Now that I’ve finished up my series on Jane Austen, I thought I’d read some YA and MG novels for a while. I haven’t read either for several months, so it’s about time. I’m trying to come up with a new series of classics to read. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments or email me. Otherwise, you might have to suffer through a letter describing a mastectomy without anesthesia, everyone’s favorite dinner topic! Here’s to cleansing my palate!
Veronica Roth began writing the Divergent series while she was in college, and at some point, found herself an agent. The rest is history. I don’t want to get into the fact that she’s younger than me and already has three books published and a movie based on one of them. There isn’t even the slightest bit of jealousy on my part. But in all honesty, how can I be jealous when I haven’t finished a novel well enough to even send it to agents? Seeing as how this is supposed to be a review of her book and not a self-reflective essay, I’ll move on to Tris, Four, and the other initiates.
Divergent and the entire series has a premise, a tagline, which is “One choice can transform you.” Words to live by. Like those times I don’t get a nonfat caramel macchiato at Starbucks and end up feeling nauseous. Bad choice. Or when I decided to study abroad for a year at the University of St. Andrews and fell in love with Frances Burney, who was vital in my dissertation a few years later. Good choice. Divergent begins with a choice (another trope of YA literature) that will determine Beatrice’s (Tris) future. Well, if it weren’t such a regular thing for sixteen-year-olds in YA literature, I’d be a nervous wreck. Alas, I’ve grown used to the life-and-death choice, or the sudden discovery of a power, magical ability, or any other trait that distinguishes a nobody into a somebody good or bad. That doesn’t diminish the excitement for me, though. She has to decide on which faction she lives in for the rest of her life. Here are the choices: Abnegation, Amity, Dauntless, Erudite, and Candor.
One of my issues with Divergent, not a very legitimate one at that, are the names of the factions. I, apparently, took issue with the fact that they were real words that described exactly what the factions believed. I thought it was a copout, an easy way to name, involving far less creativity than I would use. I would never say it’s wrong; it’s just not the way I would have done it. Save that, I liked the characters. Unfortunately, I never was surprised by their actions, the love interest, or the ending. Predictable? Yes. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I still enjoyed it immensely. I didn’t have to chant “suspend disbelief,” as you all know I did with another book, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, itching to read what would happen next because I had absolutely no idea.
It was a page-turner with an interesting premise, and intriguing characters, however, I would have preferred a less abrupt ending. It didn’t fizzle out like Graceling, but I noticed a definite break from the middle to the end. As in, I was swept away with the flow of it and then, “Oh, wait, we’re doing this already? Ok…” I would have liked more buildup but also, less buildup. Let me explain. The beginning was fine, and the middle, too, until she tried to transition to the climax. It was void of a transition, in my opinion. Lack of transitions causes you to stumble when you read, and a pause is a problem. A pause allows the reader to step back, maybe put the book down. Or they could even get confused. That’s not what happened here. It was more like a speed bump or a pothole you don’t see when you’re driving; your brain sloshes from side to side for a couple of seconds until settling back in. So that’s why I wanted more of a buildup. I needed a transition to the climax. To be perfectly honest, it was as if Roth drops in a hint of what the ultimate climax will be and forgets about it until she’s ready for us to plummet into the midst of it. And do we ever. I root for transitions all the time, but I’m not good at them. In fact, a couple of my professors at uni said that my writing was clunky and chunky. That’s the root of all my problems, the reason for my noticing the slightest off-section, no matter how minute. Also, probably, why I can’t write a good ending because it always sounds clunky and chunky.
As for my wanting less buildup, that would have to do with the middle. Or as I once heard it referred to, the muddy middle, the part where you have to keep the pace up to maintain readers’ interest, while not rushing it. My first draft of my MG novel had the worst middle section ever. But Divergent’s middle was full, too full for my liking. The transition to the climax and resolution was thin. I want to pull some of the middle into the ending, and then smile at a smooth book through and through.
What Divergent does do right is taking an old idea—the dystopian novel—and making it her own. Her characters are varied, all with their own weaknesses and strengths. Every good novel needs an assorted cast list. Roth has it in Divergent. Lucky for me, the love story didn’t surprise or anger me! I was pleased. It had more development, more explanation, and showed the vulnerability of each character to the other. That’s what relationships are all about, right?
With compelling characters, Divergent is a must-read, especially for those who are fans of the Hunger Games. But when you find your mind a little jostled toward the end, shake it off. After all, maybe it all makes sense in the later books. 8/7*