Friday, 29 January 2016

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Dystopia 1)

**International Bestseller**
Publication date: 28th February 2012
Published by: Katherine Tegan Books
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy (YA)

Book Synopsis
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, 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 alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating 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 unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her
This book was extremely popular among teenage readers when it first came out, and has successfully transcended the reader age groups - much like Twilight and The Hunger Games had.
What I liked about it
I made a point of avoiding finding out what the book was about before I read it.  Now that I have I can say it turned out to be a pleasant surprise and an easy read.  At no point did I want to skip pages.  There is a good mix of characters who are well-rounded - and quite human.  Beatrice for example, is quite flawed and at times it is hard not to be critical of her for the things she thinks, says and does.  Then you remember she is a 16 year old living under extreme circumstances. She is also quite critical of herself and considers herself to be unworthy of Abnegation (her family's faction), which I feel are redeeming qualities.

I don't think it would be much of a spoiler to confirm that there is a love story woven into the plot.    The author manages to convey the innocence of teenage first love without being sentimental.  It is absent of fluff and the exchanges between Tris and Four are realistic.  I think this aspect of the story in particular was executed really well.

I am not one who preaches 'show don't tell' when writing.  Personally, I think there is a place for both show and tell - it's the context that matters.  However, it is an argument made strongly and if you support that school of thought, you'll be pleased to know Veronica Roth gets full marks for all 'show' and no 'tell'.

Where I took issue with it
The premise of this alternate reality is unconvincing. The idea of a society grouped into brave people, smart people, humble people etc. makes no sense to me - unless we are talking about aliens.  Surely all human beings are divergent (??).

I would not call Divergent true dystopia since, although bad stuff happens, the book fails to evoke the sense of dread and discomfort a dystopian novel should. It's just not disturbing enough and the above-mentioned weakness in the premise doesn't help.

I appreciate that guys have a sensitive side, but I had a problem with the way certain male characters were portrayed at times.  Al in particular came across as a whimpering cry baby, and I was unconvinced that, in the harsh, competitive Dauntless environment where the stakes were so high, he would have gotten away it.  The stronger characters would have targeted him for being so weak. 

The novel vs the movie
I saw the movie version shortly after and I have to say, although it is even more sanitised (to make it watchable for an even younger audience), I enjoyed it.  I was pleased that the script writers got rid of aspects of the plot that I felt didn't work in the book (an example is the scene with Tris and Christina when they retrieve the flag - which in the book was at odds with their relationship with each other).  On the other hand, reading the book gives you a more in-depth understanding of the movie.

Divergent may not be my idea of proper Dystopia, but it is a good read and one I would recommend.  Having said that, I have also read the second book, Insurgent, and it does not measure up to the same standard as the first.  I struggled to finish it and so I didn't bother with the last one, Allegiant.

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