Recommendation: A serviceable YA series, but nothing spectacular. It’s a revised but diluted version of the Hunger Games books, characters not quite as full, action not quite as dramatic, writing not quite as refined. A solid read when you want something to give you a thrill, but mainly I see this as a warning shot delivered by a really young author (24! What am I doing with my life?) with some super potential.
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Double whammy today folks! You know you’re excited. This is gonna be a review of the Divergent series up to this point (it hasn’t been completed yet), that I read just after Christmas in a fit of YA enthusiasm. Divergent sort of rolled in on the back-end of The Hunger Games tidal wave and is now basically the successor in the female-protagonist dystopian YA area. It’s already in the process of becoming a movie (recently adding Kate Winslet to its cast) and, while it hasn’t reached quite the heights of its predecessor, it has a pretty strong and devoted following.
Divergent introduces us to a world that, after being torn apart by war, has been divided into five factions, each representing and lauding a certain type of attribute. Beatrice (who later changes her name to Tris), was raised in the Abnegation faction which values selflessness above all else. However, Beatrice never feels she truly belongs, a feeling that is confirmed when she is deemed “divergent” in an aptitude test, a term used to describe the rare people who show equal aptitude for multiple factions. Though she doesn’t understand why, Beatrice is told to be very secretive about the fact that she is divergent and she stays tight-lipped, even after she changes factions at the Choosing Ceremony that every sixteen-year-old must go through. Now a part of the Dauntless faction, which emphasizes bravery, Tris gets close to Four, one of the most influential Dauntless members. As their relationship blossoms, Tris and Four team up to discover the true reason why divergence must be kept a secret and save their city from falling into a chaotic civil war.
As I said in the recommendation, this series has a lot of similarities to The Hunger Games. It’s a dystopian world with a female protagonist where civilization is divided into distinct groups and teenagers are separated from their families and eventually become symbolic of a revolution. It’s not exactly the same story, but it is right on the same vein, so the two invite comparison. Unfortunately for Roth, I think the Divergent series lags behind The Hunger Games in most areas. Where Katniss is understandably cutthroat, Tris is strangely flimsy (most noticeably in her “decision” to move to the Dauntless faction) and a touch too preoccupied with love. While Collins’ writing is evocative and personal, Roth simply provides the necessities without adding much flourish. Though Roth’s world is more complex (Five factions with different values and responsibilities that still operate together as one city vs. Twelve districts under direct control of the capital), she doesn’t provide the additional detail needed to build it up and make it come alive.
The differences come down to this. Whereas I can still remember specific plot points about all three of the Hunger Games novels even though I only read them once and it was over two years ago, I had to refresh myself on the details of the Divergent series only three months after reading them. It’s certainly fun while you’re reading and it definitely holds your attention. You’ll feel something for Tris and her family members, even if it never reaches the poignancy in Collins’ work. It’s a perfectly fine series with good thrills and interesting concepts, but it is a story that you put down and move beyond, not one that sticks with you and makes you think. In the realm of recent YA series, The Hunger Games is a step and a half ahead of Divergent, but Divergent is still a few steps ahead of Twilight. And, by the way, Veronica Roth is 24 years old. 24. As in, born in 1988. As in, practically my same age. As in, infinity times more successful and better at writing than I am with plenty of years ahead. So keep an eye on her, she’s scary good for someone who graduated high school in 2006.