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Friday, August 30, 2013

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Book Reviews: Divergent and Insurgent

If you watched the VMAs this past weekend, you may have noticed a Miley Cyrus slut train wreck. But you also might have caught the premiere of the trailer for what could be the new Young Adult movie hit, Divergent. And if you didn't know, this movie is based on the first installment of Veronica Roth's Divergent book trilogy.

Divergent and Insurgent are the first two books in this trilogy. The third in the series, Allegiant, is due to be released in October of this year and is available for pre-order now.

So if you're wondering whether to jump on the newest Y.A. bandwagon, I'd pass. And if you haven't already read the first and second installments, I wouldn't start now. Although the books are occasionally insightful, they don't offer enough originality to make them worth reading. So why is it on the verge of being the next tween sensation?

The books take place in Chicago at an undisclosed date in the future, when society as we know it has been destroyed. The remaining humans who live in the city have formed a society that is split into five sections, or "factions," based on what traits each group of people find the most important.
There are the Candor who value truth, the Abnegation who value selflessness, the Dauntless who value bravery, the Amity who value peace, and the Erudite who value knowledge.
At the age of sixteen, children are given an aptitude test that determines what faction their personality is best suited for. But despite the results of the test, the sixteen-year-olds are free to choose whichever faction they would like at a ceremony in front of most of the community. If they do not choose the faction they grew up in, they will be cut off from their family, and most likely shunned and exiled by their old faction. Once they have chosen, they become initiates and must complete initiation to become true members. Failure to complete the initiation results in becoming "factionless" which is considered by some to be a fate worse than death.

The story begins with our main character, Beatrice "Tris" Prior, about to take her aptitude test. Of course, something goes wrong with the test, and her results are inconclusive giving her the label "Divergent" meaning her personality is suited for more than one faction. She is told never to tell anyone of her results, for it would be highly dangerous if anyone were to find out. She then chooses the Dauntless faction over the faction she was born into, the Abnegation, and leaves her family behind.

This is the most interesting part of the books. Roth does a good job of conveying Beatrice's nervousness, insecurity, and feeling of impending doom, throughout the testing and choosing processes. I was very swept up in it and needed to keep reading to find out more about the world this character lives in, why the society is how it is, and what Divergent really means.

But after the initial rush of excitement, my enthusiasm for the book quickly dissipated. It just isn't original. I immediately thought, this is Hunger Games meets The Giver. And it really is. It's a dystopian society split into an experimental government system that does more harm than good. And the whole reason our main character is so different and special is because she's a normal human being. That's really all Divergent is. She can be selfless but sometimes selfish, smart but doesn't always have the right answer, brave but sometimes still panics. She's normal. And that doesn't really make her that interesting to me. 
If I'm going to invest in a character in this type series, I want her to be kick-ass, and she is- but only in the regular, boring human type of way. 

I also think that Roth takes too long in giving her readers information. Once you get through the first few chapters, there's really nothing more to learn, and if there is she doesn't hint at any higher mystery or higher storyline than what is happening presently. I needed dropped hints or some sort of occasional baited hook, to keep me interested and to promise me that there is more to the story than what I'm reading...
Well turns out, there is, but we don't even get a hint of that until the second book. That's not to say that a lot doesn't happen in the first book. There's physical combat training, simulations that put them through their worst nightmares, and a big battle. But I really needed something with more substance than the surface action.

All of the bad aside, because the book is about people split up by their personalities, Roth can be very insightful about human nature. Here are a few quotes as examples.
Cruelty does not make a person dishonest, the same way bravery does not make a person kind.   
People, I have discovered, are layers and layers of secrets. You believe you know them, that you understand them, but their motives are always hidden from you, buried in their own hearts. You will never know them, but sometimes you will decide to trust them.

Roth does a good job at stating simple facts about humanity that we all know deep down, but perhaps have never truly thought about. That being said, these are not lessons and insights that I haven't read before in better books.

So now we get to the movie part. Why are these mediocre books being made into the next Y.A. movie hit? To answer that, you have to look at the Y.A. formula. I've broken it down to these three basic pieces.

  1. An interesting/supernatural setting. This is your vampires in Twilight, your ruined America in Hunger Games, and your Nephilim in The Mortal Instruments series.
  2. The main character, AKA: The average white girl. She's typically brunette, pretty (but she probably doesn't think so), she may be clumsy, and has definitely never had a boyfriend.  Bella Swan (Twilight), Anastasia Steele (Fifty Shades), Clary Fray (The Mortal Instruments), etc.
  3. The love interest, AKA: the attractive, moody, emotionally unavailable guy. He's hot, strong, sexy, moody, and often sends mixed signals which drives our main character craycray.

This new trilogy has all the major pieces. And hits them pretty well for a Y.A. novel. What makes it different from the last few fads is it's setting. We haven't yet seen society split up by personality traits. So now Hollywood can make teenage girls swoon and wonder what faction they belong in, all at the same time.

I've embedded the trailer that premiered at the VMAs below. And you can decide for yourself whether this next Y.A. trend is worthy of fandom, swoons, and millions of dollars.

 Have you read any of the Divergent Trilogy? What did you think? Head over to the forum to discuss!

Titles: Divergent and Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

Genre: Science Fiction

Recommendation:  No

Best Reader Audience: Female readers at the Young Adult reading level

Final Rating: Two out of Five mugs of hot chocolate
Want to give it shot? Wondering what faction you belong in? Use the link below and your purchase will also help support the Lone Book Club.

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