I finally found a few minutes to write a review of the book Divergent by Veronica Roth. This is the first in a trilogy of books that some people are calling the new Hunger Games series. My quick take? I enjoyed the book fairly well, but to me, it's no Hunger Games. (You can read my review of the Hunger Game series here.)
There are parallels between the two series, of course. Like The Hunger Games, Divergent describes a dystopic society of the future, but this time it is set in a specific place--Chicago, no longer the "toddling town" that Frank Sinatra was so enthusiastic about in his songs. " The main protagonist is a strong, courageous young woman who is capable of battling, and even killing, for her beliefs and for those she loves. And there is the possiblility of a romance with a mysterious boy who may or may not be her ally. There is a lot of action, but there are political undertones throughout the whole thing.
What I liked best about Divergent was the concept around which this version of our dystopic future society was organized. I believe (it has been months since I read it) that there was a nuclear war, and this society were the survivors trying to build a better system to avoid such distruction in the future. However, in the debate about how best to prevent future wars, the population broke down into five different viewpoints. Each felt the cultivation of a particular human quality was the best solution to avoiding war, but each group focused on a different quality. Thus, the society broke itself up into five self-contained units, each of which dedicated itself to the pursuit of its preferred characteristic and approach to life. Each faction operated on its own, but they shared the ruined remains of the city and worked together in a somewhat uneasy coalition.
The issue facing Beatrice Prior, the 16 year old protagonist of the book, is the fact that the time is approaching where she must choose which of the factions she will pledge herself to for the rest of her life. Not only will this choice determine her future, it may severe her relationship with her family; if she chooses a different faction than the one in which her parents live and raised her, she won't ever be allowed to return to visit them.
Wow! It kind of puts our worries about what schools to send our children to, or even which college they should attend, into perspective, doesn't it?
So I thought that was a really interesting idea to explore. However, the book doesn't really explain much about how this structure came about, or why children are forced to cut off any contact with their parents if they choose a different faction. Perhaps there will be more about that in the subsequent books.
Therefore, the book was less political philosophy that I had hoped, and more action oriented. Of course, it is a Young Adult novel, so that's probably more appropriate for the intended audience. However, even for young adults, I prefer my violent dystopic novels to use their violence and dystopia to teach some underlying moral or political truths, and Divergent doesn't do nearly as good a job with that as does the Hunger Games. BUT, to be fair, I'm only comparing the first book of the series with the entire Hunger Games triology, which also got more political as the books went on. So I may get more of that in the next two books.
The other way in which Divergent falls short, however, is in character development. Even in just the first book, Katness (and the other characters) were pretty fully-fledged, complex, and interesting characters. You cared about the "good" characters, and at least wondered about the "bad"ones. That's not so much the case in Divergent. Perhaps it is a downside of a book that is all about people trying to maximize a single characteristic...perhaps that tends to make characters one dimensional. Whatever, I found the characters to be less interesting, which then makes the story less gripping. The romantic aspects were also less intriguing, while the family parts were more noble. All in all, it is just a less nuanced, less skillfully written book than the Hunger Games, in my opinion. However, I believe the author was only 22 when she wrote the first book. So for the first published novel by a writer that young, characters who are a bit on the "black and white" side is pretty forgivable. Actually, for having been written by someone who is just out of college, the book is pretty phenomenal.
All in all, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. However, as with the Hunger Games, it is violent enough and political enough that I would save it for the teen years, rather than at least the younger end of the middle school years.