Divergent by Veronica Roth (who seems to have a fun blog, so I have just subscribed. 542 unread items in my Google Reader just doesn’t seem like enough) is my latest foray into dystopian YA. This genre is like crack. I can’t quit it. Much like Covert Affairs. Actually, I take it back. This book was much better than CA. I shouldn’t have thrown them together like that. It’s unfair to Divergent to lump it in with the generic and totally fine CA, which I know is mediocre at best, and yet I can’t stop watching it because it’s so perfect to have on in the background while you’re cooking dinner or doing laundry, and then you look up and notice that Joan is kicking some hostage-taking ass down in Mexico, and then you’re all interested again, even if Piper Perabo is miscast and that totally forgettable guy she’s hung up on is so deathly boring that no one sees the appeal. Divergent is definitely better. Such a ringing endorsement, right? But I did legitimately enjoy reading this one.
Here’s the scoop. Divergent takes place in future Chicago. In this future, Chicago seems to be all that is left, although there are indications that there might be something beyond the fence. (The page and a half that covers the trip to the fence was actually the most interesting part of the book for me. Everyone is locked IN, and I want to know why. I hope that the next two books in the trilogy will elaborate on that little detail. Seriously, I will be all kinds of rage-y if this is never resolved. Make a note, Verionica Roth. I am on the edge of my seat.) Anyhoodle, mankind has divided itself into five factions: Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite, and Amity. At sixteen, you’re tested to see which faction you are compatible with, and then you decide which faction to spend the rest of your life in. This is actually one of the things I liked most about the world. In most dystopians, choice has been taken from the citizens, so I appreciated this shred of freedom that Roth left her characters. Even if you test for one faction, you can choose another, which adds a dimension to the story that other dystopians miss out on. Our heroine, Abnegation-raised Beatrice, goes in for her test, and she discovers that she belongs to no faction at all. She is Divergent. Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnn. Apparently Divergence is a deep, dark secret that you should take to your grave and never tell anyone ever even on pain of death, etc. etc. Of course, since no one ever talks about Divergence, poor Beatrice didn’t know that this could even happen, and she doesn’t know what it means for her or what to do at the next day’s choosing ceremony. And she can’t ask anyone for help because of the whole scary warning about not telling anyone for any reason ever at all. Nothing like having less than 24 hours to decide the rest of your life when life throws you this kind of curveball. What’s a girl to do?
Beatrice transfers to Dauntless where she shortens her name to Tris and meets the mysterious and dangerous Four, who will be her initiation class’s instructor. Do you sense TMBS coming on? Mysterious + Dangerous = YA Boyfriend in general, and you were right on the money if you saw this one coming a mile away. Naturally, there are other interested parties – Tris’s transfer friend Al and Dauntless-born Uriah, but they are not Four. There is a good bit of gazing at each other, but not in an appalling make-your-skin-crawl Twilight kind of way, which is refreshing, I must say. In the course of Dauntless initiation, Four discovers that Tris is Divergent, but he helps her hide it from whoever it is that wants to kill the Divergent. Score. Four divulges deep, dark secrets from his past. Score. Four rescues Tris from would-be attackers who are jealous of her awesomeness. Score. He’s pretty unflawed in a dark and broody way, which is usually a giant snoozefest, but Roth kept his character interesting enough that I don’t hate him for his perfection. I’m just not invested. Four is also specifically unhandsome, which smacks of Mr. Rochester, but I kept my anti-Jane Eyre feelings in check and gave him a chance. (Tris is also specifically not pretty, but that is such a YA trope these days that I have decided to give Roth the benefit of the doubt that she is not channeling one of my least favorite classics of all time. I have also decided that she is not a new averagely-pretty Bella Swan because the thought that people might be ripping Stephenie Meyer off makes me want to cry inside.)
The book ends with the expected battle, which is a huge bloodbath. Tris has to make hard choices, and she loses people who she cares about. She also saves the day and, in so doing, many innocent lives. All of this is pretty par for the course in this genre, but this is a well-done version. I’m definitely in for the next two books. I hope that we’ll get less exposition and more action for book 2, which should be the case since all the world-building has been done. It got a little exposition-y at times, but it’s hard to avoid that when you’re setting up for a futuristic trilogy. I really like Tris’s character, and I look forward to seeing what is in store for her. I also really, really want to know who has locked everyone inside the Windy City.