The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

In the future world, society has divided into five factions: Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (honesty), Amity (peaceful), Erudite (knowledge), and Dauntless (courage). Everyone is born into a faction, but during the ceremony of your sixteenth birth year, you are to choose the faction where you’ll spend the rest of your life, and hope you survive the initiation.

When Beatrice Prior makes a dramatic choice at her choosing ceremony, she finds herself in a world completely alien—a world where she has nothing to rely on except her instincts. To make matters worse, Beatrice soon discovers that she isn’t like everyone else—she’s a divergent: a person who doesn’t quite fit into any one faction. And this secret she harbors could cause her death, or worse—the death of those she loves.

Debut author Veronica Roth’s inaugural offering is more than another YA dystopian. Divergent is a fast-paced thriller about finding love, finding yourself, and facing your fears.

The concept behind Divergent has been used over and over again in dystopic fiction; this illusion of freedom that comes with a predetermined “choice”. And while I could write about how this is actually an astute commentary about the notion of free will, I’ll instead say that although the concept is a bit tired, Roth’s take on it is fresh enough.

Divergent’s plot is almost colorful enough to mask its predictability. Almost. Attentive readers will know within the first fifty pages or so, who Beatrice’s love interest is going to be, and what “bad thing” is going to happen as a cliffhanger towards the end of the novel. But the nuances of the plot—the vivid images and character descriptions, are engaging enough to keep readers hooked.

Character wise, we have a few archetypes, but not enough to hinder the story telling. Beatrice is likeable as the strong in-your-face heroine, even though at times she tips over into Mary Sue territory. Likewise, Four (who has an awesome name), Beatrice’s brother, and Christina, are dimensional enough. All in all, the cast is varied, if a little flat.

My biggest complaint here is that the subject matter and the style of writing didn’t match. Divergent reads like a good film with a PG rating that would’ve been a terrific film if it had been rated PG-13. (And, even more apt, apparently Hollywood is looking at buying the rights to Divergent). Roth’s writing is very simple, and the concept could’ve been so much more complex. And with her target audience being highschoolers, Roth probably wants to consider making the next book in the series more mature.

Readers of The Daily Monocle will know that I’m a stickler for three things in fiction: writing, plot, characterization. To be honest, Divergent didn’t really stand out in any one of these respects… but I loved it, nonetheless. The writing is tangible—the scenarios, fantastic. All in all, Divergent is an atmosphere-driven novel. I finished it in one evening.

Veronica Roth’s highly stylized offering isn’t the next Dickensian masterpiece. But it’s fast, powerful and vivid, and will sit comfortably alongside The Giver and The Hunger Games on your shelf. Great for fans of dystopian fiction looking for a summer read without gratuitous fluff.


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