May 17, 2012

Divergent: Another Look at Dystopia

Posted in Book Reviews, Dystopia tagged , , , at 9:41 am by catsinboxes

To read my review of Divergent’s sequel, Insurgent, see my guest post at Redeemed Reader.

Ironically, I bought Divergent in Chicago . . . the very city where it is supposed to take place at some point in the future.  I hadn’t intended to buy it; I was going to read a different book on my trip to Seattle.  I had it all planned out, the book checked out and picked up from the library (oh, if you must know, it was The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan).  Unfortunately I forgot the last step; take the book out of Car 1 and put in Car 2.  Halfway to the airport I remembered, but then it was too late.  Since Divergent was only $10, I could justify buying it brand new.  After reading it, I consider it $10 well spent.

I like Beatrice Prior much more than Katniss Everdeen.  I like her because, though flawed, she feels much more human to me.  I realize that Divergent  is not as well known as Hunger Games, so I’ll briefly lay out the plot.

The setting is Chicago, though it’s hardly recognizable.  Lake Michigan is a marsh, and the city has fallen into decay.  There are hints of a war sometime in the past which concluded with the Great Peace and the beginning of the faction system.  Each faction has a different value: there is Erudite (wisdom), Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peacefulness), and Dauntless (courage).  The purpose of the factions is to insure peace and order in society.  You are born into a faction; Beatrice Prior has been raised in Abnegation.  At the age of 16, young people have the opportunity to change factions, or decide to stay in their own faction at the Choosing Ceremony.  And that is where Beatrice Prior’s problems begin.

Beatrice loves Abnegation and her family, but she feels conflicted as the Choosing Ceremony approaches.  Does she really belong in Abnegation?  She doesn’t feel selfless enough, she knows it is an act, a front . . . she does the “selfless thing” because it is the “right” thing to do, the expected thing.  Where does she belong?  That is where the aptitude test comes in.

Right before the Choosing Ceremony, all 16 year olds take an aptitude test which allows the takers to know which faction they are suited for.  There’s only one problem, Beatrice’s exams are “inconclusive” (something that hardly ever happens; she didn’t even realize it was possible!)  This means that she is “divergent,” a fact which is highly dangerous.  The story progresses from here.  Beatrice chooses to leave her faction for Dauntless.  As an initiate, she takes part in training, and as she becomes used to this new life, she realizes that not all is right with her world.  Despite the faction system, there is trouble looming on the horizon.

You have to admit, it’s an intriguing premise!  Like the Hunger Games, the story is narrated by the main character.  I really like Veronica Roth’s style; it flows and she uses repetition at times to emphasize her point.  Beatrice, or Tris, as she calls herself after choosing Dauntless, is not resigned to life the way it is.  She is constantly questioning within herself . . . questioning the faction system, questioning Abnegation, questioning Dauntless, questioning her own motives and intentions.

The world of Beatrice Prior is flawed, but it is not godless.  Some religion lingers, but much more than The Hunger Games the people in Beatrice’s world act like people, and they have a conscience.  Many of them desire to do the right thing, though like Beatrice, they often fall short.  Just like the people in our lives.

Do I recommend Divergent  for everyone?  No, I still have some reservations.  It’s not with the violence, though that is there.  While there is a little bit of profanity, I can’t remember if there is any language.  It didn’t stick out, and I didn’t feel that this was an issue, either.   In Beatrice’s training she learns how to fight, which could raise issues depending on your view of girls in combat.  My main issue was the sensuality.  While the romance in the book is handled well, it does probe deeply into Beatrice’s feelings.  I’m not against romance, but this goes pretty deep.  It descends to a very physical level, highlighting Beatrice’s feelings when she is in close proximity/touching her significant other.  (I’m trying so hard not to spoil the story, so please forgive the terminology, but I’m not going to give away a name here!)  At the same time, she fears getting too close.  I know all of these feelings are realistic, but I don’t believe they are necessary for younger readers.  (SPOILER ALERT, skip to the next paragraph unless you don’t mind learning something that happens in the story.)  There is one instance I feel parents should be aware of when considering the book’s appropriateness.  At one point in the book, a group of boys ambush Beatrice.  One of them gropes her chest, and she is taunted for her lack of anything.  The scene is brief, Beatrice is rescued by a friend, but I feel that that scene alone is something which recommends an older audience.

That said, I did really enjoy Divergent , and I look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.  I’m not sold on the dystopian genre, but I think this particular series has a lot of potential.  And, for anyone who is in Hunger Games withdrawal, I really do think you’ll like this book!

Have you read Divergent?  What did you think of it compared to The Hunger Games?  Is there another dystopian novel that you think is better than either The Hunger Games or Divergent?  Do share!