Note: This review is re-posted. It was written previous to the movie adaptation, so it doesn't address it!
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I picked up this book because it is being hailed as "the next Hunger Games." Now wait — I didn't pick it up because I believed that was true. I know how irritating it is to have series labeled as "the next" of things. According to the popular media, Twilight was "the next" Harry Potter, The Hunger Games was "the next" Twilight. I'm sure it made your blood boil as much as it did mine. No, the reason that label intrigued me is that even though I don't think those book series were the next of anything, it is undeniable that all three of those series were extremely popular and have been read by a staggering number of people. If Divergent is going to be as popular as those...well, I thought it was worth taking a look.
Just a quick note—I'm going to do my best not to give spoilers in these reviews, but certain basic aspects of the plot will have to be revealed in order for me to talk about them. Don't say I didn't warn you!
The easiest way to discuss Divergent in a way that will make sense to those who haven't read it is to compare it to The Hunger Games. It has a lot of similarities, definitely, and both books have strengths and weaknesses. Just to give you an understanding of why they're being compared: like The Hunger Games, Divergent is a first-person narrated, young adult, near-future, science fiction novel featuring a young female protagonist who ends up with other children in life-threatening situations that are condoned by leadership. Also, both novels feature a romance (or, in the case of The Hunger Games, two.) Phew!
In Divergent, society is split into five "factions," each of which has chosen one certain value that is most important to its members. From the start, this idea feels a bit half-baked. I couldn't help but compare the five factions to the four Hogwarts houses and wonder why Veronica Roth thought she needed so many. There are only main characters in three factions, so there are two that we never end up seeing inside at all (and one that we only see inside of for one scene), which results in all but the primary two feeling a bit useless. Overall, the universe of Divergent feels like it needed a little more work.
However, like the houses of Hogwarts, these factions are an easy way for fans to identify themselves with the series. By the end of the page where the different factions were described, I had already placed myself in one (Erudite, for those who have read the book. Basically Ravenclaw.) There's nothing so invigorating and binding for a fandom as finding a place for yourself inside of it;the Harry Potter series succeeded in this aspect with fans identifying so strongly with houses, whereas The Hunger Games failed to make fans identify with the somewhat arbitrary "districts" it created.
Speaking of problems with The Hunger Games...I don't know if this was just me, but I had a lot of trouble identifying with and relating to Katniss as a main character. She's so hardened and untrusting that it's hard for even the reader to warm to her sometimes. I understand her motivation, but I still didn't end up...well, liking her that much.
The main character of Divergent, Tris, is far more relatable. With a first-person narrative, it's important that the reader feel close to the main character—we're experiencing the entire story alongside them, through them, and if we don't like them, we usually end up not liking the book. In fact, Katniss as a character is a huge part of why I don't like the second and third books of The Hunger Games trilogy. (That's a story for another day.) But where with Katniss, her coldness towards others made her difficult to relate to, Tris manages to balance an openness and likability for the reader with a reserve and loner-type quality in the context of the book. We identify with her, despite the fact that most of the characters don't.
Of course, there are ways in which Divergent falls short beside The Hunger Games as well. By making Katniss so resistant to romance and personal connection, but weaving her love story with Peeta into the socio-political plot, Suzanne Collins managed to create a self-pacing romance that accompanied the story but never overtook it. Divergent definitely fails at this: Tris' romance is predictable, without obstacle, and practically consumes the middle section of the book. By the time we finally reach the climax of the actual plot, we've almost forgotten what it's about. The resolution feels rushed, like it's being explained to us rather than being shown. (To be fair, Tris' romance is adorable, and I thoroughly enjoyed it out of context.)
My final verdict: I'd recommend it.
I think it has some pretty gaping weaknesses, but many books do, and this one's entertainment value and strong main character is enough to tip the scales for me. I'd definitely recommend it for people who enjoyed The Hunger Games, because it has a similar appeal.
Have you read Divergent by Veronica Roth? What did you think? Tell me in the comments!