Divergent by Veronica Roth
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable.
In Chicago, sometime in the (not too distant) future, society has been torn apart by war, and those who remain have separated into factions: Dauntless, The Brave. Those who believe in justice and freedom from fear. Erudite, The Intelligent. Those who believe in peace through education and growth from knowledge. Amity, The Peaceful. Those who believe in kindness, forgiveness, and self-sufficiency. And Abnegation, The Selfless. Those who believe in self-sacrifice, altruism, and love of God and others before one’s self. And then there are The Divergent. The most dangerous of all, these are the ones who seem to belong to all of the factions, and none. Their skill sets are wide, which makes them feared by many.
Upon coming of age, every young adult must choose a faction, usually the one they are born into, but also with guidance from certain tests that take place the day before selection. Those who change factions are often shunned by their families forever, and those who do not make it through their faction’s initiation, become factionless – loners – as good as dead and only cared for by the Abnegation. Sixteen-year-old Beatrice (Tris) Prior is one of the Divergent – a secret she must discover for herself, and then protect from all others, or risk certain death. While training with her faction, she uncovers other secrets, secrets that will tip the balance of power and cause great unrest – even war- among the four factions, unless she and her small group of friends can stop it.
3 – Characters well-developed.
One of the things Divergent has going for it, unlike some of its contemporaries (such as The 5th Wave) is a good deal of substantive character development and relationship-building. Sure, you have the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” but there are also characters who remain somewhat mysterious, with the potential to go either way. Beatrice is a flawed protagonist – a heroine we can root for, but one with realistic faults and challenges, which makes her all the more endearing and relatable. You also get subtle hints, early on and then throughout, that many of the minor characters have back-stories of their own. Some of these are discovered, some remain mysteries (possibly to be explored later in the series?).
In addition to Tris, another interesting character is her mentor and love-interest, Four. He and Tris have much in common, though they (or Tris, at least) cannot be entirely sure of their connection. Their relationship is interesting to watch and adds a decent side-story to the main plot. The minor characters, like Tris’s family, Peter, Drew, Al, Molly, and others from the faction are necessary but not terribly memorable. Even the major antagonist(s), including the leaders of two factions, as well as a mentor in Tris’s faction, serve their purpose, but their backgrounds and motives are not very well explored. Meaningful and/or believable motivation always makes a “bad guy” more interesting, but the explanations, here, seemed more convenient than anything.
4 – Excellent prose/style, enhancing the story.
Roth’s style is well-crafted and fast-paced. The interplay of action/violence, romance, and mystery/self-discovery keep the story interesting and allow it to progress with intrigue – a classic bait-and-hook technique which keeps the reader asking “What happens next?” Although Tris’s story was interesting enough to keep the reader engaged, the minor characters and subplots were not as richly crafted. It is unfortunate that some of the glazed-over moments (such as the rising tension between the Erudite and Abnegation factions, witnessed through newspaper/press releases which are read by (or to) Tris) are not treated with as much intricacy and delicacy as the main plot. Developing these subplots further and truly integrating them into the overall story, rather than crafting them in such a way as to leave them sort of floating on top, would have added great depth and richness to the story.
This is a similar failing as is made, in my opinion, by Suzanne Collins in Mockingjay. Whereas The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were rather nuanced, the third book seemed to be a slap-on ending to a series that, ultimately, did not need to be a series. So, too, do the subplots in Divergent sometimes stick out as sore thumbs – there, but not nearly developed enough to care about. That being said, the writing is fluid and gripping; the prose is appropriate to the genre and intended reading level; and the overall experience of reading it is a positive one, which does make one interested in finding out what else Roth can do with Tris, the factions, and the development of this world.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements are present and enhance the story.
Divergent is one of the first young adult dystopian stories that I have enjoyed in quite some time. Not since Ender’s Game have I been enticed enough by a story to truly want to pursue its sequels. While I have read and enjoyed other recent books/series of this type, such as The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s series is a fresh idea, delivered in a clean, entertaining way, and seems to stand out in a genre which has many overlapping elements and borrowed ideas (The Hunger Games, for instance, having been very much a reimagining of Battle Royale, to give one example). All that being said, the idea of the factions and what they stand for; the loathing of “outsiders,” as well as who should care for them (and why); and the fear of those who do not fit into a predefined mold – Roth has taken these very natural, every day challenges and molded them to fit a dystopian world, one which was built on human limitations and which will be threatened by distinctly human evils.
Above all of this, though, is the simple coming-of-age story. The fear and anxiety that we all have, upon reaching adulthood, that we are not quite ready to handle these new responsibilities – that we might make bad decisions which, now that we are in the real world, could have disastrous consequences. We begin to define who we are not in relationship to the family (or faction) we are born into, but the friends and families we choose. This is a simple, age-old theme that dates back to the beginning of storytelling, but in Roth’s hands it feels new and exciting again. Divergent, despite some faults, was a page-turner, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Dystopia, YA, SciFi, Coming of Age.
“To live factionless is not just to live in poverty and discomfort; it is to live divorced from society, separated from the most important thing in life: community.”
“Valuing knowledge above all else results in a lust for power, and that leads men into dark and empty place.”
“I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”
“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, that’s the point.”
“Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t.”
“They try to make you think they care about what you do, but they don’t. They don’t want you to act a certain way. They want you to think a certain way. So you’re easy to understand. So you won’t pose a threat to them.”
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