Monday, July 18, 2011

REVIEW: Divergent by Veronica Roth

(Divergent #1)
by Veronica Roth (website)
Released: 05.03.2011
487 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins (website)
Source: my fabulous library

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.
(from GoodReads).

REVIEW: I like lot of things in life.  I like a lot of cream in my coffee, cinnamon and honey in my oatmeal and when the evil cat I live with doesn't attack my feet.  I like these things.  They are a part of my daily routine (the daily cat attacks included), but having or not having them does not make or break my day.  That's kind of how I feel about Divergent.  I 'liked' it.  I just 'liked' it, but truly, I could take it or leave it.  Veronica Roth is a good writer, and I read the entire book in one day (don't let the almost 500-page length scare you - the print is big and the margins wide - the pages fly).  However, there's nothing standout to me about it, nothing that makes me want to shove this into someone's arms and say, "You HAVE to read this."  The 'zing' you get when you meet that magic book didn't happen for me, and I am pretty sure I can boil it down to a single thing:

The premise.  I didn't buy it, not one bit.  

Now, let me back up here.  I think the human race is capable of many things, both truly good and absolutely evil.  I can buy the possibility of being assigned lifetime occupations (it's happened before), being matched to spouses (take e-harmony and regulate it - there you go), and the possibility of a xenophobic, post-apocalyptic future (ever watch Alfonso Cuaron's The Children of Men?  It's the worst of possibilities, but I can buy that it could happen).  I even can believe that a religious faction could take over by gaining a government majority.  However, I cannot buy a society based on people circumscribing their lives to the devotion and pursuit of a singular, chosen virtue.  It's too simple, too fractious, and I didn't see enough historical context in Divergent to give me a reasonable basis as to why a government would set up shop this way.  I can believe that individuals might choose to live that way (nuns and priests of various religions prove this, but even then, it's usually devotion to a group of virtues), but a government doing this does not make sense, particularly one based in the possibly former state of Illinois, political home of the late Mr. Abraham 'A-House-Divided-Cannot-Stand' Lincoln.  Especially with any group of people with a U.S. cultural footprint.  We admire commitment but tend to sneer at fervent belief in abstract concepts.  It's a fine line; I think the political term for it is 'moderation'.

Given the above, you might think that I didn't like Divergent.  Not true.  I did.  I just didn't get emotionally involved in it.  Granted, Tris belongs to the the 'Katniss'-class, a fantastic group of strong, unflightly and practical female characters.  I hope they don't become cliched by being in every book, but I love that we are seeing more of them.  Tris is well-written, relatable and brave.  More than that, she's an honorable badass.  She wants to do the 'right' thing, but she understands that absolutes have no place in 'the' moment.  If it comes down between you and her walking away, she's going to do her absolute best to make sure it's her.  Her romance with Four is a believable first-love attraction with all its uncertainty and awkwardness.  Four might be my favorite male lead of 2011 with his aloof tenderness and adherence to personal values.  I also like Roth's name choices (for those of you who pay attention to that, the name 'Beatrice Prior' must have given clues - that was fun).  I also love that she didn't flinch at depicting the brutal violence that Tris endures in no uncertain terms.  Her use of sparse language also made the story flow and really made Tris' physical and emotional experiences pop, but occasionally, it felt like the sparseness was carrying on with the style of writing rather than adding substance to the storyline.  Additionally, the story simply lacked for me a 'hook'; I've actually given better reviews to books with plots that weren't as well-executed or as well-edited, simply because the emotional element was stronger or the premise more original or believable.

I guess in the end, I just didn't feel that Divergent added much to dystopian YA.  It's a solid story with good writing and a steady plot, and I basically read it one sitting.  It's enjoyable but not a standout.  I think I might be a little picky because 1) SO much dystoian is out now.  Books that aren't technically dystopian are being marketed as such - it's overkill;  2) Roth actually IS a good writer.  This is a GOOD story.  I just don't think she's hit her full potential here.  Which is fine.  How many authors do we know of who had stunning debuts, but lack-luster sophomore efforts?  I'd like to think that the best of Roth's writing is yet to come.  I may or may not pick up #2, but I will be on the lookout for her fist non-Divergent novel, definitely. 


"My mother and father would not approve of my kicking someone when she's down.
I don't care."
page 173

"Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined.  I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.

But if I saw her, I wouldn't recognize her." 
pages 299-300

"'You think my first instinct is to protect you. Because you're small, or a girl, or a Stiff. But you're wrong.'

He leans his face close to mine and wraps his fingers around my chin. His hand smells like metal. When was the last time he held a gun, or a knife?  My skin tingles at the point of contact, like he's transmitting electricity through his skin.

'My first instinct is to push you until you break, just to see how hard I have to press,' he says, his fingers squeezing at the word "break."  My body tenses at the edge in his voice, so I am coiled as tight as a spring, and I forget to breathe.

His dark eyes lifting to mine, he adds, 'But I resist it.'
'Why  .  .  .' I swallow hard. 'Why is that your first instinct?'

'Fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up. I've seen it.  It's fascinating.' He releases me but doesn't pull away, his hand grazing my jaw, my neck. 'Sometimes I just  .  .  . want to see it again. Want to see you awake.'"
pages 313-314


  1. Great review. I am sorry it was a great as you hoped it would be but I am glad you at least liked it and especially Four. He is definitely one of my favourite characters of 2011!

  2. Interesting! This is the first review I've read where someone wasn't head over heels in love with this book:) I haven't picked this one up yet for the very reason that I fear I'll have a reaction like yours and will be just a touch disappointed since it's gotten so much hype. Loved reading your thoughts Linds!

  3. Great review! Though I am sad that you didn't enjoy it as much. Thanks for being honest. I still love dystoptian books. For me there always exciting.

  4. I agree 100% with you, Linds. I also "liked it" but wasn't emotional invested and I thought there were a weak spots in the book- world building, the lack of setting, etc. I'll have my review of it up this week. So glad to know I wasn't in the minority.

  5. Yes! Thank you Linds.

    Goodness, you don't know how much the over-hype killed my interest. I began to feel like reviews I read weren't objective just gushy. This is all fine and well when you really love a book, but it didn't exciting me into reading it for myself.

    I like your 'picky' points. I think I may skip out on this one as well and just wait for whatever else Roth has in store for us.

  6. Wonderful review, Linds! I'm really curious about this world now, because you found the world of Delirium believable and I didn't, so I wonder where I'll stand on Divergent's world. I do really like the sound of the MC and her romance. It's silly, but I'm actually excited by the way you describe the pages (big text, large margins, pages fly by).

  7. @Nic - Adored Four, but you've reached your man quote, my dear! This one goes in the Linds column :)

    @Jenny - can't wait to hear what you think. Again, it was good, but not WOW!!

    @Savy - I love dystopian, too, but the story has to stick.

    @Rummanah Aasi - We are not alone! There is a small but dissenting minority! Nomes from Inkcrush is in the club, too.

    @Missie - Definitely am looking forward to 'other' Roth. She's got it, but dystopian is tricky. If they premise doesn't flow, for me, the story just doesn't go.

    @Small Review - Well, thank you! Delirium was believable to me because the world was under absolute control, and I can see how the premise of love being an enemy could work in the follow-up. It would have been better if Oliver gave more support for it in the first, but I can see how it will unfold. I didn't see enough support for the premise here. Actually, I think I rated Delirium only three stars, too, come to think of it!


  8. Ditto with what Jenny posted--I've seen lots of positive reviews on Divergent, but yours was the first that didn't give it a rave review. And I like that you explain why the premise didn't work for you and I'm leaning in that direction now, so thanks! I still may check it out of the library at some point, but it's not at the top of my TBR pile at the moment.

    Thanks for the honest review!


  9. Linds-

    Again, yours is the first review I've seen that didn't rave about this book. As a non-lover of dystopians, I've found that I fell in love with this book. Go figure. Maybe it's just a toe in the water dystopian for those of us getting our feet wet. But what I loved about it was that it just jumped right into the action. No waiting around for world building or anything, just boom and we're off. I'm only about halfway through but I'm still loving it.


  10. I'm always a bit dubious when a book is RAVED about...of course there are exceptions. It depends on what I hear and who is doing the raving. I think it's interesting and I know what you mean about a book being good, and you as the reader just not connecting. It's when you connect or something resonates for you that a story is memorable.