Divergent: Just Another Dystopian Novel?

I didn’t know much about Divergent when I started reading it, except that it had the GoodReads Favorite Book of 2011 by over a thousand votes. In the beginning, it felt so similar to Hunger Games; I thought it would be a sub-par dystopian novel.  Despite this early indifference, and in part aided by I read this last month in my bus days, I ended up reading this novel in about 36 hours.  So, I guess that is basically a recommendation in itself.

Some background on the novel (no spoilers!) Beatrice, later renamed Tris, lives in a future world where society is split into five factions. Each faction is defined by assigned jobs within the community and common personality traits. Loyalty and identity are tied to these categories, more than race, gender, even familial background.  Tris’ world values the ability to conform completely to your group above anything else. The majority of the book is comprised of Tris choosing which faction to join, and then the consequences of her choice.  At 16, she must choose more than her career track, she must choose her personality. It makes the college application process look like a breeze.

I’m not sure exactly what changed throughout the book that compelled me to keep reading. There is a coldness to all the characters, especially Tris, that made it hard for me to connect with her, but became more intriguing as more horrible things happened to her. It was a huge character flaw that instead of being her downfall is her salvation. The book is gruesome, in a way I wouldn’t have been able to take when this would have been an age appropriate book. It makes me wonder, as I think many of the out-of-touch have, why are these dark dystopian novels so popular?

The book definitely holds its own in an overpopulated and increasingly clichéd genre. It’s failure within the genre, and perhaps the key to its teen success, is that instead of accurately critiquing society as a whole, it seems more like a comment on the cliquishness of high school. The “training” to join a faction, has more to do with hazing than acquiring necessary skills or information.

The pacing, and sense of urgency, was also spot on. That, combined with the oh-so-sexy yet broody Four, is probably what kept me up reading late, even though it was a work night. It wasn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy it. I am definitely anticipating the sequel.

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