Monday, August 8, 2016

Review - Divergent

Original Title: Divergent
Series: Divergent, #1
Author: Veronica Roth
Published: April 25th, 2011

Publisher: RBA

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEWS CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Don’t judge a book by its movie”.

That’s what made me pick up Divergent and give it a chance. I’m new to dystopian stories, they have never been my favorite genre, but now, I’m reconsidering it, seriously. After watching the movie, something told me that I shouldn’t completely judge this story before knowing more. Somehow, I needed more details that the movie simply couldn’t provide; that’s why I grabbed this book. And it was a nice surprise, especially because I knew what was coming, and still, it kept me reading for hours. I sat there, and read, and during three whole hours and a half I only dedicated myself to pass the pages. It is truly engaging, and every chapter ends with a cliffhanger that makes you need to know more. I love when a book does that.

Definitely, Divergent presents one of the most interesting dystopian societies I’ve ever encountered. The city of Chicago is the home of a population living under the belief that peace only can be kept if each person knows where they belong, and occupies a place in one of the five factions in which society is divided (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless), each of them representing a human virtue necessary to live in harmony, created to eradicate those negative human tendencies they consider responsible for the chaos in the world. Each person needs to fit in one of those categories, or face ending up factionless, which, in this version of Chicago, means being an outcast, a homeless, and hence, being left out of literally every social event and decision, living only by the mercy of those belonging to Abnegation. This faction system seems to work. Everyone, apparently, know where they must be. At sixteen, teens must face a test that will tell them in which faction they should be, given their natural inclinations, that may or may not be the faction they were born in, but they still have the chance to make their own choice, in the Choosing Ceremony, a right considered essential in society: the right of deciding who you want to be. And that’s where I wanted to get. The amazing thing aboutDivergent is that it depicts a totalitarian society disguised as a democratic community. People live under oppression, but they don’t seem to know it. They accept the faction system because it is the right thing, convinced it is the only way to live (unlike other dystopian societies in which people live oppressed and they know it, but they can’t do anything about it). These people accept what it is given to them, when in fact, those rules they live under, those aspects their faction values more than anything, are extremists, and determine that you are only one thing in life, walking down a path that, once chosen, can never be left.

In this society lives sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior, born in Abnegation, but with difficulties to live the extreme selfless life expected from a stiff, as the members of her faction are mocked by the rest. Through her eyes, you see how ridiculously extreme the system is, even for people like the Amity members, whose job is, literally, being happy. In Abnegation, altruism is the way of life, but it reaches the point that its members only can eat certain food, or look at themselves in the mirror every two months, because that simple and apparently irrelevant act makes them forget about the needs of others, and think about themselves. But Beatrice is the only one who seems to notice how things really are. She doesn’t feel like she fits in any of the factions, something that her test confirms, as it turns out inconclusive, branding her as Divergent, someone the government can’t categorize, and hence, can’t control. Her life in Abnegation is stifling, with all its strict rules, and she knows, deep inside, that if she wants to be free, she needs to leave it behind. But she can’t abandon her family just like that, they are the only world she’s ever known, and especially after his brother Caleb, a natural for Abnegation, leaves for Erudite, when everyone thought he would stay where he was born. Her struggle as she cuts her hand and prepares to swear her loyalty, is between what’s right for her, and what’s easy. That’s the reason why, in my opinion, her first blood drop falls in between the two bowls. She feels how her family is the magnet that makes her want to stay in Abnegation, but she needs space to let herself be, to discover her purpose and find her true identity. She knows that what waits for her in Abnegation is no life at all, but a peaceful, altruist existence that will never let her be at her fullest. And that’s why she chooses the closest thing to freedom she can have in her society, as she swears allegiance to the Dauntless faction.

But still, even when they exalt the possibility to choose their own destiny, deciding what and who you want to be, you see how dominated the society is, and how little they notice it. Yes, they can choose the faction they want to belong to, but what they want to do with their lives forcefully has to fit in one of five options. As Beatrice says, that’s not a choice at all. Upon choosing the Dauntless faction, for the first time she thinks only of herself; she decides she wants the freedom she never had, that it is time to leave a life that doesn’t fit her, even after sixteen years of trying and failing. In Dauntless, Beatrice renames herself Tris, and meets those who will be her first real friends, people she can be with without thinking of their needs and forgetting about herself. In that noisy and fully active faction, Tris can start savoring the freedom she was denied back in Abnegation. But for the whole initiation process, you see how she can never truly shake what she learned in her former faction, and how she doesn’t fully belongs to Dauntless. Just as the drop of blood fell in the middle during the Choosing Ceremony, she is in the middle too. Not Abnegation anymore, but neither a hundred percent Dauntless.

It is there, during the initiation in which they learn to fight, shoot and control their fears, that Tris meets Four, our scarred hero. Their love story was truly good. Their attraction is not just a whim, not something based only on physical attraction, something that in YA novels normally dominates everything, and doesn’t leave enough space for the emotional connection they claim to share (and there’s no romantic triangle! Bonus point!). Tris and Four, when they are together, are just Beatrice and Tobias, two people who know they don’t fit in this world they live in, that left their factions because they couldn’t with such a burden. Through their moments together, they come to know they understand each other better than anyone ever could. They are kindred spirits, both Divergent (even if not in the same way), they know what being alone means, and also the fight to belong somewhere. But none of them want to be only one thing in life. I thought I would be unfazed by their story, but I actually liked it. She is not a stunning beauty; she’s just normal, and is surprised that someone notices her, not to mock her for being a stiff. He wants to help her because he knows what she is, and what will happen to her if her true nature were discovered. But then, there’s the other aspect I loved about Tris. She doesn’t need him to be who she is, and doesn’t let him turn into her whole world. She loves him, but she doesn’t let that define her whole life. She has other people she loves and needs to protect, and doesn’t forget it because she’s in love. She’s no silly girl, who doesn’t go blind or stupid when she falls in love. She’s perfectly capable of fending for herself, and the Dauntless training helps her to bring to the surface those qualities that lied dormant inside herself, that the Abnegation rules forbade her to show. She’s not transformed by the initiation. She’s awaken. She can find her true self and shape her personality, and even when her society only allows one face to be shown, she has many. She’s Divergent.

I was surprise of how little the head villain of this story appears, given that the story is more around Tris. The mastermind behind the serums that will control the Dauntless soldiers, so they kill the Abnegation members, is Jeanine, head of the Erudite faction, and her characterization intrigued me, because even when she has the aspects of the conventional villain (wanting to dominate everything and being the sole governor of their society, as head of the faction she considers above the other four), she’s scary, because of her Erudite nature. She knows too much and her eyes are trained to see those things that want to be hidden from them. She connects the dots, and finds out Tris is Divergent (something that wasn’t fully hidden, if you think about it), but her cruelty is calculated. She’s a machine that works following certain principles, and smart enough as not to take the power herself, but to put her intellect as Erudite to work in the creation of serums that will make others do the dirty work for her. She needs an army, and takes the Dauntless to use them as her puppets, to seize power and destroy the Abnegation faction, who has the power, given that, according to the rule, it has to be theirs, because of their commitment with selflessness. I wish there had been more about her backstory, I’m curious about her past, and her life in Erudite, but as it is Tris who tells the story, I doubt there will more insight on her life in the next book.

If you like Dystopian books, try to give it a chance –and if not, too; the whole fuss the movie created has a point. Don’t be blinded by the movie, because the book is better, it has a lot more details the movie just can’t include, and Tris is a great narrator: easy, direct, honest, and brave, a heroine in her own right, with a great group of friends and enemies that were fun to read, like Christina, who grew up in Candor and it is funny how she has no qualms about being brutally honest. Overall, it was a very good read, and I’m glad I picked it up!
 

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