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Divergent, Book I

Posted on Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 under Reviews | No comments

** My thoughts below are about Veronica Roth's first book in this series; I have plenty to say about the film version, but that will have to wait for another time (and possibly another viewing) when I am less affected by one particularly awful theater experience and instead more by the presented content.

Like I'm sure most of you, I started reading Divergent after a friend's recommendation that I would enjoy it based on my interest in The Hunger Games series (in this instance, it was Michelle Bellville who suggested the read). Having just finished Mockingjay and not yet started on my re-reading of Tolkien's Hobbit or my first reading of the LOTR books, I decided to give it a go. It didn't really hurt its chances that Belle and I were discussing the book over pizza and beer at BJ's Brewhouse.

Currently, my typical modus operandi is to first find the book in question for loan (physical or digital) in our local library system (Orange County, FTW!) and not start until it showed up on my doorstep or in my Inbox. No such luck this time, so I went the secondary route of grabbing a few sample chapters from iBooks to explore first. I went through those fairly quickly, as the book a great strong start, and with Belle egging me on, I went ahead and purchased the full copy through iTunes. Then it just sat in my queue, at Chapter 7, for definitely more than a few months.

The delay in continuing the book didn't have anything to do with the material, but instead that I often get sidetracked by other friends, with other hobbies and other recommends until soon I am buried beneath lots of wonderful possibilities and can only wade my way through at a snail's pace. Of course, what actually spurred me on to re-start and then finish the book (in less than a week, mind you) was the upcoming release of the film adaptation and wanting to see it with Belle, Jo and friends for Courtney's birthday.

As also typical for me, especially with my ease for distraction and often busy work schedule, I read through the book both visually and audibly, intermixing the two. While I have had plenty of heated discussions (looking at you Becca and 'Chelle) about how listening to a book isn't "reading" it, for myself, I have found it extremely helpful to have both versions of a book available at the same time. It allows me sneak in lots more reading time during the drives to/from work, at the gym, lying in bed and during long sketching or coding sessions. There are plenty of times where I will want to confirm the spelling of name or the pronunciation of a word, so really most of my reading includes both sensory components. It's also why, if I had bought into the Kindle ecosystem instead of the iOS, I would be all over that amazing Whispersync feature; a little extra money and you get both the book and the audio, plus synchronized reading.

Now, onto the book itself!

For the most part, I found the plot to be interesting, but a bit outside of what I expected from a post-apocalyptic narrative. You know: strong reasoning and history leading up to the oppressive government regime, supported by detailed ideas on why and how the science works the way it does and characters curious enough to lead us through discoveries of those elements. If I had to rank a few recent genre reads in order of those closest to my ideal, it would be on point with Ender's Game, side-step slightly with The Hunger Games and make a far over shift with Divergent.

Where I found the book to skew sharply from the sci-fi genre is about 1/2 through when the story primarily becomes a tale about teenage love. I kept having to take a break from reading and then psych myself up to continue forward ... the way you might struggle through drinking too sweet a latte, wanting water between every sip. Much of the writing for dialog between Four and Tris, as well as the descriptions of their physical interactions felt specifically targeted toward what young adult females want to read. While there were scenes that felt genuine (i.e. the precarious climb on the ferris wheel) many of their other interactions felt pandering; I could almost hear the coos and sighs pre-teen readers were making while Four was being spooned up to them.

In hindsight, of course, this book wasn't necessarily written for me. Where I was immediately hooked by the concept of the factions and the possibility of a much deeper meaning behind the actions of the faction leaders, those pieces were all secondary to the story of a small, gray girl finding her inner color, outer bravery and the love she never knew she wanted. What I had thought I had glimpsed in Tris when she first started to defeat the simulations was Neo, when he first displays his powers outside of the Matrix; a divining rod that is more powerful than the system and can therefore lead the way to freedom. But with how Book I ends, with the collapse of the faction system eminent and the dangers of simulations apparent, I am instead left wondering whether Tris' Divergent "powers" are still viable in a world outside of the simulations. Wouldn't she just be a regular person in the real world with a multi-faceted personality?

Overall, the book has some interesting ideas and good character definitions, but outside of Tris' budding relationship with Four, it feels lacking of convincing objective as a stand alone unit and deficient in stamina as the forerunner for two more books.

What do you think? Am I just totally heartless? Or were you also left wondering if you had been sold a romance novel wrapped in a pretty sci-fi cover?

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