In the past few years, publishing houses and Hollywood have fueled the explosion of dystopian young adult fiction. Arguably, the entertainment industry's fervent desire to transform YA literature into film began sometime during the incredible success of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, as it proved to be a potentially lucrative venture for filmmakers to wander into the realm of teen fandom. Much to their dismay, however, films such as The Host, Beautiful Creatures, and City of Bones were box office busts. The Hunger Games was one of the rare successes that ignited a new era of dystopian novels, such as Veronica Roth's Divergent, which is set to premiere in theatres sometime in March of 2014. The third book in the trilogy, Allegiant (the second installment being entitled Insurgent), will be released on October 22 of this year.
So the question becomes this: Will Divergent be the next Hunger Games or will it be the next Beautiful Creatures? Will it feed the flame of YA films or cause it to fizzle out? I've whipped out my handy book stick (with six categories of criticism) to see if Divergent has the potential for blockbuster status and so that you, dear reader, will know if it's even worth touching the book.
The Synopsis: Beatrice "Tris" Prior is a 16-year-old girl living in a futuristic and dilapidated version of Chicago, where all citizens are divided into five "factions" based on personality type: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful), and Dauntless (the brave). Each faction is assigned specific professional careers (Abnegation controls the government, Dauntless guards the borders, etc.), with the idea being that these divisions will maintain peace in their society. After her aptitude test, Beatrice discovers she is "Divergent," meaning that she doesn't fit into any one faction. The higher ups often assassinate Divergent individuals, so Tris must keep her results a secret. She chooses to leave her Abnegation family forever and become a member of Dauntless, where she must pass (and survive) a rigorous physical and mental initiation process in order to become a member. Oh, but what's this? Someone's planning a coup d'état that will shake the foundations of their society, and it's up to Tris to save everything she holds dear.
The main premise of the novel is its greatest flaw and requires much suspension of disbelief. Why would any society think it effective to further divide citizens in the name of creating "peace"? Who would agree to that as a viable solution? I may criticize the concept of dividing a society based on personality traits, but when I think about the bipartisan nature of current American politics, I see some creepy similarities. Say that you wouldn't consider your astounding intelligence your only strong quality, but if you had to choose one of the five factions, you know you'd choose Erudite. Say that you hate certain policies a political candidate supports, but he's the only one who shares your viewpoint on the issue that's most important to you, so you have to choose between Democrat and Republican. So maybe as a society we already sort people into predetermined categories based on certain core values ("That's deep man").
I can overcome the questionable nature of factions, but what irks me is the transformation of a small girl with no former athletic experience into a gun-slinging badass over a short time span. And the fact that she can function almost normally after accruing severe injures. Also, if a member fails any level of initiation they become "factionless," a fate almost worse than death, where one must become a janitor or a construction worker. Not exactly the most endearing attitude toward blue-collar workers. In addition, someone severely harms another person and Tris knows who dunnit, but she chooses not to report it to her instructors because she thinks they wouldn't do anything about it. Couldn't she at least try before making assumptions?
The majority of the book is dedicated to Tris's adventures during Dauntless training, which--plot holes aside--I think does a great job of establishing the character relationships and upping the tension between factions, which later becomes part of the main plot. The climax of the novel is sudden and flashed by so rapidly that I felt like everything was happening in fast forward; however, I think these scenes will translate really well to the big screen and will ultimately feel appropriately paced when in visual format.
The relationship between Tris and the main love interest is electric and non-superficial. However, the guy does fall into the "dreamboat" stereotype: good-looking, intelligent, strong, stoic, and virginal with an extra vulnerable side. Nonetheless, the dynamic between the two characters is interesting. Others either doubt Tris's strength or pity her weakness, but her man sees her as strong and capable from the very beginning. In addition, the pair does not naively proclaim that the other is their "true love" and their relationship is not founded on physical appearance. They also discuss the subject of sex, which was something that seemed taboo in The Hunger Games and Harry Potter series.
Unlike Harry Potter, however, I didn't feel any connection to Tris's friends. Although they suffer through the same trials and tribulations together, I don't feel like I knew Christina, Will, or Al very well, and it didn't seem like Tris was very close to them, as you would expect friends encountering life-or-death situations to be. Tris keeps her distance, and thus so do the readers.
The sentences are concise and devoid of flowery language, but the dialogue feels forced at times and Roth seems to try too hard to impart a moral lesson through the words of her characters. For example: "Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again."