Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Teen)
Publication Date: May 2011
Paperback: 487 Pages
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, 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 to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating 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 a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Why did I read this book: If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a dystopian fiend. Divergent has been on my radar for a while, although I was a bit skeptical after reading the book’s premise. I was more skeptical when the rave reviews started to roll in (because, if we’re being completely honest, super popular dystopian novels of the teen persuasion of late have been…well, gawdawful in my opinion). Still, I vowed to give Divergent an honest chance – because you never know, and a good book could surprise you.
In a world ravaged by human failings of greed, ignorance, lies, cowardice, and needless aggression, a new society has emerged. From the brink of apocalypse, humanity has reorganized itself in a future version of Chicago, split into five factions that uphold and live by a single core value. Those that believed the world failed because of malicious, selfish greed formed the faction of Abnegation; sworn to remain selfless and serve the needs of others. Those that believed the collapse was due to ignorance pledged themselves to the Erudite tract, always thirsting for knowledge. Those who felt that human duplicity and lies were the cause of the world’s failings assumed the banner of Candor, pledging to always speak their minds and the truth. Those who felt aggression and power-hunger were the root of society’s collapse became the members of Amity, taking the mantle of peace at all costs. And finally, those who felt that the root of all their problems stemmed from plain cowardice flung themselves into the tribe of the Dauntless, the faction of the courageous and strong.
Born into a Abnegation family, Beatrice has lived her life trying to uphold the ideals of her parents. Only allowed to look in the mirror once a year, outfitted in the plainest, drab clothing, Beatrice has strives to be as kind as her mother, as calm as her older brother, and as good a civil servant as her father. But Beatrice has always known that she’s different, and she doesn’t belong in Abnegation. Wistfully observing the daredevil chaos of the Dauntless-born kids as they crow and leap from running trains on the way to school, Beatrice struggles with her emotions because, at sixteen years old, her aptitude test and choosing day have arrived. Beatrice’s test results, however, are inconclusive. It turns out that she is one of a very rare subset of the population: a Divergent. Her tests show that she does not fall neatly into one of the preset factions, but displays traits dominant in the Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless clans. When her time to choose arrives, she follows her heart and chooses to be selfish but brave, abandoning her family and choosing Dauntless. While switching clans in itself takes fearlessness, Beatrice soon learns that if she wants to be initiated into the faction, it will take much more than a simple choice. With only ten spots available and more than double that number of hopefuls, Beatrice struggles to make her way in a ruthless initiation trial and discovers not only what she’s truly made of, but what it truly means to be a Divergent.
Divergent is Veronica Roth’s debut novel, and the latest entry in a long string of dystopian hopefuls, attempting to cash in on the blockbuster success of The Trilogy That Must Not Be Named. The outbreak of so-called dystopias has been both a blessing and a curse for the avid fan – a blessing, because as one of the coolest subgenres around, an uptick in popularity means more people are getting introduced to the rockin’ world of dystopian fiction; a curse, because in the wake of said blockbuster trilogy, a whole lotta crap is getting churned out (making it harder for the gems to be found amongst the rabble). Having been burned by a number of wishy-washy YA titles masquerading as dystopias, my expectations for Divergent were, understandably, low. Ultimately, Divergent took me by surprise, because once I was able to suspend disbelief with regards to the societal structure, I found myself truly enjoying this engrossing, action-filled novel.
The first thing that bears mentioning is the inherent simplicity and implausibility with regards to the structure of Divergent‘s world. The entire system, predicated on five character traits, seems like a flimsy, silly contrivance – how could any one person, with their myriad emotions and experiences, be reduced to a single quality to abide by for the rest of their lives? Chosen at the age of sixteen, no less? Divergent‘s Chicago seems like a doomed social experiment concocted by some half-baked new age loonies. At the same time, Divergent also falters in its early chapters by the initial similarities to Lois Lowry’s classic, seminal dystopian novel, The Giver. Children are given aptitude tests and are assigned jobs in a vital ceremony each year – though in Divergent the children are sixteen, as opposed to The Giver‘s twelve. Also like The Giver, Divergent features a protagonist that does not fit into the clear-cut professions delineated by their respective societies. These criticisms made, once “Tris” (Beatrice’s Dauntless name) begins her initiation trials, it becomes easier to overlook some of the more dubious elements of the novel and simply become engrossed in what is, ultimately, a fantastic story. With her first leap from the rooftop above the Dauntless lair, Divergent began to work its magic on my skeptical brain. And I liked it, people. I liked it a lot.
Yes, a few of the things about the YA paranormal “dystopian” genre that generally piss me off are present here (i.e. the tepid insta-romance, the tendency for everyone to OMG LOVE AND WANT TO PROTECT! the little pretty protagonist, Tris). BUT! These annoyances are saved by an unconventional character choice, because Tris is not your usual Mary Sue. She’s selfish. She’s manipulative. She’s vindictive as hell – and I LOVED that about this book. I mean, at one point, when a character asks for her forgiveness, she coldly refuses. Really coldly. I mean, holy masked avenger, Batman. It’s brutal, but refreshing (since these heroines are so often little goody-two-shoes that forgive even the most heinous acts). I also loved that Tris gets seriously beat up, and while she does toughen up and become a better fighter, she never becomes an amazing badass-sharpshooting-ninja warrior, and that’s cool. I loved the believable tension between herself and her fellow initiates, the discrimination she feels as a “Stiff” (Abnegation-born), her anger with her family, and, most of all, how tough she has to become to survive and truly be dauntless and a divergent.
On that same note, I also loved how the book matched its protagonist in ruthlessness. Ms. Roth isn’t afraid to kill people and that’s one of my biggest problem with many current YA “dystopias” – this lack of teeth. Though this is Veronica Roth’s first novel, this young author has the pacing thing down pat – the tests that a Dauntless faces are violent, harrowing, and delightfully sadistic. The pacing and action-crammed nature of this book is highly reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but much better thought out, and I daresay better written. In fact, I read Divergent – all 500 pages of it – in a single sitting, over the course of approximately 3 hours. It’s that kind of addictive, can’t-put-it-down book.
While there’s no doubt that Divergent is a quick, immersive read, at the same time, the very potato-chip nature of the book is also telling. Though entertaining, this book does not provoke, incite, or demand a closer look at society – unlike, say The Giver, or Ship Breaker, or Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books. It is fun, but, ultimately falls short in the great dystopian test – because all the great ones share a distorted critique of reality. In this respect, Divergent doesn’t quite cut it. The actual story-proper, involving the true nature of divergents and the danger they pose to this particular society, doesn’t really kick off until the book’s final act. Still, Divergent is far and away the best dystopian YA title I’ve read this year, and I cannot wait for more. Though it’s not quite top 10 material, it’s absolutely one of my notable reads of 2011, so far.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Thanks to Harper Collins’s Browse Inside feature, you can read the first 100 pages of Divergent! Check out the widget below (or if you can’t access the widget, go forth to the official page here.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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