Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Why I chose this book: 
Let’s be honest here. I am not immune to hype, but I do try so hard. Of course, it’s not difficult for very long. When the hype gets huge, and all the fanboys and fangirls get to hashtagging, I get disgusted. I was repulsed by this series and all the sickening hype, but then I saw the movie trailer, and I knew it was time to stop fighting it. I never feel good about an adaptation unless I’ve read the book first, so after buying it, then stacking it on my bookshelf for a few months, I decided I better get this out of the way. I opened this book with the cautious reluctancy of a germaphobe at the supermarket. For once, the hype did not disappoint.


Divergent by Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publish Date: February 28th, 2012
Format: Paperback 
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Buy: B&N || Amazon || Indiebound 

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. (Goodreads)
5 Things You Need to Know About this Book:

1. Unsavory Acts: Divergent has no shortage of violence. If you’re squeamish reading about 16 year-olds witnessing death, seeing corpses, undergoing violent hallucinations, committing murder, and other transgressions, then that was your disclaimer. Becoming Dauntless exposes Tris to all these things. It makes her strong, and it proves that she already was strong, but these, along with a few other themes, are tough topics. But not to worry, they’re in safe hands with Roth. Each subject is treated fairly and without any bias. Tris’s character approaches each topic without strict adherence to preconceived notions and without judgement. She is not jaded, nor is she accepting. She tries to understand everything around her, and use each encounter with these harsh realities as a learning tool. This aspect makes her such an intriguing character. It helps that Roth’s writing is lean, but never too spare on the details. Even though the violence is prevalent, it never feels overdone or overwhelming. 

2. Dauntless: Tris thinks she knows the meaning of fearlessness when she joins the Dauntless faction, but she struggles throughout the novel with the very concept of being fearless. She’s strong from the very start, choosing to leave her faction and family behind and venture into the unknown, but even when she describes what it means to be Dauntless, she does not really understand it. There is a fine line between being fearless and being ruthless. Tris crosses that line more than once. She can be mean, harsh, even heartless in her actions, and at first that made me almost ambivalent toward her as a character. I was even a bit afraid of her--not in the cowering and nightmarish sense, but in the sense that if I met her, I wouldn’t want to have met her (well, lets face it, I would probably be her, which also says scary things about myself). The Dauntless initiation process pits her against her friends, and she alternates being unnecessarily cruel with being utterly selfless. And still, somehow, this didn’t make me dislike her. Learning the difference between being merciless and being brave is a huge theme in the novel, and it is the very definition of Dauntless which allows Tris to develop into such a complex character. She learns that bravery is ultimately selflessness, and she becomes truly fearless, even when it seems her world is crashing down around her. 

3. Pure Heroine: Move over Katniss, there’s another heroine in town. Tris is one of the strongest female characters I’ve encountered in a long time. She’s fiercely independent and absolutely undaunted by any challenge. At the same time, she has amazing complexity as a character. It’s extremely rare to see a character that is so brave and so very unflappable, but who is also vulnerable and likable. The strongest characters can be extremely hard to connect with. Think of Katniss. I liked her, but did I admire her? No. I like Tris, and I admire her. She’s confident and compelling as a character, and despite the nicely woven plot around her, I don’t think the story would have worked half so well of she were anything less than what she is. 

4. The Age of Wanting: In addition to being an action-driven, science-fiction, dystopian novel, Divergent is also a coming of age story, and Tris is confronted with a loss of innocence at every turn. Roth doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to initiating Tris into the world of adulthood and acquainting her with the two basic concepts that define the transition: sex and death. Coming from the world of Abnegation, where physical contact is highly limited, and selflessness keeps displays of affection to a minimum, Tris is shocked by a whole wide world of intimacy, and she struggles with new and unfamiliar feelings. Now, the book is never explicit about Tris’s particular urges, but her attraction and flustered frustration when a certain boy touches her casually are prevalent to say the least. (The theme is so frequent, I’m submitting a formal request for “Like a Virgin” to be in the movie soundtrack.) Intimacy is definitely a big focus for her, but she has a strange view of the relationship between intimacy and love. She makes it more than clear that she is physically attracted to Four, and that he has an effect on more than just her mental state, but she is reluctant to admit to liking him in any other capacity. She keeps herself from admitting her feelings for him, but she never stops herself from succumbing to the physical attraction between them. This was a bit odd for me. She seemed more focused on the physical aspects of attraction than the emotional. But Tris’s confusion over these feelings is highly relevant to YA, and her reluctancy to act on them made sense with her background, and gave her a chance to grow as a character.

5. Baby Don't Hurt Me: Like all the desensitized members of this modern generation, I am unflappable when it comes to most subjects However, one thing in this novel bothered me: the nature of the relationship between Tris and Four. At times, the encounters between these two hold a strange nuance of violence. Four is never violent with Tris, per se, but he does not coddle her and he's often harsh. I can easily chalk this up to feminism, and in that way, I like it. Tris does not need a man to protect her, and being in a relationship with her does not change Four's attitude toward her. He never treats her as a fragile member of the fairer sex, which is refreshing. Still, his sternness toward her is unnerving and occasionally evocative of physical violence. 

Final Notes: 
Frankly, I was not expecting much from this book. With all the hype surrounding it, I was ready for a total flop. Thankfully, I was wrong. The plot was well worked, the setting was detailed and rich, and the characters were complex and lovable. By the end of the novel, I wasn’t scared of Tris anymore, and I wasn’t scared for her. I knew she was capable of handling whatever came her way, even if I was not sure where the plot was taking her. I highly recommend this book, and I cannot wait to pick up the sequel. Literally, I have it in my hand right now.

I gave this book 4 stars on my Goodreads.

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