Saturday, July 06, 2013

Books in 2013: #13 Divergent by Veronica Roth

Another book club pick (I'm in three book clubs in an effort to push myself to read more... soon, I promise, you'll see some of my own picks finally popping up), Divergent is a book I'd seen in bookstores but honestly hadn't heard much about. That was three months ago. Now it's everywhere, with the new movie in the works.

Think Hunger Games (I'm sure 95% of the reviews mention that, sadly), but not as well written. I still enjoyed it quite a bit, although, like the previous YA book I read, I thought the writing was a little stilted at times, the dialogue silly, and the voices all sounded pretty much the same. What I'd give for teenage girls not to sound like every other teenage girl in every other book like this. (Again, read Hunger Games for a girl who sounds unique.) That said, I think the writing is much better than in many other YA books I've read lately, and Roth has created a unique and fascinating world you can't help but be drawn into.

Divergent is the story of Tris, a girl who lives in a futuristic Chicago (it takes a few chapters to figure that out, but when they go to the giant bean in the park it's pretty obvious) in a society that has been divided into five virtues: Abnegation (the selfless); Erudite (the educated); Candor (the honest); Amity (the serene peaceful ones); and Dauntless (the brute strength). You grow up within one of the virtues, and can only display this particular trait. Therefore those in Abnegation wear only grey and don't own a mirror and only display acts of kindness to others. If someone in Candor tells them they're ugly, or someone in Dauntless pushes them over in the halls and tells them to get out of the way, Abnegation members can only drop their heads, apologize to the others, and never think of how hurt they are in that situation. Meanwhile, the Dauntless have to jump from moving subway cars rather than step off at the stop like everyone else, and must train endlessly.

It's a great idea, and for the most part, Roth pulls it off. She focuses on those two virtues over the other three, so you get a sense of what it's like to be in each of these factions. And neither one seems to have much going for it. When you single out one virtue, it's hard to be a human being; humans, by our very nature, show traces of all of these aspects, and that's the tension that rules over the book.

What I didn't like about it: when they reach 16, they get to chose the faction they want to be in. Many choose the one they've been raised in, while others switch virtues. If I had the choice, Erudite seemed to be the one to be in (getting to read books all day? SIGN ME UP!!) But by the end of the book, this group was demonized, while the brave faction, Dauntless, was upheld as the epitome of awesome, what the entire human race hinged on. And it felt like the worst parts of high school to me: jocks are amazing; nerds suck. I don't think that's what Roth was going for (presumably, as an author, she loves books herself!). And also, it's hard to criticize an aspect of the book when it's the first of a trilogy, and perhaps this changes throughout the series quite radically. Certainly there are moments where the new recruits to Dauntless see the leaders for what they are — muscle-bound goons — and the reader gets a sense that they're not all they're cracked up to be, but those moments don't last long.

My other issue is, why is the world like this? At the beginning of The Hunger Games we got a sense of  why Panem was like it was, and you immediately understood the political tension and what each of the 13 colonies was going through. But here? The world is divided into virtues with no explanation whatsoever. Again, however, this is the first book of a trilogy, and when I mentioned that criticism to a friend, she said in the next book, Insurgent, that is explained. So that fact alone makes me intrigued enough to check out the next book in the series to see why the world ended up like this. But I'm curious to see if there's a sense in that book as to why Roth held off until the second book to offer what should be an introductory explanation. Then again, if I can wait six seasons to discover some of the secrets of Lost, then I suppose I can wait until a second book to get some answers on this. ;)

Definitely a book worth checking out, and one I would hand to my daughter to read if she were a little older.


Rebecca T. said...

If you want to read a YA book with a distinct female voice try Cinder by Melissa Meyer. I adored that book and the second one, Scarlet, was good as well with another distinct female voice (at least in my opinion :)

Nikki Stafford said...

Thanks, Rebecca! Good to know. I see Cinder in the bookstore all the time and the cover alone is superb. Now that I know you like it (and that it has that unique voice I'm looking for), I'll definitely check it out. :)

Bree at Clarity Defined said...

I actually liked Divergent (and Insurgent) better than The Hunger Games because I felt like we got a better sense of the world (i.e. more information and seeing more of all the factions than the different districts in The Hunger Games).

Robyn B said...

Hey you! I just finished this one and I have to say, I never got the sense that the Dauntless were the 'cool' ones in a heroic sense, but actually that they were brute most of the time and in the end, thanks to the Erudite interference, became the 'mindless' version of what they were. That, in fact, it was the attribute of the Abnegation group that ultimately allowed for true courage when applied in a Dauntless fashion. :) Anyway, my two cents there, but agreed on the 'why is the world this way' element - although it didn't bother me too much. Hope you and the kids are well!

Judy H said...

I'm finally getting around to reading Divergent, and just wanted to add that they DO explain the what & why of choosing factions -- explained during the Choosing Ceremony. They said personalities caused wars, "those who blamed aggression formed Amity." etc..

Another point, in the first couple pages, it mentions going to the Sears Tower, so I knew right away it was set in Chicago.

I'm about halfway through the book (want to finish before seeing the movie). So far, so good.