Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Dear Ms. Roth,

There’s been a lot of buzz about your debut novel. My interest was piqued when I heard the premise — a future where people are sorted into factions based on personal ideology — but could it live up to the hype? After all, it’s a dystopian YA and there are a lot of dystopian YA novels coming out, each one purported to be bigger than the last. Still, I tried to keep my expectations low to avoid disappointment but after finishing Divergent, I realized that might have been unnecessary.

divergent veronica rothSometime in the future where the specter of war lingers, society has split into five factions: Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless. Each faction represents a specific ideal that they believe to be the polar opposite of a trait that contributes to war. Dauntless value bravery, the opposite of cowardice; Candor value honesty, the opposite of lies; and Amity value peace, the opposite of aggression. Erudite value knowledge, the opposite of ignorance; and Abnegation value selflessness, the opposite of selfishness. It’s a very orderly society, where each faction fulfills a particular role. Because Abnegation, for example, embodies selflessness, that makes them perfect for public service since their lack of personal interest would allow them to make decisions for the benefit of society as a whole.

Beatrice Prior is a member of Abnegation, but she’s never quite felt the selflessness that all members of Abnegation should have. But it is her sixteenth birthday, which means it’s time to take the test that guides which faction a person should choose. Many people remain in the factions they grew up in, but many others defect. Beatrice is torn. She doesn’t feel a strong attraction to another faction, but the boundaries of Abnegation chafe.

Then Beatrice takes her test and the unthinkable happens: it’s inconclusive. Instead of leaning strongly towards one faction, Beatrice displays traits that could place her in Abnegation, Dauntless, or Erudite equally. People who display an affinity for multiple factions have a label of their own: Divergent, and they’re very much forbidden. The test proctor erases Beatrice’s test results and records them as Abnegation, telling Beatrice that she must never tell anyone the real results because it would not end well for her.

Now Beatrice must choose which faction she will belong to for the rest of her life. Erudite is immediately dismissed. That faction is Abnegation’s fiercest political rival because they crave government control. The Erudite feel that Abnegation’s selflessness and lack of worldly concern actually hurts society and that they could do a better job. But even tossing aside Erudite, Beatrice has to choose between Abnegation and Dauntless — between the familiar and the unknown. She’s not sure she has the traits to be a proper Dauntless and while Abnegation doesn’t quite fit her, she knows what would be expected of her there. She can work to be selfless for the rest of her life, even though she knows it’d be a lie. But when push comes to shove, Beatrice defects from Abnegation and chooses Dauntless, an act that will change her life forever.

Like most recent dystopians, the concept of the society in Divergent is one that you must accept at face value. If you don’t accept it, for all its oversimplified structuring and erasure of nuance, then reading this book will no doubt be a trial. Despite the premise, however, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Would it be mostly introspective like Delirium? Would it be action-packed like Hunger Games? I couldn’t tell from the opening chapters and to be honest, it could go either way. In the end, Divergent turned out to be a combination of both.

Beatrice takes a new name (Tris) when she joins Dauntless, simultaneously casting off her old identity while also holding onto her past. Tris’s thoughts of and towards her family were something I really appreciated. I sympathized with her struggle to live up to her family’s expectations while also staying true to herself. I think that’s something many teenagers would identify with, and Tris’s thoughts about her family read very authentic to me. Her brother also ended up defecting and because Tris held him up as the perfect example of Abnegation’s next generation, she questions whether she ever really knew him at all. And because both she and her brother defected, Tris wonders what her parents are doing, what they think, and how are they coping with a house empty of their children. I’ve previously mentioned my weariness of absentee or dead parents so it always sticks out in my mind when parents are not only present but have a strong presence in their lives.

I also really liked the romantic subplot between Tris and Four. (I know the name’s silly without given an explanation but in all fairness, I think the name was given to him, not chosen by him.) This is actually rare. Usually, I’m dissatisfied by the romantic subplots in dystopian YAs but I liked the way it unfolded here. The connection between Tris and Four’s past wasn’t much of a revelation and something I predicted the instant he stepped on page, but maybe other readers will find it surprising. The problem with reading so many dystopians in such a short amount of time is that you start recognizing patterns fairly quickly.

I enjoyed the series of tasks Tris and her fellow aspiring initiates had to complete in their quest to become full Dauntless. Mostly because they showed different aspects of Tris’s relationships with her newfound peers and how those relationships evolved as she came into her own. While the obligatory rival doesn’t offer anything new, the friendships that form and break do.

One thing I wished we could have seen more of was the political maneuvering between the different factions. I love that sort of thing and the hints we got in Divergent were a tease. That said, I realize political intrigue is not everyone’s cup of tea. I did think the overall antagonist was very predictable and two-dimensional. I hope we’ll get more nuance in the succeeding novels as we see more of the other factions of Candor and Amity.

While not as action-packed as the dystopian that kickstarted it all (aka Hunger Games), I thought Divergent was a nice balance of action and introspection, which I haven’t really seen yet this year in the books coming out. After the ending, I’m very curious to see where Tris goes from here and I hope wherever she goes, it’ll be full of adventures in a changed society. B

My regards,

Jia

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony| KoboBooks

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

9 Comments

  1. Hannah
    May 24, 2011 @ 12:21:47

    I enjoyed the romantic subplot in Divergent also. I thought it was well-paced and that it didn’t overshadow the action plot. I have yet to read The Hunger Games though I have books #1 and #2 on my Kindle. Okay, I admit that I may be a freak of nature because I’ve started The Hunger Games several times but have never gotten into it.

  2. DianeN
    May 25, 2011 @ 14:34:06

    I read Divergent immediately after reading the Hunger Games trilogy back to back to back. I think it’s unfair to compare a single title to a completed trilogy, but if someone were to twist my arm I’d admit that I liked Divergent almost as much. As Jia says, you have to be willing to buy into the dystopian elements or you’re probably not going to enjoy it. It’s an action-filled book, and Tris’s journey from selflessness to bravery is quite gripping. I’ll admit that the casual way several characters were killed off surprised me a lot. Deaths in the Hunger Games universe were probably as frequent, but Katniss didn’t shrug them off the way Tris seemed to. I also enjoyed the romance elements, which were way more traditionally presented than in HG. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book.

  3. HellyBelly
    May 26, 2011 @ 14:39:00

    I really, really liked this book and also look forward to see where the society is headed in the sequel.

    However, one thing that really bothered me were the factionless. For a society that was supposed to strive for goodness, it seemed incredibly callous that young adults – 16 years of age – unable to pass the initiation of their chosen faction would be doomed to a life of factionlessness, do only mean labour and barely have enough to eat. To be, in effect, casteless and at the mercy of the goodwill of Abnegation.

  4. Maeve
    Jun 08, 2011 @ 03:09:08

    Divergent to me was a fantastic read. I have read a lot of articles saying how it is just like The Hunger Games but when you read it you realise the different perspectives and morals in the story. Divergent sent me in a different emotional roller coaster then Hunger Games but both books are amazing.

    People pick on the things they think are bad in the book but when you think about it, a lot of the things really do relate to our society today. Like the factionless.

    Divergent is an amazing read and i would recommend it to people who really love an adventure. Also, i think we shouldnt compare Divergent or Hunger Games against each other as they both have different morals and beliefs. Even though there are might be some elements of the book that you could connect with the Hunger Games, who cares?

  5. Divergent by Veronica Roth | Iris on Books
    May 10, 2012 @ 05:47:26

    […] Opinions: S. Krishna, It’s All About Books, Dear Author, Good Books & Good Wine, The Book Whisperer, Presenting Lenore, YA Reads, Book Addiction, Book […]

  6. Blaire
    May 15, 2012 @ 22:12:26

    But what makes me confused is who would be the antagonist? I read is over and over but still dont know whos the antagonist? Or character vs _____??

  7. Jia
    May 16, 2012 @ 08:39:47

    @Blaire: I’ll just say it’s “the system” because to specify would actually be a spoiler.

  8. REVIEW: Insurgent by Veronica Roth
    May 28, 2012 @ 14:02:08

    […] read and enjoyed your debut novel, Divergent, when it first came out. In a post-Hunger Games literary landscape where there are many followers […]

  9. Daily Deals: Bestsellers recently reduced
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 12:02:17

    […] This title is being made into a movie, but more importantly, it was one of Jia’s best of reads for 2011. You can read her review here. […]

%d bloggers like this: