Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Published: May 2011

Finally got around to it: July 2011

“But please, when you see an opportunity…” He presses his hand to my cheek, cold and strong, and tilts my head up so I have to look at him. His eyes glint. They look almost predatory. “Ruin them.”

I laugh shakily. “You’re a little scary, Four.”

“Do me a favor,” he says, “and don’t call me that.”

“What should I call you, then?”

“Nothing.” He takes his hand from my face. “Yet.”


At age sixteen, Beatrice Prior has to choose: to remain with her family, or to follow the unknown pull her heart has towards another life—one constructed through the guise of risk as being courageous. Strong. Unbeatable. Though this choice will come to define her future home—her friends, allies, even loved ones—it will not define her future self. This is because Beatrice, or Tris as she renames herself, is something few others are: she is Divergent. She is neither here nor there, a child born to question the five regimented factions her dystopian world has been divided into: Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Candor, and Dauntless. Each of these factions represent a binary mode of existence for the people of Tris’ world—you’re truthful or you're nothing; you’re selfless or you’re nothing; you’re brave or you're nothing. Peace comes from the simplistic stratifying of individuals into strict categories, ideals that they will learn to devote their lives to—because straying from the path, asking questions, thinking for one’s self is what leads to social disruption, corruption, and dismemberment.

Veronica Roth’s debut novel, Divergent, doesn’t stray too far from the dystopian aesthetic that’s become so popular in young adult fiction as of late. What separates Divergent then from other titles carved from a similar hide is quality and unpredictability. Not just quality of writing, but of plotting, characterization, and intent. Tris, her family and the mysteries that surround them, her relationship with Four, all of it has a grounding that seems to be lacking in similar books, such as Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. The division between the factions might seem trite and simple upon first glance, but the purity-of-thought conceit twists nicely into a divide-and-conquer story that uses these basic concepts that families and legions have devoted themselves to and turns them against their defenders. One imagines that the overarching theme to the Divergent trilogy (because it’s a new YA book, which automatically means trilogy these days) will be less of government- or faction-based control, and more about the need to dismantle their basic untrusting, racist/classist tendencies towards one another. There are certainly strong critical undertones to the rather simplistic black-or-white, good-versus-evil dichotomies that plague our grey area-free world as of late

Roth’s writing is straightforward and mechanical, with little in the way of style or flourish. However, she has a confident hold on pacing and seldom resorts to Dan Brown-esque cliffhangers. The pages fly by because the characters and narrative stand out. They are more than what we’ve come to expect from the “me too” rush to flood the YA market, and Roth’s simple concept of a world of pure ideological division and limitation has the makings of a superstructure begging to be toppled in grand fashion.

If I were to lob a genuine complaint at the book, it would be its setting. As much as I love a good dystopian tale, it seems as of late to be overused to the point of market saturation. What I’d truly love to see is the ellipsis on either side—what are the actions that cause the dramatic social change needed to exact such extremes? What would it take to pick up the pieces after the fall of a dystopian world order and rebuild anew? The before and after are what I’d love to see explored next—the wastelands of the soon-to-be have become the easy option, but to make believable the decision to warp a world in such a way… that would be truly compelling. This desire in no way hurts Divergent, but the path less taken grows more intriguing by the day.

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