Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Choices, Factions and Well-Written YA Romance - Review of "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

(Seeing as how I'm kind of obsessed with this series since seeing the movie, I thought I'd bump this review up and post it for Throwback Thursday a lot sooner. Enjoy!)

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on January 3, 2012**

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Reading Level: 16 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) -
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. 

My Review:
In the library system where I work, you can always tell the really good books.  When brand new books come out, there's always at least a month or so where those books are constantly on hold and anyone who wants a turn just had better take a number.  The really good ones are on hold for a couple of months and the really, really, REALLY good ones are on hold for about six or seven.  "Divergent" came out in May 2011 and it still has a hold list rolling out the door and down the road.

But just because a book is popular doesn't make it good (naw - DUH!)  My readership is well aware the issues I had with "Uglies" and that is one that continues to be on the request list.  But, with the Christmas holidays coming up and my need for something on the "light and fluffy" side during this break (seeing as how I've been tackling "The Wheel of Time" series the past two months, most anything else would qualify as light and fluffy by comparison), I decided to give "Divergent" a shot.

I will be as upfront about this as I can be - "Divergent" gave me a distinct "Uglies" vibe about halfway through the book.  Could I point to anything specific?  Not really.  Maybe it was the aspect of teenagers teaching teenagers how to do stupid things (like zip-lining down a skyscraper for the fun of it? Yeah, that's an "Uglies" thing).  It could be the Dauntless training Tris and Co. have to go through, but "The Hunger Games" did something similar and it didn't bother me there (even though the Dauntless training is more or less a period of "Yeah, we know you're going to be accepted into Dauntless - when is stuff going to start happening?") However, that feeling didn't last (Thank Gallifrey) and "Divergent" turned out to be much better.

One thing I enjoyed about this book is that the important surprises were well-placed and were actually - well, surprising (hm... fancy that).  I was so impressed by one in particular that I'm not even going to mention it here because I'd like someone else to be surprised by it.  I will give you a hint - it's not the reveal that Four is Tobias (let's be honest - that one was telegraphed in by the end of chapter 6.  At least, I think it was chapter 6 - I don't remember specifics.  But don't get the impression that I was bothered by that).

Another thing - and this is something I harp on quite a bit, but I certainly can't be the only one who feels this way - I was so happy that there are no contrived and crappily-shoe-horned-in love triangles in "Divergent."  There was a moment where that could have happened, but thankfully Al bit the dust and Tris and Four are able to let their budding romance blossom as the plot progresses.  In fact, the Tris/Tobias pairing is one of my favorite things about this book specifically because there is very little drama around the relationship itself.  Oh sure, the both of them have their own issues and problems they deal with individually, but they kind of help each other through those problems and it's quite a joy to read.  It's one of the more better-written romantic relationships I've read in YA fiction in quite a long time.   

(That being said - Woe betide the story if some heretofore unknown trollop or he-man swoops in to make an unnecessary and idiotic love triangle.  This story has plenty of outward drama and conflict to create an enjoyable plot)

I have to talk about the ending a little bit because that was my favorite part of the story. Honestly! I'm not being snooty about it or anything.  The climax was one of the most satisfying things I've read in a while and I'll tell you why that is - it's because I could follow what was happening.  Many action-packed endings I've read have so much action and description going on that I can hardly tell who's doing what, where the characters are, who's died and who's on our side.  Roth kept this surprisingly simple and to-the-point without sacrificing any of the intensity or edge-of-your-seat-ness that makes a good climax.  Oh, and I'm quite pleased that Tobias didn't end up being captured by the Dauntless/Erudite/Fishbait faction so Tris has to spend all of the next book pining for him.

A note on the setting - the summary says that this takes place in a futuristic Chicago and perhaps it does, but the specific setting really doesn't matter.  I think there was one specific mention of a certain building in Chicago (and it shows how important that mention was that I don't remember the name of the building), but this could have taken place in the futuristic version of any city, really.  But if that's what Roth wants it to be, it's not a terrible bother.

Where would I set "Divergent" on my Sliding Scale of Excellent Dystopias? Since I just made that up, I would have to say it ranks with "Matched" - that is slightly below "The Hunger Games," but heads and above better than "Uglies" or "The Bar Code Tattoo."  Worth your time to pick up and certainly worth your time to finish so you can feverishly anticipate the next installment (titled "Insurgent" and due out May 2012).

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