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Young Adult (YA) literature tends to follow some fairly cyclical patterns. If a book is successful, you can bank on seeing similar volumes published for a while afterwards. For a while now, dystopian series featuring teen female main characters have been big. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is probably the biggest success story so far, but based on readership and the upcoming movie, it appears that at least a few important people feel that Veronica Roth’s Divergent series has the goods to be another success.
The first book in the series is Divergent. Beatrice Prior lives in a society (in what once was Chicago) in which people are raised in factions – Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation – Beatrice’s family’s faction. Each raises their members based on one overriding ideal. In Abnegation, that ideal is selflessness – helping others at all times. It doesn’t take long to see that Beatrice, at 16 years old, isn’t quite sure about fitting into her faction.
Fortunately for her, the time is quickly approaching for her to choose the faction she will train and work in for the rest of her life. However, the society’s motto is “faction before blood” – if Beatrice decides to join a faction other than Abnegation, she will basically be leaving her family behind.
The story follows Beatrice through the testing and choosing process, but the book quickly becomes more about the result of choices she makes, and how the choices others in her society have made affect her. The main character is interesting and sympathetic, and the book does well to avoid making her into a superhero. The path Beatrice takes certainly holds the attention of the reader, and the book sprinkles in a healthy dose of action to keep things moving – the final section, in particular, was quite the page-turner.
There are some faults, however. The reason for the book’s title becomes apparent rather early, yet little attention is given to it throughout the middle portion. As a result, a lot of the plot feels like setup – like something bigger is coming – but it doesn’t fully happen in this book. I suspect the sequels probably benefit a great deal from all the exposition in Divergent.
The other trouble I had with this book was in the secondary characters. In her quests, Beatrice makes friends and enemies, but it doesn’t always feel like those relationships are explained, and as a result, it took a little longer than I expected to remember just who everyone was.
All that said, I think this was a promising start to series. The society Roth creates is sufficiently different from the society of The Hunger Games or Uglies or The Maze Runner that it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. And the end of the book definitely had me hooked and interested for what happens next. I hope, as I continue the series, to see more of the panache of the last 100 pages of Divergent present in the sequels.