This review is hard for me to write in many ways because I am a huge fan of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. I think that the whole Hunger Games saga is some of the best and most compelling young adult fiction recently written. It combines a powerful story with a multifaceted message of war, tyranny, the corrupting influence of power, and the ability to love. Because I love it so much it is hard for me to not use it as a comparison tool when I read similar young adult novels.
I read Divergent by Veronica Roth because my oldest daughter (currently 13) wanted to read it so bad she was reading it in snatches at Wal-Mart and Target. I keep an eye on what she reads so I can read some of it too. It’s interesting to know the kinds of things that attract her. Because she wanted to read it so badly I decided maybe I should check it out. If nothing else comes out of it, reading her books gives me a starting point for conversations.
When she finished the book I asked her how her opinion. She thought for a moment and then said, “It’s like Hunger Games, but with less rules and more tattoos.” Apparently I am not the only one who compares things to Hunger Games. My daughter is such a chip off the block!
After I read it, I thought her pithy synopsis very appropriate. Divergent is very similar to Hunger Games, but with less rules, more tattoos, and more drinking. In fact the focus on tattoos, underage drinking, and making out kind of turned me off a little. It is a book for young adults, and there could have been something besides tattoos and drinking to show that there were less rules.
This novel is set in a dystopian world, in the city formerly known as Chicago to be precise. The people have divided themselves into five Factions based on five virtues: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). The heroine is a girl named Beatrice who grows up in the faction of Abnegation. She never feels like she belongs because she is not that selfless.
A day comes when she must choose her future. All sixteen year olds have to take a test to determine their faction. Then they have one night to decide whether they will follow the test results or choose for themselves what virtue the rest of their lives will be lived around. If you switch factions you lose your family.
It’s an interesting concept around which to build a society. You know that this society is doomed to collapse. People are more complex than that. In fact that becomes the problem that faces Tris (she changes her name after her choosing ceremony). She isn’t one virtue over the others.
I’m not sure that Veronica Roth intended the message that I got out of her book. I felt like the book was trying to make a case for people to cultivate more than one positive characteristic in their life so they don’t become the caricatures like many of the people populating this book were. What is the use of being selfless if you can’t be peaceful or brave? What is the use of being intelligent is you aren’t selfless and truthful? The whole concept of the Factions warps the potential of all the citizens of the city.
I was rather appalled by the frequent use of tattoo parlors, drinking, and making out that happened as the book progressed. I know both things are wildly popular in today’s society, but there is absolutely no need to tell kids that brave people get drunk and get tattoos. The opposite is probably true now. It’s braver to stand for your ideals than it is to get drunk, go out partying, and getting tattoos. I know this is a personal choice for many people, but I feel this is inappropriate in a book for impressionable young adults. The kissing and making out were also kind of getting out of hand. If anything, this book makes the case for kids to live with their parents until they are 18.
That aside, I enjoyed the story. It was violent in parts. It had a few instances of swearing. And most definitely will it provide fodder for conversation with your teenagers. But still, Hunger Games is better.