Given the popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy and Suzanne Collins’ unoriginal idea but brilliant character-building and world-building, dystopian fiction has naturally exploded into a phenomenon in the past five years. It’s not a new thing, but I’ve loved it since reading 1984 and Brave New World in high school. I’ve reviewed quite a few novels but not all of them have been exceptional, so I had reservations about Divergent.
There’s been quite a lot of hype surrounding this trilogy – the author is apparently exceptionally skilled at word-of-mouth marketing and pulling in her teenage audience. Kudos to Ms. Roth. The movie is coming out in March and I thought it was time to see if the hype was worth it. Surprisingly, it was.
Roth’s protagonist is much like Katniss but less damaged. Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior must decide between one of five factions on her Choosing Day ceremony – her parents are part of Abnegation, the unfailingly selfless, and this is the faction within which she has grown up. She knows she cannot remain in line with her family, and her simulation test just before the ceremony reveals that she is Divergent – a very dangerous thing to be.
Knowing she does not truly fit into any of the five factions, she must choose and hide herself within her chosen faction. Dauntless, the most brave (and occasionally most stupid), puts Tris through extreme physical and mental testing, and she almost doesn’t survive. I appreciated that she isn’t perfect – it seems as though other dystopian protagonists are highly skilled or seem to muddle through and come out on top. Tris does neither, having zero training herself, she fails her tests several times and doesn’t come in first at once. She’s screamed at, bombarded by her worst fears, has knives thrown at her, suffers incredibly cruelty at the hands of her trainers and her fellow initiates, and has to deal with her family struggles. Her mother visits her once, her father seems to have disowned her, and her brother, surprisingly, chose another faction as well.
This book is about Tris’s personal growth and how the decisions she makes affect her and those closest to her. She chooses her own nickname and it was one example of Tris’s agency throughout the novel that resonated with me and made me like her. There’s no cliché love triangle (though there is the possibility for one, and I’m glad it didn’t go any further than a hint), she’s admittedly not super beautiful (even her to-be boyfriend says she isn’t super beautiful!), and she mistakes that have very serious consequences. I appreciated such a realistic protagonist and a plot that moved along with her. Roth’s writing didn’t feel stilted, although it wasn’t perfect either; the consistently repeated phrases kind of annoyed me but I mostly ignored it. It wasn’t as though she was referring to her boyfriend as “angelic” or “marble” every other line (you know what I’m talking about!).
I’m definitely picking up the second and third volumes of this trilogy, and I’m very excited about the movie. I’d recommend this to anyone who appreciates a good quick read, a solid plot, and a realistic teenage protagonist. Tris is worth it – she’s pretty bad-ass.