Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is a debut novel by Veronica Roth, and I picked it up after seeing lots of buzz surrounding it on Goodreads.  It's a dystopian young adult fiction based in an alternate Chicago setting and featuring a teenage female protagonist as she struggles to find her identity in a wartorn world with rigid societal roles.  Sound familiar?

Divergent is very much a spiritual throwback to The Hunger Games trilogy, which is a series that I devoured as rapidly as possible.  It's so close in spirit and feel to The Hunger Games that it almost feels like a ripoff in places.  I've recently found out that it too has been picked up for a potential motion picture, so clearly these types of books are flying off the shelves.  Divergent is also more than reminiscent of the Harry Potter world, with the members of its society taking assessment tests to see which 'clan' (read: house) they will join.  These clans are very much similar to the houses in Harry Potter.  The Dauntless might as well be Slytherin.  It's basically the Reaping meets the Sorting Hat.

The protagonist of the story (Beatrice, or Tris) is likable enough, though not a spectacularly deep character.  Other than her current struggles within the Dauntless society she finds herself in, we don't know much about her likes and interests.  Aside from her family ties and her romantic interests, of course.  Did she have close friends other than her brother before the assessment tests?  Did she have any hobbies?  The entire book becomes a whirlwind of mental and physical training and at times I find that Tris's thoughts and motives are predictable and shallow.  I found her much less frustrating than Katniss Everdeen though, and connected with her in a stronger fashion.

The pacing of the book is odd, spending tons of time on and going into detail about the assessment testing and the training that Tris goes through, before whipping into the real conflict 75% through the book.  Clearly Divergent is preparing us for the second book in the series, which I will eagerly read to see how certain conflicts and relationships are resolved.

My biggest issue with this book (and also with The Hunger Games and Twilight) is in the way the teenage girl protagonists interact with their love interests.  In Divergent, Tris is completely mindblown and baffled by the fact that Four has taken an interest in her.  Though she is brave, strong, and the top of her class in assessments, she is completely timid and self-loathing when it comes to her interactions with Four.  She puts herself down, basically calls herself ugly, and can't believe that a guy like Four would be interested in her.  The fact that she tosses aside her achievements and her personality and only thinks about her appearance when talking with Four sets a bad example about the confidence a young woman should have in herself.  I found her budding relationship with Four to be far less annoying than Katniss and her relationships with Peeta and Gale, but just once I'd love to see a more confident young woman interacting with the male characters in these books.  It's frustrating to see such strong and powerful young women in these fantasy/dystopian novels who can kill people, save the world, win wars, and outsmart anyone yet they are still portrayed as weak girls when it comes to being interested in boys.

All in all, I did enjoy Divergent.  I read it in 3 days total and found myself turning the pages long after I intended to go to bed.  I will be reading the next book in the series to see how it plays out.  I think Veronica Roth is a very accessible reader with a knack for making battles engaging and interesting, and this is a great first effort by her. It's worth picking up if you enjoyed The Hunger Games and wish there was more of it.

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