Author: Veronica Roth
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.”
Thoughts: When creating a fantastic dystopian novel, one needs heart-pumping, hair-raising action and suspense, a character whom the reader can support wholeheartedly, a backdrop that is as familiar as it is foreign, a dastardly plot that threatens to shake the entire world, and a dash of romance to help ease some of the tension. Veronica Roth gets this recipe absolutely right in this first novel of a trilogy, Divergent. The characters are memorable, the suspense is intense, and the action is breath-taking and relentless. It is an outstanding debut.
While there are comparisons to other young adult dystopian series, Divergent is strong enough to stand on its own merits. Thankfully, unlike other series, there is no love triangle to divert the reader’s attention from the true story – the idea of dividing a society into factions based solely on one virtue above all others and the problems this would cause. In Tris’ world, labeling people is acceptable and required for society to run smoothly. Ms. Roth shows the reader how idealistic and unrealistic this idea truly is, giving plenty of food for thought to a reader who cares to do so.
However, if one does not want to delve too deeply into the hidden messages behind the novel, there is plenty to keep the reader occupied and happy. This is not an idealized world. It is rough and cruel, clique-ish and not for the weak. Tris’ initiation is brutal and includes scenes that are difficult to endure. Yet, as Tris grows stronger and more confident, so does the reader, and what was once frightening is not quite as bad afterwards. Thrill-seeking readers will rejoice at the extreme sports Tris is forced to adopt during her initiation, and the rush of adrenaline that courses through her also courses through the reader thanks to Ms. Roth’s brilliant writing.
As the first of a trilogy, there is much left unanswered. What is out there beyond the Chicagoland area? What has happened to Lake Michigan? What caused the city to divide into factions anyway? I suspect that more will be revealed in future novels, but make no mistake that the book in no way suffers because of these unanswered questions. Rather, the potential answers to these questions, and the fate of Tris, help keep the reader interested, not that it is difficult to remain interested in Tris’ story.
Divergent has already generated a lot of buzz in the blogging world among YA fans, deservedly so. It is a difficult story to put down but never seems overly drawn out or long. The suspense builds slowly, to the point where the reader is not entirely conscious of the pressure building in one’s chest or the increasing heart rate. It is a sign of the strength of writing when an author can so subtly build the connection between story and reader that it causes unrecognized physical symptoms. If Divergent is any indication, Veronica Roth is definitely one author about whom we should all take notice.