Post The Hunger Games, it seems you can’t throw a stone in the YA section of the bookstore without hitting a dystopia of some sort. Considering the flood of vampire/werewolf fiction that came before it, I’m not complaining. Divergent by Veronica Roth is the latest of the bunch.
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, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Generally, I’m not a fan of dystopias, because I’m a big believer in Oscar Wilde’s line of thinking- “The good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” But I’d read and enjoyed Susan Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (for values of ‘enjoyed’ that included ‘sobbing my heart out on multiple occasions,’) so when I found a copy of Divergent in the bookstore only a few days after one of my favourite bloggers had raved about, it had seemed like Fate.
I’m very pleased with my impulse purchase. Although I generally avoid first person like the plague (too much bad fanfic, I suspect) it really works here- Tris feels real and relatable, and I enjoyed her development through the book. The other characters are also well drawn for a YA novel, Four and Al in particular. One of the things that struck me the most is how realistic the characters’ reaction to pressure is- having their backs against the wall, sometimes literally, brings out the best in some characters and the worst in others.
I have to admit, though, I was a little surprised by the way the violence suddenly ramped up close to the ending. I’m not sure why, since the first Hunger Games novel was definitely a gorier book overall (which, considering it’s a book about two dozen children fighting to the death…) I think it threw me because the vast majority of the book, while it does contain some level of violence and death (one of the characters dies before even entering the faction compound, for instance) and more focused on Tris’ psychological and emotional development and her reaction to the world changing around her. That said, while unexpected, it didn’t feel excessive or unnecessary. On reread, I think there are hints scattered all along, I just got so caught up in the story I missed them. Which made the climax both more heartbreaking and a lot better, in my opinion.
To my complete surprise, it turns out that Ms. Roth is younger than I am (23) and she wrote Divergent when she was in college. In retrospect, I’m very glad I found out only after reading the book. All issues of jealousy aside, if I had known before, I might have assumed things about her writing abilities given her youth (/cough/ChristopherPaolini/cough/) and not picked up Divergent, which would have been a crying shame.
In sum: Divergent is a fantastic book, well plotted, well paced, and very well written. I can’t wait for the sequel!