Something I have noticed a lot of lately, especially with dystopian ARC’s at the ALA annual conference, are mentions of The Hunger Games on blurbs in the front and back of books. A) If a book needs to be compared to Suzanne Collins’ books to sell copies, it can be nowhere near as good as Suzanne Collins’ books. B) That is a lot to live up to C) Until now, I have not read a single dystopia that I feel as though I can even put in the same category as The Hunger Games.
Okay, I’m lying slightly. I might put James Dashner’s The Maze Runner and possibly Ally Condy’s Matched in the same category, but it was always clear who the number one slot went to. Veronica Roth’s Divergent is now currently warring with The Hunger Games for that slot. And I guess I can’t completly fill in my Dystopia number 1 spot, until I read all of Roth’s series because I’m biased with my love for The Hunger Games trilogy as a whole (though, if you know me, you know I was not too impressed with book 3). Any way, I need to step away from The Hunger Games (though I will eventually make a post dedicated to it) because I do not want any more books to take away Divergent’s thunder.
Why was this book so amazing? I’ll get to that, promise. I think I need to explain what it’s about first. It takes place in the future, in Chicago, which is divided into five factions: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction lives according to very strict ideals. Those in Amity live their lives according to peace. Those in Abnegation (where the main character, Tris, is brought up) are all about selfless acts and always putting the feelings of others before one’s self. Candor is all about truth being the most important thing to live by. Dauntless is about bravery. And Erudite puts the pursuit of knowledge above all else.
Now, I need to make another Harry Potter reference. I loved that the people are sort of divided into Hogwarts houses: the smart, the brave, the peaceful, the truthful, and the selfless. But the society that emerges here is anything but magical. Because the Abnegation faction is known for selflessness, they have become the leaders. The fearless Dauntless become the protectorate. The smart Erudite become in charge of libraries and technology, etc. The one ultimate free choice the people in Chicago have is the decision to go to which faction they want. They are tested to see where they would best fit (like a scary version of a sorting hat ceremony), and if they switch factions to something other than what they are born into, they leave their families behind forever. This all happens when they are sixteen.
Tris does not feel selfless enough to stay in Abnegation. When she is tested to see what most logically fits her, she finds out she is divergent. Her test provider tells her she will fix it so no one knows, and to never mention her score to anyone else. And all Tris can really tell is that it means she could fit into more than one faction. Any way, Tris leaves her selfless faction for the bravery one at the same time her brother leaves for the pursuit of knowledge. And while Tris has to pass may tests in her initiation into Dauntless, including jumping on to moving trains, jumping down buildings, fighting her friends to the point of unconsciousness, and surviving her worst fears, literally, through tortuous sounding fear simulations that many kids don’t survive, trouble is brewing among the factions.
Between the romance with one of her instructors, the mixed messages she gets from her mother on her one only visitation day, her homesickness, her broken bones and layers of bruises, betraying friends, bullying enemies, ruthless leaders, and the war that is threatening her society at every turn, Tris goes through a lot really quickly.
When it comes down to two factions working together to brainwash one faction to kill the selfless Abnegation, Tris needs to decide where her true loyalties lie. Does faction really come before blood? Soon Tris comes to realize how important her being divergent is, and what she can do because of it, but no decisions are easy to make when you have loved ones dying on all sides of you.
I loved this book for so many reasons. It’s huge (almost 500 pages), and I stopped reading last night, around 2 am (after only finishing about half of it). But, I couldn’t go to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually I gave up on sleep and around 6 am starting reading again until I finished it. This book is so good, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t eat. I had to know what was going to happen. Between routing for Tris to score well in her initiation, to hoping she doesn’t have to watch her family die, to trying to grasp the complicated politics of a power driven society that was meant to be about peace and preservation, my brain was on overdrive.
I loved that it took place in Chicago and that I could recognize dystopia version landmarks of things like the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. I loved Tris and how she didn’t feel selfless and how she wasn’t a perfect protagonist; sometimes she even did things out of anger. I love how tough she became and how she was constantly proving how strong she was, despite how small she was. She transformed from an indecisive girl to an opinionated leader making hard decisions for the greater good (something that was sometimes hard to read, yet necessary for the plot to continue).
And nothing in this book seemed forced. The romance wasn’t a Bella/Edward instant soul mate connection; it took time to build. Tris took time becoming who she was at the end. It took time for the other factions to do what needed to be done. This all made Divergent that much more believable.
This was a fantastic work of YA dystopian fiction. And I give it a 10/10. I’d say 11, if I didn’t think that was too corny. If you liked The Hunger Games, by all means, go read this one.