Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Page #: 487
Name and # of Series: Book 1 in Divergent Trilogy
Book Blurb: 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, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

So many people have been talking about this book and I had a number of friends tell me that I had to read this book. As everyone knows by now I have a weakness for popular books and the minute I saw a used copy of Divergent I snatched it up and finally began reading it.

Some of you will notice that I have already marked this book as finished on Goodreads and I neglected to post a review there. This was consciously done obviously. If you take one look at the reviews that have already been written, you'll basically see a gigantic mess of people either professing their eternal love for the book or those who profoundly hate it. I don't want to get involved in that, so I figured I would post my own honest review here where there is less chance for drama.

I would just like to make it clear right away that I belong to neither of those camps. I both enjoyed the book for its entertainment value and couldn't help but notice some of its glaring flaws, flaws that I will completely address in this review. * I am warning you here and now there will be spoilers, so please don't read on if you don't want to be spoiled*

Let's start off with the fact that Divergent is a YA Dystopian novel that solidly follows the typical tropes of the genre. The minute that I started reading, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins popped into my head. I tried hard not to think about it, but "factions" defined by one characteristic seems pretty similar to "Districts" defined by one occupation. I also felt like Tris' initiation had the same flavor and push for survival as the hunger games.

The main problem I think this book suffers from is the fact that the Dystopian genre is currently the "it" genre of the moment and a story has to be very original in order to stand out in a positive light. Roth would have been successful in this aspect had she provided more backstory or "world building" as other reviewers like to call it. I wanted to know more about this war that convinced people to make the illogical decision to split into factions (which makes no sense in a futuristic society where history has shown that societal rifts based on race, religion, and differing cultures has always led to war...but suspension of disbelief right?) Not to mention the fact that repeatedly the Dauntless have been referred to as the protectors from some outside threat. What threat? It's never mentioned and I'm of the opinion that its not some detail you should leave to be explained in the rest of the series. I also want to know more about the society before the war. Have they had any technological advances and how far into the future is this factioned Chicago? All of these plot holes prevented me from becoming truly immersed in Tris' world.

My next complaint is the lack of skilled foreshadowing. The minute Four was introduced I knew he was really Tobias because of the completely out of place and obvious discussion held about Marcus's son earlier in the book. I honestly think that if the pre-story had been cut out, the revelation that Tris has about Four being a previous abnegation member would have packed more of a punch. I obviously knew that the society was going to fall apart and that Tris would choose Dauntless based upon that awkwardly long moment where she gazes at the Dauntless train jumping.

Another small complaint that I have is the missing chapter transition between the Dauntless initiation ceremony and the brainwashed Dauntless attack on Abnegation. Tris surprisingly (not surprisingly) realizes that the injections will influence the Dauntless to fight for Jeanine and then I turn the page and the fighting has already begun. I was so confused due to the time gap that I actually checked to make sure I hadn't missed a page or a whole chapter for that matter. As much as I hate the going to bed and then waking up transitions, had that been better integrated I wouldn't be complaining.

Speaking of the decline of the factioned society, did anyone else feel slapped in the face with religious undertones? No? Just me? I'm going to rant about it anyway. I don't mind when books integrate religion into their plot, but it really has to be done tastefully and with tact. Not all of your readers are religious or even Christian for that matter. I almost considered taking this book down to 3 stars because of the overt religious references. "Valuing knowledge above all else results in a lust for power, and that leads men into dark and empty places" What does that remind you of...oh yeah... the fall of man and the story of Adam and Eve. Here we have the Erudite faction that values the quest for knowledge and SHOCKER it's headed by a woman whose knowledge has corrupted her and caused the whole downfall of a society.  Nothing quite like making the Eve figure the villain of an entire series.

There also were a whole lot of unnecessary deaths at the end of the book that carried no real shock power because readers never had a chance to connect with those characters in the first place. Character deaths are only useful when they generate emotion and it's possible to carry it out in one book. Take for example Rue in The Hunger Games. She was only in that book for a small portion, yet her death managed to make me pretty sad while reading it and it made me teary eyed when I watched the film. The death of Tris' parents were just uneventful blips that even she brushes off.  Speaking of Tris...

While I loved the continuous inner struggle that Tris has over her faction choice and her inability to be selfless, that awesome character development took a long walk off a short pier and disappeared the moment she becomes interested in Four and he reciprocates those feelings. She went from this strong kickass heroine to a sad Bella Swan-esque incarnation. All she ever does is comment on how unattractive she is and how completely undeserving she is of the hot boy's attention. Not to mention the fact that she stops spending time with her friends and keeps secrets from them in favor of devoting all the time she can on Four. She isn't even the one to resolve the central conflict of this book, which is what the heroine should do. No, instead she saves Four, who then saves the day by ruining the program controlling all the Dauntless. I'm crossing my fingers that this is remedied in the next book in the series.

As I've previously stated these are quite a lot of obvious flaws that I couldn't ignore while reading, but I have to acknowledge the fact that I still enjoyed reading the book. Its fast paced and action packed plotline kept me interested and I never encountered a boring moment. The ending also had enough of a cliffhanger to make me want to read the next book in the series and I plan to as soon as I get around to buying a copy. I'm also looking forward to watching the movie adaption and was pleasantly surprised to see the guy that played Pamuk in Downton Abbey is playing Four. If you enjoy fast-paced YA Dystopian novels, I would recommend that you give this book a chance and see how you like it.