Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

By » Fri, August 17 2012

Divergent hc c2 450x681 Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

In a world that’s exactly the size and shape of a dystopian, walled Chicago where people can only think along predetermined paths, one girl breaks free of a weird-ass premise and has a fast-paced young adult adventure.

(cut to shots from Hunger Games and The Matrix and Robert C. O’Brien spinning in his grave fast enough to power said dystopian Chicago.)

Veronica Roth’s Divergent takes us to a future Chicago where Lake Michigan is a marsh, the ‘L’ still operates (but not how you think), and society has taken a new, unlikely shape. People join factions that serve particular purposes within the citystate(?): the selfless Abnegation govern, the honest Candor debate stuff, the logical Erudite think deep thoughts and develop technology, peaceful Amity use advanced aquaponics to feed everyone, and the courageous Dauntless (who jump moving trains just to get around the city) serve as protection against internal and external threats.

People join factions at age 16 based on the results of a Harry Potter meets The Matrix aptitude test. Picture a sorting hat that talks like Laurence Fishburne after you take the red pill. Can’t? Don’t worry… it’s actually cooler than that. Based on their test results, citizens pick a faction and receive training that makes them even more of what they are. Divergent follows Tris, a small, thin girl who tests divergent: having characteristics of multiple factions: the brave, the brains, and the selfless. We find out that being able to think, be brave, and serve others is an extremely rare condition in this future Chicago. But you have to choose one faction, and Tris chooses Dauntless.

We watch Tris’ initiation, training, and personal growth through her eyes and in the present tense. She jumps moving trains, fights for ranking with her cohort, crushes on one of her instructors, uses her divergent characteristics to manipulate training and testing simulations, and discovers a society-shifting scheme of one faction to gain power over the others.

Divergent is a fast, absorbing, yet sort of typical YA fiction. It features a main character who’s unexceptional but exceptional for it, interpersonal conflict, uncertain love relationships, and lots of internal conflict. Roth spends a lot of time explaining things to the reader instead of just showing stuff happening (and there’s a mirror cliche on page 1), but despite some heavy-handed writing, I kept wondering where it was going, what was going to happen next, and kept turning the pages.

Upon finishing Divergent, I immediately picked up the sequel Insurgent and blazed through half of it in an afternoon. I’ll be shocked if the third book isn’t titled Emergent.

Divergent is good, but not great. If you’ve already read/seen Hunger Games, you’re going to find it a lesser echo, right down to the cover design.

If you’re looking for something meatier in the same genre, try Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. That’s YA fiction with depth and style.

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