Book: Divergent by Veronica Roth
Summary: YOU HAVE ONE CHOICE TO MAKE (and I'm not going to tell you anymore about it since my copy of the book said nothing but "ONE CHOICE WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING" over and over again. I went into it knowing nothing, so I won't spoil it for others.)
There are a lot of ways to view this book or frame this review. I first started by centring it around the obvious Hunger Games comparisons, but that felt limiting and insulting. I could also talk about the insane popularity of this book in the blogosphere over the last year. But, instead, I think I'm just going to say this: Divergent is a very good book.
The first thing that makes it so awesome is the well thought out world. It is dystopian, futuristic novel, but it feels real and grounded. I understand how our world could devolve in such a way; I understand the logic behind the new world order. Unlike the dystopian settings of The Giver or, well, Hunger Games, I am not shocked or disgusted or alienated by the world of Divergent. To me, that is a major strength of Veronica Roth's novel. It made me very interested to learn more about the world and the different factions. At first, certain factions seem completely evil or insane, but, then, you see the true philosophy behind them and you understand why some people would think that way, why that would make sense. It's a very different world than the one we currently live in, but I can see how we could get from here to there.
I was reading on Veronica Roth's website about how it was hard to write from Tris's first person point of view all the time and still build the world and develop all the factions. Fantasy and science fiction really aren't my genres, so I hadn't really thought about such a problem. It's interesting to me, and, overall, I think Roth does a good job developing her world through Tris's experiences, in many different way. First, Tris experiences two factions in the novel. Then, she has friends or relatives from other factions that provide more information. There were a few places with gaps (what exactly is going on over there in Amity exactly?), but, all in all, I commend Roth on her world building skills.
I also commend her for building such a strong character in Tris. I really liked spending 500 pages in Tris's head. Of course, you're going to want me to compare her to Katniss Everdeen, and it's a fair comparison. They certainly have similarities: bravery, selflessness, courage, strength. But Tris is no Katniss. Because, my God, Katniss drove me up a wall. Oh, my life is so horrible, two guys are in love with me and I have no idea what to do. Kill me now. Tris has more emotion; she's more relatable, more flawed. I loved that she was short (yay for the short girl!) and that that actually played into the novel. I loved that she had the real fears and doubts and desires of a normal teenage girl. One minute she's kicking butt; the next, she's a girl afraid of getting close with her first boyfriend. I also liked how smart she was, though, at times, that did get on my nerves.
Like I said, I don't read much fantasy or science fiction. So, the comparisons I make are going to be quite rudimentary, relying on only the most popular novels and I may make incorrect assumptions about the genre. Sorry--if you want to get into a throw down about young adult romance, I can take you any day of the week, but if you want to talk about scifi, I'll forfeit right now. But what I do know of the genre, and what I've read, is a recurring character that is getting on my nerves: the "special" protagonist. The Boy Who Lived. The girl who can't have her mind read by vampires. And, now, the Divergent girl.
I was already so interested in the world and in Tris's character and family and hilarious and unique friends, that, quite frankly, I didn't need any of the "special" stuff. To me, that was the weakest part of the story. Why can't anyone ever be normal anymore?!?
For much of the novel, I also struggled with accepting Tris's decision about her faction. Ultimately, Roth convinced me that Tris had made the right choice, but it took a good long while. I suppose one could say that my uncertainty mirrored Tris's own uncertainty over her choice. What I would say is that I was frustrated. Why does the protagonist always have to choose the most dangerous, quite frankly stupid choice? Why does Katniss have to save Prim? Why does Bella have to go for the one guy who's a vampire? Again, why can't anyone ever make normal, logical choices?
Ultimately, though, the non-normal stuff wasn't too much of a problem for me with Divergent. The rest of the book was just so good. So well written. The book is patient, allowing time for characters to actually get to know each other and properly develop. The writing is so realistic, allowing for the little quite moments and the great observations.
The romance is also pretty good. Not my favourite ever, but leaps and bounds ahead of the whole Gale/Peeta/Katniss mess or the Edward/Jacob/Bella debacle. Ahead of Harry/Ginny certainly. Only behind Ron and Hermione, because, come on, no one's going to beat them. But Tris's romance comes close. I loved the slow build. I didn't necessarily think the guy had that much personality, but I loved their moments together so much that I didn't care. I also loved his vulnerability.
I was a little bit bothered by the whole cliched sex discussion, which, as always, went like this:
Girl: "I don't think I'm ready to have sex"
Boy: "That's okay. I want more than just sex."
Boy: "Of course, I like you too much to care about anything else."
Um, yeah. That only reflected my experiences in life NOT AT ALL. But that's not fair--she isn't writing just to me. I am sure there are boys on this planet who would actually be awesome enough to say "okay, I accept that", but, I swear, even then, it wouldn't be that simple. Stepping out of the world of science fiction for a minute, I look to Meg Cabot's Princess in Training, where Mia starts the same conversation with Michael, but it doesn't go so smoothly:
Mia: "I'm not ready to have sex."
Michael: "Oh, okay...but when will you be?"
Mia: "I don't know"
Michael: "Well, that's okay, for now...."
Mia (in her head): OH MY GOD, WHAT? WHAT'S HAPPENING? WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?
Cause, I mean, Michael's a cool guy and all (I love Michael, I love Michael, I love Michael), but he's, you know, a real human being, with real desires and ideas of his own.
It's not that I suddenly want every guy to say NO, NOT COOL. I just wish it wasn't the same scene, over and over. Why is it always the girl who's scared and has to start the conversation? Why does the good guy always have to be the guy who is either asexual or super understanding?
I've tangented all over the place here, and, really, it isn't fair to get bad at Veronica Roth for a trope that permeates the entire freaking YA genre. Just a pet peeve of mine.
Anyways, I'll stop rambling on now, except to say that Divergent is a pretty great book. A very enjoyable read. You can bet I'll be buying Insurgent on May 1st.