Harper Collins 2011
Beatrice has grown up living selflessly in all ways, right down to rarely seeing her own reflection lest it encourage her to focus on herself rather than others. Everything she does, both at home and out in the wider world is to help other people – this is because she belongs to the societal faction of Abnegation, a section of the community who believe that selfishness is the root of all problems. At sixteen, Beatrice isn't entirely sure that she's cut out for a life of never thinking of herself and faces a choice between Abnegation, with her family, and the four other factions that make up her society: Dauntless, Erudite, Candor and Amity who respectively favour the qualities of bravery, intelligence, honesty and peace. Before making her choice, Beatrice undergoes an aptitude test in the hope that the results will guide her towards a suitable faction. However, the results are less than clear and Beatrice must face her future with a secret that could end her new life before it's even begun.
Tris is a superb protagonist – she is certainly one of the strongest female characters that I have read in YA fiction (topped only by Viola Eade of Chaos Walking). At the beginning of Divergent she is introspective, quiet and used to blending into the background of Abnegation. However, once her aptitude test begins, readers start to see that Tris has a core of steel and an exceptionally independent mind. Not only that, but she's extremely determined, focused and brave. Tris is also ambitious and at times it seems that she will do whatever it takes to succeed . She's never unkind, but neither does she allow herself to be walked on. She doubts herself often yet never lets this disrupt her focus and, when everything hits the fan, she steps up to the plate and makes difficult choices and decisions – some in the most brutal way – because she knows what needs to be done.
One of the most interesting aspects of Divergent is Tris's interaction with others. Tris hasn't had a close friendship with anyone before and her burgeoning camaraderie with Christina, Will and Al is fascinating, especially when contrasted with her growing friendships with Uriah, Marlene and Lynn. Making friends when you are in a competitive environment can be hard, especially when you realise you can manipulate them to help you get where you need to be. Tris never consciously uses her new friends, but nor are the boundaries of their friendships well defined. These relationships are cleverly written leaving readers never entirely sure of the depth of these new bonds. Equally, Tris's relationship to Four is often left hazy and undefined. He, like Tris, is an exceptionally well written character. Almost brutal in his focus yet also principled and respectful, he often seems a complete conundrum. Unlike so many male characters in YA, he is believably flawed. He's not particularly nice all the time, nor is he always kind – but he is a good man trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. His relationship with Tris is touching in the extreme, yet never predictable and the secrets in his past and present add a tragic depth to his already multi-faceted persona.
While the character development and relationships in Divergent are fantastic, what lifts this dystopian tale high above others in the genre is Veronica Roth's exceptional vision of the future. Set in an almost unrecognisable Chicago, the idea of a society splintered intentionally into different factions works incredibly well. Unlike many dystopian books, Roth actually touches on the reasons why the system exists as it does. Her main premise is that society became so terrified of the promise of war that it split itself into groups based on what individuals felt were the main causes of strife. Clearly, a system such as this would be at best hopelessly naive at at worst fatally flawed and from the start of Divergent, Roth explores the cracks that splinter across her dystopian vision – incorporating the societal issues into a gripping plot that is part coming of age, part political thriller, part whirlwind action and 100% excellent.
Divergent is by far the best book that I have read this year. Of all the dystopian titles out there at the moment it probably sits closer in style and vision to The Hunger Games than, say, Delirium or Matched. However, I'm going to come right out and say that Divergent is superior to The Hunger Games on every level. Veronica Roth's writing is exceptional (the way she incorporates the architectural landscape of Chicago to create a familiar yet frightening landscape is astoundingly good), her vision of the future co-cohesive, bleak and often terrifying and as Divergent approaches it's gripping climax she takes no prisoners. I highly recommend this book – it's astonishing.
Divergent is available now. Thank you to Harper Collins for providing me with this title to review.