At Target, they have these signs. A popular book on the left, then a cardboard, “Ooh, you liked this book? Try this one!!” with an arrow pointing to the right. The first time I saw Divergent, it was sitting to the right side of Meyers’ The Hunger Games. I assumed it was just tag-along dystopian rubbish. Poorly written first-person fiction that would sell because that’s what’s selling.
I have never been more wrong.
The accolades speak for themselves: New York Times bestseller. Amazon.com Best Books of the Year. ABC New Voices Pick. Chapters/Indigo Top Teen Summer Read. Publishers Weekly Best Book. School Library Journal Best Book. Ad nauseam. This is more than just hype.
This girl knows what she’s doing—and she does it masterfully. I tend to shy away from first-person narratives, expecting to be dragged along by a hopelessly flawed character; wanting to stab my eyes with butter knives (Still too soon?) each time they make an obvious mistake. But the way Roth builds Beatrice Prior as a narrator, giving her warring amounts of fear and recklessness, allows for enough volatility to keep her from being predictable.
The funny thing about this dystopia Roth has created is that it is supposed to be a utopia. The city—futuristic Chicago—divides its citizens into five factions, each based on personality traits. When each citizen reaches the age of 16, they get to choose which faction they will embrace and live as a part of for the rest of their life. It’s supposed to diffuse all tension, all conflict—but humans are, by nature, flawed. Such a society can never last. When Beatrice decides to split away from the faction she has grown up in, troubles are stirred up, and the waves just grow from there.
While Beatrice is, above all, the guiding perspective through the story, Roth keeps her in balance with a myriad of other characters. Surprising for a YA novel, both Beatrice’s parents are involved, influencing her actions even after her choice to leave them. The love interest, as well, is balanced with the furtherance of plot: any interaction not only provides a bit of love interest for our protagonist, but also serves to propel the story and develops characters.
A bit unusual in its approach, Roth has created a very intriguing perspective on altruism, fear, and fighting in spite of it.