Apologies in advance for the length – when studying literature it’s far too tempting to turn every review into an analytical essay. I’ve tried to keep it as unanalytical as possible, but wanted to give this one my full attention and thoughts! And there’s a teeny tiny spoiler right in the last paragraph … oops!

After getting sick of waiting for this to be available at my local library while hearing endless praise and recommendations for it, I ordered Veronica Roth’s debut novel from Book Depository with the intention of reading it on my holiday. By the time I landed in at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, from Melbourne, I had not only slept for 7 hours, but devoured all 496 pages of Divergent.

Distopian stories seem to be the new vampire novels. After hearing nothing but praise about The Hunger Games, I struggled to get into it at first and have to admit that it’s sitting on my bedside table half finished (I must finish it before they release the film). Yet deciding to give Divergent a whirl is by no means a decision I regret! Once again, difficult getting through the first couple of chapters, as I like to try and get my head around a new world and characters reasonably quickly, but once I pushed through, I really fell for Tris’ desire to prover herself to herself. Ultimately, it felt like as much as she ended up proving to others’ that she belonged with the Dauntless (or rather, not in Abnegation), she was really proving to herself that she could be more than she had previously allowed herself to be.

The concept of choosing one main personality/character trait for life is an interesting one. It makes me wonder whether or not we are capable of doing such a thing, and in our world of ‘you can be whoever you choose to be’ and political correctness, do we flounder in our freedom to be too many things at once? As someone who personally struggles with wondering which of my characteristics to develop or talents to pursue, I can’t help but allow myself to imagine what my life would be like if I was forced to choose one and spend my entire adulthood (and perhaps childhood too) exploring it to its fullest.

Reading from a real-world however (although hardly perfect itself), this lifestyle seems extreme and unfulfilling. To make such a permanent life decision at only 16? In a society where it isn’t legal to vote at that age, or drive or buy alcohol, and considered preposterous to marry… It seems inconceivable.

Having said that, Roth’s portrayal of human interactions and relationships felt right on track. The differing personalities (and backgrounds) of the new transfers in Dauntless, and the way they act in their new world and around each other, are brilliantly done and interpreted wonderfully through Tris’ perspective. Four’s openness to reveal his greatest fears and vulnerability to share them with Tris, was so beautiful it nearly broke my heart. Perhaps my favourite moment of unexpected humanity (in a setting where it is easy to forget these characters’ humanity) is when Four gets drunk. It reminded me so much of a moment that could have happened between Tris and Four if the book were set in a different time and different place – a world more like our own.

Which brings me to the key of what I love in a successful distopian story – the idea that humanity is humanity, regardless of what circumstances they exist in. I got the impression at least once that there is a distinct possibility that Tris’ world is an isolated community within a more recognisable one (think: that creepy M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village) – yet don’t quote me on this, as it was quite possibly my own active imagination. Nevertheless, the desire for power and control beyond human rights and civility will always create villains, and Divergent has some nasty ones. More than once I was on the edge of my seat (tricky with the lack of leg room available in plane seats), due to the outright evil nature that prevailed through the eyes of someone who had only known peace and selflessness.

Naturally, a debut novel will contain the occasional twitch or plot flaw that will remind you that it isn’t actually perfect, but they were just little things that jumped out at me while reading and I can’t recall any of them now. The only thing I still roll my eyes at just a little is the mildly cliche “the quiet submissive mother turns out to be a gun-totting hardcore bitch”. Okay, so maybe not a cliche, but it was the only part that frustrated me. Yet I loved the naturally necessary “boy ends up with girl” and as much of a “good triumphs” ending that a first-in-a-series can have.

My only regret in waiting so long to pick it up? Realising that I still have another 9 months or so until I get to find out what happens next!

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