This review also brought to you by cold medicine.
Not so very long ago, in review not so very far away, I stood up for the present tense and all of its breathless immediacy, at least in regards to the young adult fictions. I’m not going to do that here. In Divergentby Veronica Roth, the present tense maybe wasn’t a mistake, because it works at the end, but it makes that beginning so horribly hard to get through it might not be worth it? As usual, it is hard to imagine readers other than myself, because I am self-involved like teenagers, so I can’t say for sure. All I know is that it took me well over 100 pages and a sinus infection to get over the clunky ass opening of this story and get into it.
Beatrice lives in a frankly laughable post-apocalyptic society, where everyone has been split into like-minded factions: Dauntless (courage), Amity (love), Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (truthiness), Erudite (Goodreads). You know, to keep people from fighting over perceived differences that are inconsequential. (Pause for laughter.) At 16 you have to choose your faction, and Tris chooses Dauntless despite her Abnegation upbringing. And despite the fact that her test scores come up inconclusive – she’s the dreaded Divergent who has aspects of all of those things in her personality. Ahahahaha. Omigod, teenagers, you freaking kill me. Why wouldn’t everyone have more or less of these…forget it, I’ll just take it faith for the moment.
The opening parts are really summer camp movie-esque, if you will allow me to coin an awkward phrase, and have the sort of fun frission that Ender’s Gamehas, but without all the nudity. The world, the politics here make zero sense, and Roth even knows it, drawing out Tris’s understanding and misunderstanding of the senseless world she inhabits like a revelation. Omigod, the electoral college makes no sense at all!!1! You guys! Listen!
After just an appalling beginning – I am still somewhat miffed about how boring that opening is – the book begins to pick up steam, drawing out action sequences and tight, whispered conversations with force and verve. (Um, did I really just use the word verve? I blame cold medicine.) I know I had some thoughts at some points about how this compared to The Hunger Games, but I feel like I’ve forgotten all of that.
Oh! I know! It was that while the factions here might seem like the various Districts in The Hunger Games, the better analogy is/are the Houses in Harry Potter. The districts are geographical, and although the separate districts have their distinct industries and cultures, they aren’t so much self-selected as born into. Harry Potter has a distinctly summer camp vibe (or boarding school, if you’re British, but then you have the whole born-into thing of the British caste system, which is not something an American writer would do. Could I be more confusing please? Gawd.)
Anyway, point being, I think the factions in Divergent work pretty well as a metaphor for the emotional code switching and cliche-forming that goes on in adolescence. Find a group of like-minded people, claw your way in, develop and enforce the norms that the group adheres to. Cry in your pillow when you don’t even fit into a group you yourself joined and maintained. And then figure out there is an epic conspiracy that will shake your dumb little schematic world and render everything you know obsolete: you’re going to graduate. Just kidding! But also for serious. The later half of Divergent is super fun, full of really action-y action and what would be almost trite revelations if they weren’t so badass. My parents areadults who have histories and secrets! Boys are fun to kiss! OMG! The two-party system feels occasionally rigged!
So, in sum, I really liked the end of this, enough for me to want to read on, but I’m still not going to forgive that opening section for being so boring and clunky. I’m reasonably sure this isn’t cross-over YA material – like, if you don’t like or read YA, this is not a smart thing to start with – but if you have a sinus infection and have already gotten through the first boring 100 pages, it’s going to be just absolutely perfect.