faction for her, does she have what it takes to make it), repeatedly (and needlessly) remarking on how things are so much different, how old Beatrice would never, could never do the things that new Tris does now. There's a romance, but it's frustrating--Tris doesn't understand that oftentimes her love interest is trying to protect her, instead interpreting his actions and emotions as mood-swingy and unstable. On a personal note, I was also annoyed by the significance and the importance placed on tattoos in the book. Tris get several of them, and her explanations of how they're so meaningful grated on me.

Nothing much happens to drive the plot until the last 75 pages. Make no mistake, Divergent is compellingly written, and it's very enjoyable to read, but there was just a lot of meandering and introspection and confusion that stalls the book. My other issue is the lack of fleshing-out: okay, so here's a really cool idea about a society that has been split into five groups based on character traits, but there isn't enough explanation about why things are this way. What led society to this point? What does it really mean to be Divergent? We see some effects of being Divergent, but there's a constant implication that we're not getting the whole explanation, and it's frustrating to be strung along without getting any of these details.

There's no doubt about it, I'll be reading book two, but that doesn't mean I didn't have some serious problems with book one. I enjoyed the ride nonetheless, and look forward to what's to come.

My Rating: 3/5
Divergent on Goodreads
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