This was one of those books that I enjoyed reading and would easily recommend to teens looking for dystopian fiction, but that doesn’t quite hold up to close inspection. Maybe it’s not supposed to be examined that closely, but there are other dystopian worlds that do hold up, or that never caused me to doubt the premise (The Hunger Games, of course, but also books like The Knife of Never Letting Go or Feed). So this falls squarely into the category of ‘entertainment’ rather than ‘distinguished literature.’
But what holds it back? Tris is an interesting enough character, with a compelling journey. She’s dealing with both day to day issues – surviving her initation into a new faction, the possibility of friendships and maybe even romance in a cut-throat world – and big picture issues, like the fact that she’s different and her differences are dangerous.
Okay, here’s where I start to unsuspend my disbelief. I buy the everday stuff – it’s gripping and keeps you on your toes because, like Tris, you never quite know what’s around the corner. But the whole concept of the factions and of being Divergent felt a bit forced. I could buy the idea that society gradually moved towards the factions – that there were ideological differences that led to the splintering of society, but that each group still relied on the others in some way, so they continued to coexist.
I don’t buy that things got so extreme that people agreed to radically shift to the faction model of living. I don’t buy that most people fit easily into one faction. I don’t buy that being Divergent is this special, rare thing. Being Divergent seems to me just like being a normal human being, a person who might lean towards one trait but also encompasses the others. That is humanity, people.
Perhaps these issues get ironed out more in the rest of the series. Maybe it will be revealed that being Divergent is more normal than it seemed in this book, that most people really do struggle with fitting into the single ideals of their faction. Roth certainly leaves herself a lot of room to explore the history of this world, as well as what’s happening outside Chicago, so she might tackle this, too.
I also wish, on a style level, that she trusted her readers more, that there was more showing and less telling. I noticed a few sections of dialogue where I felt like the subtext was already in the spoken words, but then Tris went on to explain what she was feeling and how the other person was reacting. Less is more.
All that said, the world of the book is fascinating, and I’d be curious to see how things play out in later books. I’d recommend this to middle school & up – so far the romance is very tame, but there is a fair amount of violence.
Source: my public library