Be brave: a review of Divergent

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. …

But if I saw her, I wouldn’t recognize her.

DivergentI didn’t enjoy Divergent as much as I thought I would. I don’t even like the main character, Beatrice, all that much. But I do like how author Veronica Roth plays around with themes such as bravery, cowardice, and honesty.

Divergent splits its world into factions and forces everyone, at a young age, to choose which one they want to spend the rest of their lives a part of. That sometimes means joining a completely different group of people and never seeing your family again because you’re supposed to obey the mantra “faction before blood.” It sucks.

Beatrice grew up in Abnegation (which means “self-denial”), a faction that teaches selflessness above all else. But the problem with the factions, which were created to prevent war and violence by adhering to a set of ideals, is that if you commit yourself to the qualities that you think would guard against those things, you end up leading an extremist lifestyle. Most of us find it OK to be selfish sometimes, or dishonest, or reckless, or smart, but no one in Divergent gets that luxury.

That’s why people change factions — a chance at freedom, at identity. But those words don’t mean much when you’re simply trading one rigid way of life for another. It’s a flawed system that leads to a lot of political problems that boil over later in the book.

So Beatrice leaves her faction of total strictness and charity (people call the Abnegation “Stiffs”) and chooses its very opposite: the Dauntless. They’re everything the Abnegation are not supposed to be. But before initiation, even before you choose, you take a test that’s meant to guide you. Beatrice’s results, which are supposed to reveal the faction where she best belongs, are inconclusive. They are wrong. Divergent.

For most of the novel, Beatrice — or “Tris,” as she chooses to be called — has no idea what that means. She just tries her best to survive initiation, which with the Dauntless means jumping onto moving trains and onto rooftops, climbing to ridiculous heights, getting tattoos, showing skin, shooting guns, and fighting. It’s supposed to teach her to be brave, but not everyone has the same idea of what that is. She has to figure that out for herself, and that’s what I loved most about Divergent. The concept of bravery (or any of the other faction ideals) becomes confusing when you’re trying to define it — when you apply it to different situations the same way or try to live by its compass alone. A lot of what bravery means to Tris depends on how she connects to whatever she’s feeling. Brave one moments means a gun in her hand and the next, stepping away, being vulnerable.

That also makes her unlikable in a lot of ways. Tris can be completely selfless when she follows old habits or protects her friends, but inside, she can be petty. She can be angry. Selfish. And it’s hard to admire someone who listens to a fellow initiate sob during the night and ignores him because it disgusts her.

None of us is perfect, though, and maybe Tris’s character is just an honest one. Heroes don’t always have to be good. I’m not sure Tris is. She’s smart and moral, and she feels guilt or pain when others are wronged, but she’s not above committing cruel deeds herself.

Maybe that’s why Divergent gets more interesting later on because for the first half or so, the pace is kind of slow. I wasn’t even sure I cared about any of the characters. It took awhile for me to warm up to or feel convinced by them. And a lot of that had to do with betrayal, friendship, and romance — and most importantly, the thing that makes Tris an outcast from the world: not that she’s Dauntless but that she’s Divergent.

She’s stubborn and a little crazy. When others call her weak or small or a “Stiff,” she fights back. She tries harder. And as much as I don’t know that she’s the best model for anyone to look up to, I do think that’s worth something. We can be anything we want to be in a world where we’re supposed to think and act like everyone else. We can be Divergent; we can be nameless.

Grade: C

Awesome book cover Friday: The Investigation

Happy Friday! Today’s pick is The Investigation by Philippe Claudel.

The Investigation

The novel is “a dark fable that evokes the absurdity and alienation of existence with piercing intelligence and considerable humor.” It’s about an investigator who just can’t catch a break, and with all his bad luck, he’s supposed to solve a series of suicides — 22 in the same building makes an unusual case. The book description calls it “a wild, Kafka-esque romp through a dystopian landscape, probing the darkly comic nature of the human condition.”

Awesome book cover Friday: The Forsaken

Oh god, another busy, busy week. Today’s book cover pick is a little late — sorry! But I didn’t forget. :)

Check out The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse. Is this not the coolest thing ever?

Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse

The Forsaken, released on July 10 of this year, is the start of a new dystopian trilogy:

As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.

The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway. (from Amazon)

Do you like the cover? You can read the author’s thoughts about the design at Unabashedly Bookish, the Barnes & Noble community blog.

Thanks, readergirlz, for the great find.