October 26, 2011

2011 Cybils: Divergent, by Veronica Roth

You know how some novels are like a long nightmare? That's my best description of this one -- a long, claustrophobic nightmare. Factions? Groups that have rules you're supposed to obey, and lifestyles you're supposed to emulate? There are two words for that: high school.

No, seriously.

The claustrophobic factions fascinated and repelled me -- but mostly repelled. I found myself wondering about the factionless - what happens if you don't fit in, anywhere?! - and lo and behold, that's in large part what the whole novel is about. Those of us who are divergent rebels will find this a fast-paced, absorbing, disturbing little trip into an unbearable future.

Reader Gut Reaction: Ah, dystopia. It can make even the nicest concepts into something twisted and completely wrong.

The world in which Beatrice lives is simple - to her, anyway. It's a stratified society, made up of factions which best embody the virtues of dauntlessness, amity, candor, abnegation and erudition - in other words, fearless, friendly, truthful, selfless and wise. All good things -- or, at least, they're supposed to be a society which reflects these good things. In Beatrice's case, it a life in which she feels trapped and not ever at her best. Her family is Abnegation - wearing gray, eschewing mirrors, living quietly, avoiding differences or showiness, and helping others. Their symbol shows open hands - always helping. All of this is supposed to come automatically, but each day for Beatrice is an exercise in self-restraint. Unlike her perfect, patient brother, Caleb, people piss her off. She's supposed to give and give and give, but she'd also like to give some people a swift kick.

Fortunately, she's days from her sixteenth birthday - and Choosing Day. She'll be tested -- surely, she'll find out what faction suits her best, and at last feel at peace.

Except...rarely do things work out simply.

Concerning Character: Beatrice is the reason to read this book. She's real. Even as Tris, clothed in the new colors of her new life, she remains someone true to herself, and seeking answers. I like her because even internally, she goes her own way. Her cohort are intriguing - and surprising, in some respects. although not everything revealed in the narrative came to me as a shock. Though paralleling some typical dystopian storylines, the pacing is good, the romance has zing, and readers will come away wanting to find out what happens in the rest of the trilogy.

Recommended for Fans Of...: teamwork stories, in which kids band together and deal with themselves, like Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES, or Melissa Marr's CLOCKWORK series. If you like the MAZE RUNNER series, by James Dashner, you'll enjoy this.

Authorial Asides: Veronica Roth reportedly finished this novel while in college at Northwestern, and then had the entire series snapped up by film producers. Cheers for her!. The bigger challenge will be to continue the series with the same intensity and drive, and not let the second book - which so often is substandard in a trilogy - sag.

I was practically twitching by the time Beatrice did her testing and made her choice -- and then, I found myself with questions about the factionless who squatted in the city, looking for handouts and simply staying where they were not wanted... surely the whole world wasn't full of "taken" property. Surely a person could strike out and create a family-faction elsewhere, grow a garden, be self-reliant for food...? Artificial constructs are part and parcel of the dystopian experience, however, so I became willing to suspend disbelief in this story - I'll be interested in how some of my questions are later answered.

Cover Chatter: The symbol in fire is the symbol of the Dauntless - which is perfect for this novel - it's clean and refers directly to the narrative. The tagline, "One choice can transform you," is true on a number of levels. Less inspiring for me was the paperback novel, which has the silhouette of a seated girl and three stylized crows, with the dramatic-sounding tagline, "She turns to face the future in a world that's falling apart." Hm. Well, most of us do that each morning, but the crows do have something to do with the narrative, so points for that.

You can find DIVERGENT at an independent bookstore near you!


Yat-Yee said...

There seems to be quite a bit of hype surrounding this and I'm glad to hear your take on it. Sometimes I let my anti-hype get the better of me.

tanita✿davis said...

I didn't unreservedly love it, but it lured me in, and surprised me. Which is sometimes all you can ask for a book about which people cannot quit gushing.

Sarah Stevenson said...

There has been a lot of hype about this one--like Y2, I get kind of anti-hype, but I may have to check it out simply because of my current WIP...

Sarah Stevenson said...

I ended up liking this one much more than I expected to, despite the fact that I was left with a lot of questions, and there were things I found not entirely plausible about the premise as a whole. As a novel of action and suspense, though, it was hard to put down--and a lot of that, as you said, is credit to the narrator Beatrice and the other compelling characters.