Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Beatrice Prior lives in a post-apocalyptic society in which people are divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent.) Each faction has their own set of beliefs about what led to the breakdown of society, and has created their own manifestos according what they felt would most benefit people as they moved forward.

When they reach 16, each person is given an aptitude test to help them determine which faction they should belong to. (And while the aptitude test is not a completely necessary part of the process, because each person is free to choose their faction, the testing process does serve to set-up future plot devices.)

While most people's test results show a clear indication of faction aptitude, Beatrice is different. She is labeled Divergent - a person who could equally belong in multiple factions. This label complicates things, of course. Not only can she not discuss it with anyone (or risk great harm, or even death) it also makes her decision that much more difficult.

Being forced to make a choice, she decides to leave her family and her Abnegation upbringing behind and join the Dauntless, a faction that both fascinates and frightens her. What follows is a grueling initiation process in which Beatrice (who now goes by Tris, which she feels is more fitting) must completely reevaluate her beliefs about people and society, all while undergoing intensive combat training and learning to face her deepest fears.

I have to admit that while I love dystopian literature, I resisted this one at first because of all the hype that surrounded it. (I've never been a fan of the overly-hyped trends. Ask my mom. I was the only one of my friends that never wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid.) And I also tend to resist books that come with a "now a major motion picture" label. I can't really explain that one - it just turns me off for some reason.

But my curiosity finally got the better of me, so I decided to give it a shot. And oh... my... goodness. I was hooked! I instantly got sucked into the story, and quickly found myself getting invested in the characters and wanting to know what happened to them. Rather than using manipulative tricks (like Dan Brown's mini-cliffhanger at the end of each chapter) Roth simply created a compelling story that kept me reading. (And reading. And reading.) Seriously. Finishing nearly 500 pages in just over 24 hours kind of illustrates what a page-turner it was for me.

While I highly recommend this book (and can't wait to read the rest of the series) I know not everyone has felt the same way. There are people who say that the plot is too formulaic, or that there are too many plot holes, or that the entire premise is ridiculous. To that, I say:

1) Every genre has a formula, and almost everything ever written will in some way follow it. That's just the way things work. I think we have to learn to get past it, or our reading options are going to be very limited.

2) There are usually plot holes. Authors can't explain everything, and sometimes we just have to fill it in. Or (especially in the case of dystopian novels) sometimes we just have to suspend disbelief and let things go in order to enjoy the story for what it is.

And 3) We're free to agree or disagree with the author's take on the "what if" question of a post-apocalyptic world. But once again, we kind of have to enjoy the story for what it is. Sure, I doubt that society will develop into the factions that Roth imagines. But her story is still an interesting look at human nature, and what a possible future might look like.

Just one more thing (because I said before that I don't like it when authors are super-specific about their settings, and now I have to amend that.) This story is set in Chicago, and does make use of several well-known landmarks. But rather than including a useless series of "I turned left on Third Street and went three blocks before turning right" this story made much better use of specific geography.

Because I have been to many of the settings (like Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and the Sears Tower) I was able to get a better picture of what was happening. (And even if you haven't been to Chicago, the landmarks are fairly well-known, so there's a good chance that you are familiar enough with them to get by.) Most people have at least seen pictures of the giant bean, right?

And if you made it all the way through this ridiculously long review... congratulations! I hope it made you want to go out and pick up a copy of the book.

Have you already read it? What did you think? Please feel free to agree or disagree with my assessment as you see fit. I always value divergent opinions.

See what I did there? ;)

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