Divergent is the debut book of Veronica Roth and the first book in a trilogy. A movie version of the book is tentatively scheduled for a 2014 release. The sequel, Insurgent, was released in 2012 with the untitled conclusion to the trilogy scheduled for a late 2013 release.
Beatrice “Tris” Prior lives in a futuristic world where society has been divided into factions. Everyone is born into a faction, and around age 16 they get a chance to change factions if they so choose. Beatrice was born to Abnegation, a faction that believes that our current society fell apart because of the selfish actions of individuals. They spend their time in service to others, foregoing all forms of entertainment, adornment, and ambition. During her aptitude test, Beatrice shows compatibility with three different factions, not the normal one or two aptitudes all other members of her society show. She must choose the path her future will take, while not being able to confide in anyone just how different she is.
A carefully crafted high octane read
One of the first things I noticed about Divergent was its attention to detail. Each of the factions are thoroughly different from each other. Even though we only get an inside look at two factions (Abnegation and Dauntless), we get enough of a sense of the remaining two that we understand what they stand for and how they are fundamentally different from the two that we do see firsthand. Roth has done a good job of not cluttering the work up with unnecessary detail. If she’s drawn your attention to something, there’s a reason. Roth is also very good at action scenes, keeping the tension taught and the pacing through them just right. The fact that Tris is in constant danger is never lost, and the points in which she is in greater or lesser danger are nicely paced for a satisfying read.
A few words of caution
There are a few weak points in Divergent, as I expect in a debut novel. Roth’s biggest stumbling block is characterization. She’s focused so much on the action of the book that the characters doing the action have gotten lost. Tris is a strong protagonist, but there’s room to deepen the reader’s understanding of her. The secondary characters are all much more two dimensional than I care for, making them little more than accessories to Tris’s journey. While Tris’s love interest, Four, does play a huge role, his motives are deeply hidden. Part of this is the fact that Divergent is very strongly from Tris’s point of view, and she has no idea why Four does many of the things he does. But the fact remains that too many secondary characters are lacking in good characterization.
Divergent also suffers some from the genre that it’s in. Young adult literature tends to be shorter than its adult counterparts, and so the scope of Divergent is smaller than I would have liked. While this book is dystopian, not a lot of time is spent dealing with the dystopia. Instead, Tris is struggling to define who she is and to earn her place in the Dauntless Faction. The questions of why society has changed to this model, how Tris is going to deal with her inability to entirely conform to society’s demands in the long run, or how Tris might change her society all go unanswered. Some young adult literature challenges its readers with content, and is only young adult because of the age of the characters involved. Divergent isn’t one of those books, and is very much only Act I of III.
Why should you read this book?
If you enjoyed The Hunger Games or dystopian literature in general, this is a pretty safe bet. While very much teen fiction, Roth has a good grasp of pacing and is a strong hand at action. For all of its understandable flaws, I was quite eager to pick up the next installment when I finished Divergent.