Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.
But if I saw her, I wouldn't recognize her.
Beatrice is nervous. She has a test coming up soon. The test. The test that will determine her future. On a particular day each year, all sixteen-year olds have to take a test that will find the dominant quality they possess and thus find the faction that best suits them. A day after the test, they have to make their choice. If they choose a different faction from the one they were born in, they cannot return back or meet their parents. Beatrice's test doesn't go as expected, forcing her to keep a secret, and she ends up making a choice that surprises everyone. However, when she begins to hear hints of a growing conflict, her secret becomes suddenly life-threatening and she has to do something to save herself.
Finally, the review I've been writing in my head for two months but have been really reluctant to translate that to paper (or bytes). I almost feel like I'm standing among a sparse group of people on one side of the fence facing a huge fanbase who loved this book. Honestly, I found just one other person on my Goodreads friends' list who rated this book at 2 stars, everyone else gave it 4 or 5. I'm bordering at 3. You see, I didn't get the appeal of this series. At all. And that was quite disappointing because it is being touted as the next Hunger Games phenomenon, and I loved the Hunger Games series! Just recently, soon after the release of the first HG book, someone in the publishing industry was asked what next after the entire HG movies were released. And he pointed at the Divergent trilogy. I could only look down disappointed. (I wish I had noted down who said this, but right now you only have my word here and it's true.)
Divergent is the first book in yet another YA dystopian trilogy in a market that now seems saturated with them. I love me some good dystopia. I love watching dystopian movies and I like imagining all the possible ways the world can reach a state of utter chaos and mismanagement. (That makes me better appreciate today's world as we know it.) Divergent is actually good. It invests in the concept of a test to determine one's true calling but hides that behind the idea that the individual always has choice in the matter. Quite unlike The Giver, in which what you were deemed good at becomes your job for life, but still not too different for me to not raise my eyebrows. There are five factions in Divergent - each valuing a particular trait - truth,
My big issue with the book is that I felt the author was trying too hard to create the dystopian world. Unlike many other utopian and dystopian lit I have come across, this world never quite felt natural to me. A lot of the elements felt too convenient, and so much goes unexplained, violating the 'Show, Don't Tell' adage. I was reminded of too many other books while reading this one. I am by no means saying that the idea isn't original. It is, to a limit. I just felt that I had read other better similar books, especially The Giver and The Hunger Games. I ended up feeling that the world was standing on some weak stilts. Even the conflict at the end felt artificial and its motivation felt very weak. Although there were very vague hints of some impending danger, the conflict felt to me to have come out of nowhere - without sufficient buildup and anticipation. I guess I could say that it felt more like a terrorist attack than a planned war. But at the same time, knowing something about the coming conflict, spoiled the element of surprise that terrorism usually brings.
As is customary now in YA dystopia, there is some romance too. Actually, cross that. There is just a little more romance than I felt comfortable with. Which is okay. I've never enjoyed the fixation with romance in YA books, but its presence didn't really bother me because I expected it. What did bother me was how lame it all sounded. There is an unapproachable guy who is up to his forehead full of secrets and we have a heroine who is feeling somewhat attracted to that image. Ring a bell, anyone? At one point, the romance felt too sugary and eye-rubbing for me to even enjoy it.
I did like (a little) Beatrice's character. I didn't care for any of the other characters - almost all of them felt very flat to me. I initially felt guilty that I was again being too demanding of strong characters before I remembered that there are other YA books with strong characters. I liked Beatrice because of the reason I like a woman/girl character - she is independent, thinks for herself, can protect herself. I also liked the whole training session in the book - there are skills to be learned and the competitors are ranked by their performance. A little game in any book is always welcome.
I should probably end my review now, lest I get some tomatoes hauled at my face. If you haven't read this book yet, you may not need to take my opinion here. There are PLENTY of readers who loved it, which makes me the oddball, something that rarely happens with dystopia. Last weekend, I went and picked up Insurgent (the second book in the trilogy), because that's how confused I am about my reading choices, but I am yet to open a page of that book. I am thinking it is something I could read over the weekend in a couple of sittings, just to know what happens, but unless Insurgent does the Divergent formula a little better, I may not find my thoughts on that book any different.
I borrowed this book from the good old library.