[ Book Review ] Almost like the lovechild of Twilight and Shakespeare

Meg’s Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

The reading experience of  Divergent fell neatly into the ‘like watching a train wreck’ category. I could not look away, not even though I was way, way too close to the tracks. When the train flipped, surely it was going to take me out as well.

My Nook went everywhere with me in hopes that I might be able to sneak in a few pages during lunch breaks and line waits. Because I had to know–had to know–whether or not the world was simply going to implode on itself by the final chapter.

In post-apocalyptic (or at least future dystopian) Chicago, the city’s dwindled population is split between five factions, each devoted to a certain positive characteristic of humanity. Beatrice was born in Abnegation–the faction devoted to selflessness. But as that would make for an amazingly boring book, on her Choosing Day, she selects to transfer to Dauntless–the faction that believes that courage is the order of the day. She must go through their abrasive and violent initiation–and, in the process, discover what the hell to do with herself. Because she doesn’t belong in just one faction. Her aptitude test shows that she is the most dangerous of all citizens: a Divergent with traits of more than one faction.

And that is where my suspension of disbelief started sending up train-wreck-shaped warning flares. In theory, this faction thing is cool. But sort of in the way that Communism is cool in theory but disastrous in practice. The idea that a city is full of people that can live their entire adult lives while focusing on only one trait (be it reckless courage or blunt honesty) is ridiculous. Humans are by nature ‘divergent,’ full of every imaginable emotion and character trait–which I assume will be the moral of the story at the end of the series.

Maybe a system such as this could have been imposed from above. Maybe it could last for a generation or two in an extremely small community, but the idea that it would persist (without overt coercion?) in an entire city (and maybe the whole world?) is a bit much even for my imagination.

That said, when I forced my disbelief to just go suspend itself anyway, Divergent was a good read. The characters are well-rounded and there are some great plot twists. Roth has a knack for capturing emotion without tipping too far into the melodramatic and she handles the first person present tense point-of-view quite well. I didn’t even really notice the book was in first person until a wonky sentence, about 50 pages in. That is a great sign; Roth can tell the story without words or conventions jumbling the message.

Though, that said, I did have some issues with Beatrice’s relationship with the mysterious Four (yes, seriously, Four). Because Beatrice and Four meet in the land of the violent and aggressive Dauntless, the link between them edges towards the Bella/Edward I-only-love-you-because-you-haven’t-killed-me-yet territory.  But the unsteadiness of the relationship is overshadowed by the ridiculousness of the world. The finale is just sort of silly, despite the fact that Beatrice’s loved ones were dropping faster than characters in a Shakespearean tragedy. The last fifty page, when it became clear why a society like this would never last past more than twenty years, unwound whatever love I’d developed for the story–and that’s never a time for the reader’s interest to drop.

The book is often suggested to those who like The Hunger Games, but I think that’s just because Divergent is also a dystopian universe. I think that Twilighters might enjoy it more, or even those who enjoy the Gone series by Michael Grant–those that lean a little more towards the drama between characters rather than solely on the action.

Still, I’ll definitely dive into the sequel when it comes out in May. Roth’s writing is strong enough that, given the right narrative and a stronger premise, a book in her hands could really shine.

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10 thoughts on “[ Book Review ] Almost like the lovechild of Twilight and Shakespeare

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    • Aw, come on. You know you’d be bored to sleep by the fifth utopian page.

      Although, I do remember really enjoying the Dinotopia series as a kid. The books follow characters in a utopia island where humans and dinosaurs live in perfect peace, there is no money or poverty and everyone helps everyone else. And they still manage to have adventures! It’s great.

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