Tuesday, February 9, 2016

REVIEW: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Harper Collins
487 pages
YA Dystopian fiction

In the distant future, society is regimented and controlled. Chicago is a walled-in city. Nobody ventures outside the walls. People are divided into 5 factions based on personality: Candor, Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless and Amity. At 16, children choose a faction and that sets the path for the rest of their lives. There is no deviation. Those who don't conform die.

There are only two groups who don't fit into the norm.

The factionless are left homeless and abandoned, surviving off charity on the fringes of society. They are those who left their factions or were thrown out. The dregs of society.

And then there are the Divergent. Divergents show aptitude for more than one faction. If discovered, Divergents are killed.

Tris tests as Divergent. Her life will never be the same again....

I enjoyed this book. There were times I had to work hard to suspend reality because I couldn't believe in a society that worked that way. But the story was interesting enough to keep my attention.

I think this series is a victim of hype. Maybe "victim'' isn't quite the right term. Hype can be both good and bad.

Sometimes hype helps boost a genre, getting more people reading similar books. When I finished reading the Hunger Games Trilogy, I have to admit that I jumped in line with many readers who were looking for another dystopian series to fill the void. The result is that YA dystopian fiction has become more mainstream. Goodreads has a listing of 498 books considered to be the top of the YA dystopian genre.  The attention that Hunger Games, Divergent and other dystopian YA books are getting shows the effect that good marketing, movies and hype can have on readers. They get a taste, and want more.

There are good and bad results when hype grabs a hold of a genre or subgenre. On the one hand, it gets more people reading and discussing books. I LOVE seeing teenagers and adults alike reading books and talking about them. Hype often gets books in the hands of people who don't normally take the time to read. The Harry Potter phenomena is a huge success story when it comes to mainstream YA fiction taking on a life of its own. The books, the movies, theme parks. It has a positive vibe and has brought so many people around to the joy of reading.

On the other hand, the downside.....A good book can be damaged by constant comparisons to another similar book or series, or by a lukewarm movie or television adaptation.

I think the Divergent series has taken a hit on all counts.

After Hunger Games, readers looking for another high action dystopian romp, were eager to get invested in another series. But many were disappointed in Tris. Divergent is more psychological than Hunger Games. Tris is not another Katniss. Her motivation and emotions are different. The books have a different feel, a different vibe. And that's ok. In fact, it's more than ok. But many reviews I have read come right out and say "Divergent is no new Hunger Games''   Does it need to be? I think the Divergent series can stand on its own merit.

The movies were received with mixed reviews. Some enjoyed them, while others panned them both. Many who didn't like the movies are now hesitant to read the books. Some liked the movies better than the books. And there will always be some that dislike both. It's hard to tell whether the big screen helps or hurts a book series sometimes. In my opinion, the movie Divergent introduced a lot of people to the series. But the 2nd movie, Insurgent, was a bad follow up. But that's just my opinion. I'm torn on it, really.

Then there are the readers who just plain disliked Divergent. A book can never please everyone. Sometimes a story or a writer's style just doesn't click. But, I see similar complaints for many dystopian YA books. Unrealistic, silly premise, impossible technology, trite plotline, slow story development, boring, not enough action, etc. Mostly those comments come from adult reviewers. I have to remind people that these books, although they have become mainstream and are read by all ages, were written for younger readers. Both HG and Divergent are YA series and were not written for adults. The plot lines gravitate towards the concerns of younger readers -- loss of parents or siblings, individualism, their place in society, choices, finding love, growing up, fitting in, change, friendship, learning who they are, fear of failure. If you are looking for something more mature, move on to adult fiction.

My  rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

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