“I feel more like myself. That is all I need: to remember who I am. And I am someone who does not let inconsequential things like boys and near-death experiences stop her.”
The first instalment in Veronica Roth‘s young adult dystopian trilogy of novels, Divergent is set in a world divided by factions that are based on virtues. Daughter of a family in the selfless Abnegation faction, Tris is faced with the decision of remaining with her family or transferring to a new faction, in an annual event where all 16-year-old’s must take an aptitude test and choose their future. But when Tris learns that she is a Divergent, meaning that she will never fit into a single group, she is forced to change the way her mind works and attempt to fit in with the rest of her new faction, the ruthless Dauntless, and to hide her secret from her leaders who see being Divergent as a threat.
The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Veronica Roth‘s Divergent is a well-written, contemporary young adult book with an emotional depth and a host of engaging characters. With an equal balance of action, romance, and personal character developments, the quick pace and rapid plot progression ensures that there’s constantly something happening to keep you interested.
Roth sets up her dystopian world excellently. Whilst there are many young adult dystopias around at the minute, Roth’s book manages to feel original from start to finish and, for that, she has given us a lot to look forward to with the rest of the trilogy.
Divergent exceeded my expectations for many reasons, but what gripped me most of all was the way it explored the emotion of fear. A dystopia is defined as an imagined, unpleasant place, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one, so fear has to play a big part in the society to make it believable.
George Orwell‘s 1984 has the infamous Room 101, whereas Divergent sees members of the Dauntless faction tested in a ‘fear landscape’ to see how well they deal with their personal fears. There’s quite a heavy focus on violence with the members of Dauntless constantly trying to out-do each other; from the start, Roth doesn’t sugar-coat her dystopia by shying away from conflict. The harsh realities of a dystopian world filled with fear and threat are shown to their extremes with many fight scenes and propelled action scenes as the story progresses.
And that’s how it should be. Totalitarian regimes try to act as if they’re doing things for the greater good, but maintaining control comes with many sacrifices. Here, people have their alternative motives, and they’re not nice to others just because they want to be in the same faction, showing that even friendships can be torn apart when people are fighting for what they want. Having the constant threat of Tris’ indifference being discovered running through the whole plot, as well, gives us something to fear for ourselves, engaging the audience throughout.
Of course, being based on a young adult novel, there’s the romantic distraction, too. On this rare occasion, however, the romance fits in really well (at this point, at least). In this first instalment, Four is unlikeable for a large part of the story so we see him as a tough, older guy who gets close to Tris by testing her abilities and mentality. Seeing Tris and Four’s relationship develop in this way means that, whilst the romance is to be expected, it never feels too sentimental or unnecessary. And for once, it doesn’t look like a love triangle will get in the way!
Having read the rest of the trilogy at the point of writing this review, the romance doesn’t work so well in the rest of the franchise, and Tris becomes quite a selfish and somewhat unlikable character. What I loved about this first book was how determined and brave she was, but she ends up thinking far too much about herself rather than the greater good, in the end.
All of these qualities pour out of this first novel and, whilst the rest of the trilogy doesn’t quite have the same strength in character development, plot structure, or emotional engagement, Divergent is still a fantastic effort. If only the rest of the trilogy was on the same level; this could have been something brilliant.
Divergent was adapted onto the big screen in 2014, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: