Friday, March 15, 2013

Review of Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Divergent, by Veronica Roth, is the story of Beatrice, a sixteen year old girl from the faction Abnegation in dystopian Chicago. In her sixteenth year, she will take an aptitude test that will show her which faction she belongs in, and she will have to make a choice of which faction to give her life to. It seems simple, but it's not. Changing her faction means leaving her family behind, because the factions teach "Faction over Family." 

The choice that she makes now will influence the rest of her life, but with unusual aptitude test results, she has the choice between choosing safety with her family or making the choice that will make her the happiest in the long run.

I loved this book. I went into this without the highest of expectations, particularly considering that I was approaching it from the point of view of being a Hunger Games Trilogy knockoff. After all, what Dystopian Teen novel doesn't want to be THE trilogy these days? Being such a huge Hunger Games fan, I figured that there wasn't a chance that this book could even come close to touching its wonderfulness. 

But I was wrong. I was very, very wrong. 

In some ways, I think that I like Divergent even better.

Let me begin by saying that I like Tris. This is a big deal, considering that I didn't find Katniss all that likable. Tris is amazingly strong female lead, who has her own decisions to make. Each decision that she makes has the power to change her life for better or for worse and she doesn't always know what the results of her choices are going to be before she makes them. One of the things that makes her divergence so special is that it means that she has multiple strong personality traits, including courage, intelligence, and selflessness, all of which lead to her being an amazing heroine who is able to get the job done.

But Tris is far from perfect; she is violent, she is sometimes arrogant, and she is driven by the opinions of others. In short, she is very typically sixteen. Which is something else I loved about this book; the characters are believable and they are neither perfect nor perfectly imperfect. One has to love Young Adult fiction that diverges (pardon the pun!) from the stereotypical Mary Sue or Gary Stu hero(ine). 

All of these things make me favor this novel over The Hunger Games. I may one day go into a comparison of the two so that I can be as clear as possible, but that's not the purpose of this review. There are some problems with the book as well, and I wouldn't be fair to readers if I didn't tell you what problems I found.

The story is written in a very juvenile way. It reads like it could have been written for the mid-grade reading class, but it is utterly violent. Those who have discussed the violence of the aforementioned dystopian trilogy need to have a read of Divergent to see real violence. This book is violent and it's cruel, but it isn't written at the same level as other Young Adult novels. I surely wouldn't let a young child read this novel, and I'm not sure that I would let my young teenage step-children read this book either -- at least not for another year or so.

As always, I want to point out what parents might want to think about when considering giving this book to their teenage children.

  • It's violent. There is a lot of fighting in this book. While there isn't necessarily as much killing as there is in some Teen novels, there is a lot of fighting in this book and the descriptions of the aftermath and injuries is very graphic. I personally found it somewhat distasteful, even if it did illustrate the Dauntless faction relatively well.
  • It's sexy. While there are no explicit sex scenes, the book does describe a near-rape and some heavy petting. The characters are somewhat more sexual than I would anticipate for a young adult novel that I would be comfortable giving to my teenagers. I recommend that parents read this book before giving it to their children to read.
  • It's political. Most Dystopian novels are. However, some reviewers have missed the connection to the Soviet Union and the workings of the political and economic systems of the Soviet Russia and Berlin while the Wall was up. This book has serious educational potential, if you're willing to explore it with your children/students. This is something to consider if you want to read the book ahead of your children.
I personally believe that parents should read this book before they give it to their children.

As far as my recommendations, I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, provided that he or she is able to get around the fact that the writing is somewhat juvenile. It is a fast-paced novel and there is something happening at every turn. You will be consistently entertained and I believe that most fans of dystopian fiction will tear through this book very rapidly.

Yes! I will definitely be reading Insurgent!

What are your thoughts on Divergent? Do you think it is comparable to The Hunger Games?  What did you enjoy about it?

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