I picked up Divergent a couple of months ago after a friend told me she’d read it and liked it. “If you liked The Hunger Games,” she said, “you’ll like it.” Well, I had consumed The Hunger Games trilogy in less than a week when I discovered it a few years ago, so this new trilogy sounded like fun. And with Allegiant, the final piece of the Divergent trilogy, releasing in October, I figured it was an excellent candidate for some binge reading.

Some people are probably over dystopian fiction at this point given the upsurge in titles in recent years, but ever since reading Alas, Babylon as a kid, I’ve been drawn to post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. My risk-planning mind even dreams dystopian: After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, I dreamed that I was in a city that had been destroyed and I had to forage in the city for food and water to take back to the family I’d left hiding in a safe place. In other dreams there were catastrophic floods, bombings that destroyed my city, and even paratroopers landing in my neighborhood and running amok through the streets while I cowered under a neighbor’s porch. Such things  happen often around the world (well, maybe not the tons of paratroopers part), so it’s easy to see why my mind might want to play the “what-would-I-do-if” game. It’s about preparation. Dystopian fiction, although more outlandish on the face of things, taps into that same instinct, which is why I think it often works for me. When it’s good, it activates a primal response. You have to know how the characters are going to get out of the mess they’re in. The reader’s subconscious desire is to know what could be done were he or she ever in a similar situation.

Or maybe that’s just this reader. Ahem.

Divergent is cool because it’s set in Chicago. I love Chicago. And the premise is interesting. The society is split into multiple factions, each of which trains its members to think and operate according to a specific virtue: truthfulness, selflessness, courage, pursuit of knowledge, or kindness. Following a school-administered aptitude test, teenagers must choose which faction to commit their life to. After choosing, initiates must train in order to become full members of their chosen faction. We follow the main character, Tris, as she makes this choice and goes through the initiation process. What begins as a coming-of-age story (albeit it in a dystopian world) morphs into mystery as clues of plotting and resistance surface.

I don’t want to discuss the plot too much because that would mean introducing spoilers. There are certainly some interesting plot twists in the story. But the first and second parts of the novel–the part where Beatrice is training and going through initiation–really dragged. Some of the training seemed really pointless.  Also, the construct of the society had some holes. While it was clear that a couple of factions had a specific role in the society, it seemed that others did not. They were just there, being truthful, or just there, being friendly. And, a couple of factions really only seemed to exist in order to be functional in the plot; their “usual” role in this dystopian society was unclear.

Another problem was the style of the writing itself. It was difficult for me to engage with it.  There was far too much use of the pronoun I. Passages such as the following were not uncommon.

I WAKE TO sweaty palms and a pang of guilt in my chest. I am lying in the chair in the mirrored room. When I tilt my head back, I see Tori behind me. She pinches her lips together and removes electrodes from our heads. I wait for her to say something about the test—that it’s over, or that I did well, although how could I do poorly on a test like this?—but she says nothing, just pulls the wires from my forehead.

The novel is written in first person, of course, so how else could the author have done it? I get that. Still, it was somehow distracting for me, and I found myself getting a little tired of Tris and wondering whether the story would’ve been more compelling had we been able to get outside of her head.

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