Happy Friday everyone. You may remember that a while back I was lucky enough to win an ARC of DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth from her blog. On Wednesday I read the book, and today I sat down to try and review it.
One choice can transform you.
In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior’s world, society is divided into five factions – Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) – each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a “perfect society.” At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives.
On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family’s group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy, but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly “perfect society.” To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.
Upfront confession - I don't generally like Dystopian novels much. Or rather, I haven't liked a lot of the recent crop of Dystopian novels much. I've found most them of them a little samey in their focus on societies where people are not free to love or make personal choices as to prospective life partners, and the resulting forbidden romances (especially since our CURRENT society often forbids people from loving who they chose, and many people don't find it odd at all). However, having visited Veronica Roth's blog I was cautiously excited about DIVERGENT, as it seemed to promise something really different, a book that made an effort to examine themes of personal choice a bit more deeply. I entered a competition on the author's blog for an ARC and somehow, won.
I am so, so glad that I did. DIVERGENT is an incredibly strong debut. No, that's not doing it justice. It is an incredibly strong *novel*, full stop. I found it ridiculously compelling, and read it in one sitting in just under four hours. Frankly, short of applying strong glue to the cover I can't see how the author could have made this book any more unputdownable.
I think the brilliance of the novel lies in three things. First, the author's ability to create truly well rounded and textured characters. Second, her intense sensory writing. Third, her absolute ruthlessness in testing both of the above to their limits.
It's been a long while since I read a book with such a strong cast of real characters; by which I mean, people that I believed in, people that seemed completely realistic even amidst their warped Dystopian world. People who *remained* human and sympathetic even when they made mistakes, did terrible things - or acted with shining selflessness and bravery. Ms Roth's main character Tris is a perfect mixture of flaws and strengths, moral ambiguity and idealism, bravery and self-preservation. I felt I could always rely on her to do the right thing, not in terms of good and bad, but in terms of what a character with her traits and in her situation WOULD do. I've read so many books lately where the narrators might as well be signposted as BAMFs with neon flashing lights and yet seemed to have no true strength, no inner resources. Smart mouths, switchblades and leather pants do not a kick-ass heroine make. Tris is a kick-ass heroine precisely because she doesn't need to act tough. She just IS. I loved that about her. I loved it so much that if I ever meet the author in real life I am going to snuggle her, even if she tries to get away from me (sorry, Ms Roth!).
Here we have friends and family members who have their own inner lives and agendas, enemies that are frail and flawed, and a love interest WHO APPEARS TO BE A REAL BOY AND NOT A SPARKLY MARBLE CUPCAKE ADONIS! I didn't swoon over Four for a second. I fell in love with him, quietly and deeply, just as Tris did.
When twinned with the author's gift for creating a tangible physical experience for the reader (I felt what Triss felt, smelled what she smelled, shivered when she did, pricked my ears when she did) this would already have put this novel head-and-shoulders above the competition. But Veronica Roth also has another ace up her sleeve, which is that she puts her characters (and by extension, us) through the wringer both physically and emotionally. I could literally feel Tris's character being stretched to its limits. There were moments in this book where I wanted to curl into fetal position because the experience of reading it was *brutal*. But not in a torture-porn way, which is a fine line, and one that I hate to see crossed, especially in YA.
So DIVERGENT is a thrilling, action packed read, with spare and beautiful writing and wonderful characters. It is also a profound examination of human nature. Ms Roth's book dwells deftly on the costs of bravey and self-sacrifice, on the difference between strength and cruelty, on the dangers of both prejudice and idealism. Hyper picky witch-writer that I am, I wouldn't change a thing about it. It's rare that concept and execution come together as perfectly as they do in this novel. I'm thrilled that I got to read it early and I have all my fingers and toes crossed that this book gets both the critical and commercial success that it rightfully deserves.
A keeper, and one that I know I will re-read many times in years to come. Highly recommended.
NOTE: Due to the attentions of a troll and his spambot, I've been forced to turn on word verification for comments. Sorry, all. I hope you can bear with it.