I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend.
The Lockbox is now back to its regularly scheduled programming. Today, I give you my first true book review. Up until this point, I’ve talked about books that I loved and really only said good stuff about them. I’m going out on a limb this week and reviewing a book that hit my middle-of-the-road and discussing why it did so.
That book is “Divergent” by Veronica Roth. Here goes.
By Veronica Roth
Genre: young adult dystopian, young adult science fiction Publication: May 2011 – Katherine Tegen Books
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue-Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is-she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are-and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her. Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series-dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.
I found this book by doing a Google search for young adult dystopian novels. After reading the synopsis presented above, I decided to give it a try. After reading it, I read a review that exclaimed to read this book if you loved “The Hunger Games.” While I know this is an often used tactic to promote a book (if you loved “Insert title of very popular, very successful book” here), then read (insert “title of book that is similar to previously mentioned very popular, very successful book” here), I can’t help but drastically disliking that wording. I believe that all books deserve their own merits, but that’s not, as they say, what it’s all about.
For the record, I did love “Hunger Games.” That was not, however, why I picked up “Divergent.” My second thought after reading the synopsis of “Divergent” was “This sounds a lot like Hunger Games, but I’ll see.”
On page one, I knew it was going to be more like “Hunger Games” than I’d hoped. Veronica Roth introduces Beotrice Prior in the same tense and POV as Katniss Everdeen. That made me skeptical, but, in keeping with my three chapter rule (read at least three chapters before deciding that the book isn’t for me), I persisted and did finish the book.
Where to start? Roth builds a rich world. The collapse of civilization is clear, yet there is enough evidence to recognize the once-great Chicago. The action keeps moving. Lots of new characters are flung at the reader at once, but Roth does a good job of keeping them separate. The story has good bones.
For me, though, the bus stopped there. Rather than being wowed because this was so awesome “just like Hunger Games,” I spent a good portion of the book recognizing elements from “Hunger Games.” The speech at the ceremony where Tris chooses her new faction was very reminiscent of the one given at the reaping ceremony—“civilization fell because of a, b, c. To keep the events from the past from happening again in the future, the following system has been installed.” Now, I have to say that I love the idea of the factions. I wish only that they had been applied in a different manner. They felt a bit too much like the 12 Districts of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian world, something that was only reinforced when it became apparent that some of the factions were angry at the one that ruled the government for supposedly hording food and supplies.
Unrelated to “Hunger Games,” I had a tough time believing some of the science. The simulations and the serum I got. I’ve seen them before, but they were applied well here. What I didn’t get was the concept of “divergent.” As best I understand it, “divergents” have an aptitude for more than one faction. This was the downfall of the book for me. All I could think every time “divergent” was referenced was “why” and how?” Having a background in psychology, I know that individuals have different aptitudes for different traits, skills, etc. What got me here was that these people had an aptitude for only one thing. “You’re fearless. You are not, under any circumstances, the least bit selfless, truthful, or any one of the other factions’ traits.” I found that difficult to believe. As far as “divergent” itself goes, what makes divergent people able to resist the serum? This is ya dystopia and sf, not fantasy. There was no mention of any kind of brain implants or extraordinary abilities. So what makes the divergent, well, divergent? That question nagged at me throughout the book.
Ending. Have to say, I’d wondered about the possibility of dauntless using mind control on its fighters. I wasn’t entirely surprised when it happened. I also wasn’t surprised that the mind control didn’t work on divergents. I was, however, very surprised and pumped when Tris’ mother rescues Tris. That was the most powerful moment in the book for me. I wasn’t surprised when Tris’ mother was killed. I was surprised and a bit put out when her father was killed. That one felt forced—who else can be killed off to make Tris’ life difficult?
Four…the love interest. And yes, that’s his name. “Unexpected romance.” Unexpected? He’s into her the minute he sees her. Lol. Sorry, that’s how I read it. The big surprise for me was that they didn’t kiss sooner. And the ending when Four’s brainwashed, I had another “Hunger Games” moment. I was right back in “Mockingjay” when Katniss kisses Peeta to bring him back from the tracker jacker venom’s pull.
Closing thoughts, Tris, for all my issues with this book, proves her strength and bravery. I didn’t, however, feel very connected to her. This may just be me, but I had a tough time relating to a character who outright stated that she wanted to be selfish. Coming from a lifestyle where even a modicum of self-indulgence is the equivalent of illegal, I guess I can understand her direction. And Roth did a fantastic job of keeping Tris’ feeling that she needed to appease her former life forefront in her personality, but it wasn’t enough. I still had a problem connecting with the character.
What can be taken away from “Divergent?”
-Mind your hows and whys. Suspense is good. Keeping information from the reader for the purpose of maintaining suspense is good. But don’t keep so much that your reader is left thinking “how” and “why.” It disrupts the flow of reading.
-Science—make sure tech makes sense. Inventing new stuff is a great idea/encouraged, but it should be based on reality. It makes the science more understandable and authentic.
-Trending—“Hunger Games” started a trend of first-person, present-tense young adult dystopian novels. It worked for Suzanne Collins, and it worked for everyone after her because it worked for Suzanne Collins. Sticking to a trend is good, but really make it stand out. Avoid, at all costs, (this book reminds me of “insert previously published, very popular, very successful book title” here) syndrome.