In a dystopian version of Chicago, the whole of society is divided in five factions according to their personalities, factions that are little more than an attempt by society itself to stereotype their citizens in what is described as an effort to eliminate social unrest by putting people together with the people they are the most alike to. This is how the brave people belong to the Dauntless faction, the smart people to the Erudite faction, the selfless people to the Abnegation faction, the honest people to the Candor faction and the peaceful people to the Amity faction.
However, a few of the people differ from the norm. While most people are told of the factions they suit to the best at sixteen after taking a test, some of these people seem to be able to get into more than just one of them. Their personalities are such that they can’t be stereotyped and won’t follow the herd. Unlike most around them, they are divergent and considered a threat in a society that’s based entirely on the idea that people must be made to fit into molds.
Beatrice Prior, a girl who has been born and raised as a member of Abnegation with her family is, as she finds out after her own test goes awry, one of these people. Luckily for her, the woman who administered her test covers her up by reporting a different result than she got. However, the only information she’s told is that she is divergent and that this information she must keep to herself. Knowing this, she is forced to make a choice – Stay within her faction or join a different one, knowing that she belongs to several of them according to the test. And then, there’s the whole mystery about what she is and why it would be dangerous for society.
This is how Veronica Roth opens Divergent, the first book in a planned trilogy where Beatrice (later Triss) is made to figure out the world around her and, as the main mystery of the first book, exactly what is so wrong about being divergent. Though in some points apparently filled with cliché (The scene where Triss is told she’s divergent particularly made this reader feel like he was reading some badly written drama about the chosen one), Roth’s story is a lot deeper than it lets on at first. This is how several of the issues the storyline seems to have at first are cleared up later on, with many of the pet peeves I felt while reading it getting noticeably better as the book neared its end, making me feel much more comfortable with Roth’s dystopian society.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist – Why, they of course do. And, as I just mentioned, the main flaw in the storyline is just how clichéd it is at some points, with many of the plot resolutions being predictable while others just feel formulaic. Though it clears up a lot on the latter half of the book, it is very hard not to see Triss as the chosen one, some kind of special entity who was born to change the world, and this simple issue works against the book. Another smaller problem in it includes a major plot character and his romance of sorts with Triss. Though it is ok to put romance in a book and thankfully Roth doesn’t go out of her way to make it appear in the novel, the way in which it begins is a rather odd one, since it just seems to be that they are attracted to and meant for each other from the get go, something that’s rather suspicious/formulaic, if a bit understandable since it’s teenagers we’re talking about and they do tend to fall for each other for no particular reason or sometimes even no reason at all.
That said, the main draw of the book for me was the narrative and how it was written: Roth successfully pulls out writing a whole novel in first person and making it work. The main reason why Divergent can actually draw a believable dystopia around it, rather than its setting and storyline, is the beautiful way in which the author can put it into words. The first-person narrative makes up for a simple, yet believable way to write the story that puts the reader right into the skin of the protagonist and the writing is such that it allows the reader to feel exactly what Triss does through the book – Not a small feat, all things considered. Though there are always things that must be forsaken in order to write a novel in first person, particularly how you can’t switch to scenes where the main character is and how you have to tell it in a specific order (No flashbacks!), if done well you gain a level of insight into the main character that’s hard to show in more traditional ways of telling the story.
The bottom line with Divergent, however, is that it is an achievement of its own: Though initially underwhelming from a storyline standpoint, the writing is strong enough to keep the reader interested through the whole of the novel regardless of its low or high points. It might sometimes not seem like such a huge story – And in fact it isn’t an epic, at least not the first book alone – But there’s just something to seeing the world from Triss’ eyes that makes the storyline compelling overall even on its least worked parts. As such, Divergent becomes the odd one out, one of the few books that shouldn’t be as interesting as they end up being, making it hard for the reader to separate himself from it. Divergent, as it stands, is a page turner like few and that alone is enough of a reason for me to recommend it – Because, even when you consider its flaws, it still manages to stand well above most of its competition and deliver an enthralling experience along with it.
Final Review Rating: 4.5/5
Availability: The book is currently available on physical and digital form from Amazon.com
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