The category of post-apocalyptic, dystopian teen fiction has blown up over the last 3 years or so, thanks to the breakout success of The Hunger Games, which is a tough act to follow. And with that series finally ended, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is stepping up to the plate. But is it a homerun, or a swing for first base?
Set in seemingly near-future Chicago, the world of Divergent sees society divided into five separate but equal factions, each dedicated to one prevailing virtue: Intelligence, selflessness, courage, honesty and peacefulness. At the age of 16, children of every faction are tested and given the right to choose their group accordingly. But after Beatrice’s test results come back with unusual results, she’s faced with the tough decision of staying with the selfless faction of Abnegation or taking a different path.
It should come as no surprise that this is another novel of youthful self-discovery in a world where harsh decisions are forced upon people at a young age. It’s a growing trend in young adult fiction, and some manage it better than others. In this case, Divergent falls slightly more on the side of “other.”
The concept is a good one and different than anything I’ve come across, and it makes sense. Modern society already has a tendency to split off into sects who share ideals, so why wouldn’t a future government condone placing like minds together? Especially if each group also serves a purpose. e.g. The selfless have majority control of government, the brave protect the people, the intelligent further the course of science, etc.
The story itself strives for excitement, wanting the reader to feel in-the-moment at all times, but Roth doesn’t always succeed at this. Nearly all of the “shocking revelations” are predictable from miles away. I can’t think of a single time where a character divulged some great secret about themselves that I hadn’t already guessed chapters in advance. Miss Roth should really work on that foreshadowing thing.
About halfway through, a love element is introduced into the story, but instead adding a layer of human interest amongst a fight for supremacy, the whole ordeal comes off hackneyed and distracts from more interesting elements. Now, it’s not all bad, but there were some serious moments where the characters might as well have been saying “You’re sweet.” “No, you’re sweet.” Roth is also quick to extol the virtues of virginity here and there. She doesn’t shove our faces in it, but her intention is clear, and that’s fine. We have plenty of trashy teen sex fiction in the world already.
In the end, the slight Battle Royale-esque undertone (these kids spend a lot of time beating the shite out of each other) doesn’t do much to propel the reader forward and I never thought “Oh, crap. I gotta find out what happens next!” But that isn’t saying the book doesn’t have its moments of excellence. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.
Final verdict: a solid 3 out of 5.