vrijdag 8 augustus 2014

Review: Veronica Roth, Divergent (Divergent, #1) + Movie

I said it before and I'll say it again, it's a miracle if I read a book close to its release, especially if it's a new series. One such miracle was Divergent by Veronica Roth. Not long after the paperback release, I bought my copy of this supposedly fenomenal new YA dystopian novel and it only took another month or three for me to get around to reading it. I was on a roll back then! With the movie release, I revisited my thoughts on the book and sat myself down for the movie.

In the field of YA, the main players have become the dystopian novels (*). One of those is Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book has gained a massive following and has got almost nothing but glorious reviews, some even saying that it is better than The Hunger Games. Since I absolutely loved this series - The Hunger Games, that is - I decided to pick up Divergent to see if it is really that good. Comparing books to The Hunger Games, however, is a tricky business, cause the expectations are really high and this makes that disappointment is never really far away. I will, however, try to keep Katniss at bay and not compare all too much.

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. 

For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. 
But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . 
or it might destroy her.

As with every dystopian novel, the world as we know it is no more. In this case, today’s Chicago is destroyed and instead the city is divided into five Factions, each concentrating on a specific personality trait. The story revolves around Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior and when she takes her test, the results are inconclusive. She is Divergent. She is dangerous. What follows is a whole book filled with training montages, since every initiate into a new faction has to be trained in order to become a member. Tris chooses Dauntless, the brave, as her new faction and thus is her training really exciting. She learns to fight, shoot and overcome her fears. But there are things going on in the city. Things that will strike close to home for Tris.
I really liked what happed in this book, plot wise. The book starts off with the aptitude tests and I was immediately engrossed in the story. It is never boring and things are happening so fast that you just want to keep on reading. I had a hard time putting the book down and as I result, I breezed through it in no time. The world Roth has created is very fascinating and makes you want to read on in order to learn something new again and again (**). I liked how the Factions were based on personality and how people were actually conditioned to act and think in a certain way. The underlying message, being that we can’t rely on one single trait, was not really being shoved down the reader’s throat, but it would have been quite the task to actually miss the point Roth was trying to make (***)

I did have some issues with the plot, however, which refrained me from giving it the highest score possible. First of all there is the worldbuilding. Like I said, this world – or dystopian society – is really fascinating and very imaginative, but it is never really explained. How did this society come to be? How does it work? There is some information on it, sure, but I felt it was not enough. I guess we will learn more about it in the books to come, but I would have liked a little history on this. Is only Chicago like this? Etc. Also, the factions rely heavily on their members, still, it’s almost easier to become factionless than become a member (****). That struck me as a bit odd as well. However, whilst I did wonder about these things while reading, it’s not a major issue, just a random thought, if you will. Something that did bug me a bit about the plot, was the ending. I though the actual war and fighting was all handled in such a way that things were a bit too convenient, with her mother popping up at the right time and stuff like that. Veronica Roth is still a young writer and this is her very first novel, so I won’t hold it against her, but I thought it a bit of a shame that she isn’t that good at concealing secrets or twists. There are two big twists here, one concerning a character and one about the plot, but both were heavily hinted at and while I couldn’t guess the exact nature of the latter twist, the overall idea was pretty clear to me way before Tris figured it all out. There were just - too? - many hints along the way and they were pretty obvious. But like I said, even though that could have been handled different, I won’t hold it against her.

Next to a fascinating plot, there are a lot of characters here and these were handled fairly well. It’s not easy to have a bunch of characters and give them each their own voice, but Roth managed to do this. The guys were a bit of an all-one-and-the-same and who-are-you-again? bunch, but the ones that mattered managed to stand out. I also liked the mixed bag of characters you’re getting here. Some are really relatable, where others are just despicable in every single way. A big pro here is how the characters aren’t all that black and white, but rather a muddled shade of grey. As a main character, Tris is likeable in the same way Katniss was. Both are very strong young women who aren’t all that likeable at the beginning but you grow to like them over time. Tris does a better job at making you like her than Katniss does, however. She’s a bit less hard-edged. Her love-interest, Four, is a very nice character as well and I like how their relationship grows and isn’t the main focus of the book. It’s also nice to see that Veronica Roth isn’t afraid to kill her characters.
A small issue here as well, though. This book wasn’t very surprising in terms of characters. When Tris meets Eric and the woman from Erudite, she mentions how she dislikes them and doesn’t trust them. These two turn out to be the main instigators of the war, so yes, no big surprises there. It’s not that I really minded that, but a little twist to who the villains were would have been nice. Where the characters weren't goodie two shoes nor absolutely evil, even in their greyness you could easily tell which one belonged to which side.
As for the writing style, it is excellent. It’s quite a big book, nearing 500 pages, but the pages turn like there’s no tomorrow. It helps that the font size is quite big, but still the writing is really fluent and gripping in the right places.
People like to compare things and when talking about a specific niche like YA dystopian novels, comparisons rear their head pretty quickly. I even did it by comparing Tris to Katniss, just to make a point, but other than that I try to abstain from comparing books that are unrelated. Instead, it try to enjoy what I read for what it is and judge it on its own merits and not on those of another book. Still, when you hear comparisons stating that Divergent is better than The Hunger Games, you can’t really help but secretly making one for yourself. I did, and I liked The Hunger Games better. So there you have it. I do believe that this comparison is completely useless, though, cause both aren’t really that comparable, I think. What I do know is that Divergent is an enjoyable read. I did have some issues with it, but that didn’t detract from the fact that I liked reading this and seeing that this is Roth’s debut and how it turned out, I am willing to give her a lot of credit, cause she did a very good job.


Discover which Faction you belong to. Or are you Divergent as well?

(*) More recently, YA contemporary is becoming the thing to read - much thanks to The Fault In Our Stars, I presume - and the odd Fantasy tries to wriggle its way into the spotlight, but another literary tsunami as we have seen with the dystopian wave hasn't occured to my knowing.  
(**) That being said, I would NOT want to live in this world, though. The amount of times they use needles and inject different kinds of serums into their bodies is just insane. Hopefully they have some very effective cure for HEP/HIV...
(***) But then again, Subtlety isn't one of the five Factions, so clearly all is forgiven!
(****) Some ideas for recruiting posters: "We want you! ... After which we'll do our utmost best to not want you at all!" or "Please feel welcome and make yourself at home... while you still can!"

Upon the release of Divergent in the movie theaters, I had already read the complete trilogy and with it lost quite a lot of my interest in it (*). I did, however, watch the movie when I had the chance, cause I really liked the book and I was hoping for an exciting movie such as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Alas, I ended up feeling quite disappointed.

I found the movie to be a good portrayel of the book as a whole, but I found the overal ambience of the novel, however, to be missing. There was something exciting about the book, about the training and how Tris was doing in Dauntless. For me, the movie lacked that feeling of excitement and times, it was just plain boring. The climax also didn't cut it for me, to be honest. A good example of how the overall ambience of the movie was less than the book, is the ferris wheel. I thought this was a very powerful scene in the book and here, it was just some climbing. The zipline-scene, however, was as great as I imagined it to be.
As for the ending, I'm not sure what to think of it. I mean, why go through all that trouble to inject Jeanine with the mind-control serum just to order her to shut the system down. Couldn't they just have ordered the Dauntless to stop attacking? I don't know, but that struck me as a bit odd. Another odd thing, was the focus they put on the 'Faction before blood' thing and saying goodbye to your family. However, the different Factions are shown working together... It's difficult to rhyme those two.
As for the characters, I found the portrayel of Tris and Four to be good. Perhaps Tris was not exactly as I had imagined, but I was certainly not disappointed by Shailene Woodley's performance. Their relationship was a bit cheesy, with lots of moments for the audience to drool over Four, but overall I enjoyed them.
The other characters, however, felt a bit like cardboard to me. There just wasn't enough time to get to know the other characters, which diminished the impact of what happened to Al and Will a lot. Also, the motivations behind Eric and Peter's actions were not clear and they came across as douchebags. As for the latter, his personality was toned down a whole lot. By deleting a certain scene with a knife, he's just a bully instead of the Peter we know from the book.

The scenery was quite close to perfection. I can't clearly remember how I envisioned this Chicago, but I was very much in awe of the Chicago we saw in the movie. The music was great as well - I mean, how can Ellie Goulding be anything but great? - but I did find it to be distracting at times. The songs were great, but it might have been better to use an instrumental score instead of the lyrical. But this is just a minor issue.

All in all, while the movie had its great moments, I just wasn't all that impressed with it and the book certainly is way better. I'm not sure about the movie adaptations of the next two books, since I found Divergent to be the best book in the trilogy, but I guess I'll see them anyway.

(*) Thank you for that, Insurgent and Allegiant.

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