[This review is based on the Nook Book digital edition published by the Katherine Tegen imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in 2012.]
Here’s the deal:
Divergent is the first in a trilogy of YA (young adult) novels (the second and third books being Insurgent and Allegiant, respectively). We meet Beatrice “Tris” Prior, a sixteen-year-old girl who is about to make the biggest decision of her life. She’s been raised by the Abnegation (“the selfless”), one of five factions in dystopian Chicago, and must decide whether to remain with them — and her family — for the rest of her life, or to abandon them to join another faction; these are Amity (“the kind”), Candor (“the honest”), Dauntless (“the brave”), and Erudite (“the intelligent”). The Aptitude Test basically leaves Tris with three options: Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite, and on Choosing Day she opts to leave her parents behind and join Dauntless. She and her fellow initiates face dangerous obstacles as they move through training, and several find love along the way as well. Once initiated, Tris discovers that war is brewing; will she and her instructor, Four, be able to put a stop to it before it’s too late?
I couldn’t be any happier with what Veronica Roth has created in Divergent. This novel is fast-paced in plot and equally quick to read, with strong characters, compelling story, and a sweet romance all happening simultaneously. I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m a huge fan of Tris, and of Four. The two of them as separate characters are fun to follow, but put them together and you can practically see the sparks. It’s clear from the moment her feet hit the floor at the Dauntless compound that something will develop between Tris and Four, and I’m so happy that it happens slowly. I love that Four finds someone to trust in Tris, and vice versa. At the end of the story, he shares his feelings with Tris and sets them up nicely for the sequel, Insurgent. It’ll be fun to see how their relationship blossoms over the course of the trilogy!
Tris has a lot to deal with as the story moves from the first page to the last. This life-altering decision, whether to remain with her faction and family or to abandon them instead, is fortunately not one that we actually have to make in the real world. To do it at sixteen only makes it harder; no flesh-and-blood sixteen-year-old could be able to make such a difficult choice if this faction system existed now. Sure, you’d have plenty of teenagers saying, “Yeah, I don’t need my parents!” But when push came to shove, they’d realize how much they were missing once they left their families behind and I’d be willing to bet that they’d want to go back. Going through Dauntless training is hard to imagine in real life as well; just picture a boy — who has been taught not to hit a girl — find himself in this situation and being told that refusing to not only fight, but inflict serious damage on, a girl could result in his being made factionless (or, as we know it, homeless). What do you think that boy would do? What would a girl do in that situation, if she were forced to fight a boy who was probably bigger and stronger than she was? The fact that it’s tough to imagine just makes the storyline more painful to read. That Veronica Roth forces these characters to engage in such a way in order to remain in Dauntless speaks to how different life could be if the wrong people were put in charge.
Speaking of the powers that be, Eric, Max, and Jeanine are as duplicitous as they come. They put on a front to satisfy the members of their factions, but there is some serious evil brewing beneath those facades. Eric and Max have turned the once-honorable Dauntless into a brutal fighting machine, especially when it comes to training the initiates. Two of the most frightening examples of this involve some of Tris’ initiate cohorts: when Christina announces that she’s done mid-fight (with another girl, by the way), Eric forces her to dangle over a chasm as punishment for quitting, fully aware that being unable to hold on would mean falling to her death; Peter, one of Tris’ main antagonists in the novel, becomes so angry about his second-place ranking that he stabs the first-place boy, Edward, in the eye in his sleep, knowing fully that Edward would be forced to drop out, becoming factionless and bumping Peter into the top spot. Initiation into any of the factions is hardly a joke, but earning a place among the Dauntless is clearly the most daunting. (Oh, the irony….) And then there’s Jeanine. She’s a very intelligent woman, but she’s using her brilliance for a dangerous cause: her simulation serums are meant to smoke out the uncontrollable Divergent members of society (most of whom, it turns out, come from the Abnegation) so that she can have them destroyed. She is planning to go to war with the Abnegation with the hopes of killing off most of its population, so that she can take over control of the government (which the Abnegation has always been in charge of) and bend every citizen to her will. For the sake of not spoiling everything, I’ll stop there — but that should be enough to unnerve you.
So would I recommend this book?
YES!! Divergent is a fabulous novel, and I think everyone could benefit from reading it. Hopefully you’ll be sucked in, and then you’ll gobble down the sequels as well!
And how was the movie?
I thought it was great! When studios do book-to-film adaptations, viewers have to bear in mind that not *every* moment in the book is going to make it to the screen. If the movie was an exact copy of the book, it would be several hours long (and the Divergent movie already clocked in at 2 hours 20 minutes). Even the most dedicated fans would likely start complaining about it dragging on. Sure, not every single character looked onscreen exactly as they were described in the novel; no, not every single scene in the film played out exactly as it did on the page. But if you can remember that and view the film with an open mind, I think you’ll really enjoy it! (My only complaint? I wish Four would have confessed his feelings to Tris at the end of the film like he did in the book. It would have merely been a change in a few lines of dialogue. But I digress.) Read the book and then see the film, and let me know what you think in the comments!