We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.
I first came across Divergent last year (what can I say? I’m always late to the party!) when I heard about the film of it. To tell the truth, it sounded awfully like one of those books which has spawned as a result of The Hunger Games. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, The Hunger Games really wasn’t my bag. I found Katniss incredibly obnoxious at the time and I generally found it pretty predictable. However, I think I brought a lot of prejudice in terms of my expectations of literature and particularly young adult literature at that time. To that end, I’m definitely going to give it another go at some point this year.
But this isn’t about the Hunger Games, this is about Divergent.
I absolutely adored it.
To me, this book is the ultimate “suspend your disbelief” book. No, the world-building doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s not a 1984 kind of dystopian, in the sense that you can pinpoint areas of that society which are relevant and even comparable to ours. Divergent is the sort of book where you either accept the initial premise for what it is, or you don’t. If you can’t, then you’re probably not going to enjoy the book. That’s not a criticism. There are things, such as The Hunger Games, for which have not been able to suspend my disbelief, but many others have. However, Divergent just grabbed me. It was exactly what I needed to start my year off with: easy to read, well-paced, and just plain fun.
What really sold me on it was Tris. I really loved her. One of the great things about her characterisation is that she finds self-belief pretty rapidly over the course of the novel. Even right at the start, when she’s chosing her faction, she makes a decision based on her own inner compass and for no reason other than that. Too often, female protagonists in young adult novels suffer from either a lack of self-esteem (cf. Cath in Fangirl, which I disliked) or are pigeonholed into the strong action-girl emotionless role (which was my original problem with Katniss, though as I said, it will take a reread to discover whether I still feel the same way). To my mind, Tris is much more well rounded than this. I love that she has obviously negative traits - the impulsiveness that gives way to losing her temper, the cruelty that this engenders - and I love that she has strength in abundance, not just physically but mentally. She makes mistakes, but is pretty accepting of the fact that mistakes happen, and they can be forgiven, both by herself and others. At the same time, she has the tenacity not to forgive what should not be forgiven. She shows her strength to Four, but also allows herself to be vulnerable with him. She tells Four she isn’t pretty, but realises that whether she is or isn’t pretty isn’t the be all and end all of who she is anyway. And she never feels like she should have to apologise for what she is - Divergent - even though she has to hide it for her own safety.
That’s not to say I didn’t have any feelings for the supporting characters either. Four is a pretty decent character. I’d like to see more of what he’s like away from the construct of the Dauntless faction. I sometimes found it a little hard to get a sense of him as a fully realised person but I guess that reflects Tris’s perceptions of him as well. Christina is fantastic - again, she’s another female character who is entirely herself. And Al - the changes in his character were something I could have not predicted. Roth did a very good job of making you feel conflicted over his part in proceedings. If I had one criticism of the characterisation it’s that some of the villains - Eric, Janine, and Marcus in particular - are a bit one-dimensional. Obviously it’s hard to say at this stage whether that will continue to be the case.
Otherwise, the plot was a touch predictable, but I wasn’t really too bothered by that. The breakneck pacing was so good that any of the more straightforward plot points were easily overlooked. Like I said, the world-building is something that will probably be a problem for some people. If you think too hard about the Factions and how this came about and how this world lasted - the whole thing comes a bit unstuck. However, if you can accept that these are the rules and this is how this world is - then it’s a pretty exciting read. It helped me to think of it as a world completely divorced from our Earth, if that helps anyone else at all.
None of these little niggles managed to overcome my enjoyment of this story though. Rarely have I read something that was so unabashedly fun as this. I give Divergent nine out of ten.