In my archaeology classes, we talked a bit about lumpers and splitters, how people tend to split up species, tool styles, etc – lump them together, or split according some generally subtle difference. I myself tend to waver a bit, but lean towards lumping. This book, which probably has already been read and reviewed by many, premises that a community will split itself up based on differences in personality, detectable and defined by a mysterious drug induced scenario test. But what happens if people can’t be easily split into distinct categories. What if people are complicated?
Another in a seemingly long line of YA dystopian fiction series, Divergent has a female protagonist, Tris, who is Divergent. Divergence means she has diverse thinking patterns and emotional strengths, while most of her community have a predominant trait/value – selflessness, honesty, bravery, intelligence, peacefulness. Each person at around the age of 16 is tested to determine their predominant trait/value, and the following day choose which faction they will join. They don’t have to choose the faction they were raised in or that was identified in their test, but most do. Tris is dangerous because she has has three predominant traits/values, but her test results are hidden and she chooses her faction according to her heart, risking never seeing her family again. What follows is a training montage and romance set up, with some vicious Lord of the Flies style competition amongst her fellow new faction members. She inevitably ends up as a victim of a devious plot, and is rolled into a bigger rebellion.
This series has been inevitably likened to the Hunger Games, given the plot lines. What I find more interesting that that comparison is Roth’s discussion in the reading materials at the end about giving Tris agency – she makes decisions, she moves the plot, she effects change and takes control of her destiny. Much like Katniss, they are both in seemingly rigidly structured societies and forced into terrible situations with no good choices, but she certainly makes those choices independently. I like reading about these intelligent, powerful young women, taking the world around them seriously and being taken seriously by the people around them in turn. This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am glad that these female characters are out there for young readers to experience.
While the supporting characters are not particularly well fleshed out, one of my biggest complaints is that romance between Tris and Four seems forced. They are just drawn to each other, it is irresistible, etc. This makes sense for some of the story because they are both teenagers, and hormones and adolescent brains will do that to you, but the declarations of love later in the book come too fast and seemingly without foundation. Collins did a better job of relationships, I think, in that Katniss had a long standing close relationship with Gale, and had to learn to love Peeta over time. Four and Tris do have a fair amount in common, which the reader gradually discovers, but much of their relationship develops in private with stolen moments. It just felt rushed.
I was torn about whether or not the give the book two or three stars. The romance part was a bit hard to invest in, there was a lot of “I sighed” in the book, and the characterization was a bit thin. However, the book’s plot was fast and the setting was interesting, enough so that I reserved the second and third book to be sure I could see how it ends.