More Dystopian Science Fiction: Book Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

3:00 PM 1 Comments A+ a-

I really feel for authors when their book is compared to another, incredibly successful book.  Either people will buy it because of the other book's success as some kind of craving for something else (like when you try and eat the healthier dessert when you really want the calorie-laden "Death by Chocolate" one) or they will read your book and say they don't like it because it's not exactly like the one whose comparison prompted their purchase in the first place.

Reading ARC reviews of Divergent by Veronica Roth and seeing the endless comparisons The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (similar to how every post-Twilight vampire book had that immediate "Twilight fans will love this!" in every review) left me irritated on her behalf (although I'm happy for Roth since the book sales have been great).

I think the cover art had something to do with the comparison as well.  The emblem in a circle does look rather reminiscent of the Mockingjay pin and I'm sure that's intentional on the publisher's part (I'll be interested to see the cover art for future editions in a few years - I pictured the two main characters maybe with a bruise or two set in front a dark, clearly decrepit city with the derelict elevated train riding overhead).

Take a look at the trailer:

This book is good dystopian fiction (I'm thinking readers who like the Uglies series, the City of Ember books, Matched by Ally Condie, etc.) and is well-written, particularly considering that author Veronica Roth signed her book deal prior to graduating from Northwestern University.  Way to go, Veronica!!  I'm glad we can look forward to more great books from you since you are a young writer. :-)

In a crumbling future Chicago, we see a future in which the turbulent past has resolved itself into a world in which people fit into five factions according to their personality type: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intellectuals), and Dauntless (the brave).  At the age of 16, each person is given a test that shows their disposition so they know what society to choose at the ceremony their families attend as they enter adulthood.

Our protagonist, Beatrice, has been born into Abnegation but she struggles with the selflessness and invisibility she is supposed to embody.  After disturbing results on her test in which the adult tester from Dauntless warns her she is "divergent" - showing no predilection to one society but instead to a few - she is instructed to never speak of this label again.  Shaken, she goes to her ceremony and chooses Dauntless which is the faction she feels the most affinity for.  Author Roth does an amazing job at explaining why young Tris (she renames herself upon joining the faction) is attracted to Dauntless.  Not only are they visible and noisy, the qualities she has wanted to express all along, but their daring stems from the faction's philosophy ideally espoused by each member:
I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another. 
Of course, things are not what they seem once she begins her initiation which is grueling and brutal, both mentally and physically.  Through it all is her guide and instructor, Four, who she discovers has a mysterious past that somehow binds them together.  As her layers are stripped away to reveal Tris' true self in her training, she discovers that Dauntless, and her whole society, are not what they seem and she and the other "Divergents" might be the only thing capable of stopping a war.

What was so compelling about this novel was that Tris wasn't the total badass female protagonist we've been reading elsewhere, but she's not a marshmallow either.   She is a sometimes selfless, sometimes brave, always smart girl who is coming of age in a rite designed by her society for that purpose.  Roth does an excellent job of building the foundation for the future books of the trilogy as we can see Tris' potential as a leader, the possibility of her romantic future, and her society's inevitable conflict.  This is a series I am looking forward to reading.  For their own sake.


Write comments
August 17, 2011 3:15 AM delete

Sounds like a great book, I always enjoy the alternative future depictions; I also like the idea that negative qulities will no longer be endorsed.