With the Insurgent movie opening next month, I figured it was time for me to buckle down and finish the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.
I read the first installment, Divergent last year and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t impressed. While the plot was interesting, the writing fell flat. Dystopian Chicago was intriguing, but beyond some stiff SAT prep definitions of the factions there was almost no world building. Roth’s writing is all tell, no show. I blame the stiff narration and the limited description in part on the first person POV.
Tris does not have a compelling voice. A great first-person novel should have a distinct voice that engages the reader. Think of Catcher in the Rye or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Tris’s voice is dull, robotic and emotionally detached.
Another advantage to a third-person POV would be a more thorough and unbiased depiction of the world. I was very interested in the setting but Tris’s limited understanding of her environment painted a very narrow picture. I’m still curious to know what the Amity initiation process is.
In the second book, Insurgent, we are invited into Amity territory. but because Tris is not interested in learning more about the faction of kindness, readers are left with more questions than answers.
Fortunately, Roth’s writing strengthens as the series progresses. She rarely gives thorough descriptions but every so often she surprised me with an elegant turn of phrase. While her description is limited, her writing is clean and easy to breeze through.
Which is good because not a whole lot happens in Insurgent. This is a filler book. Tris and Four fight, make up and then fight some more. They travel from one faction base to the next and are introduced to a slew of characters that are impossible to keep track of.
Surprisingly, I was impressed by the final book in the trilogy, Allegiant. Granted my expectations were low, particularly after reading so many negative reviews. In praise of this novel, it was interesting to discover more about the world outside the walls of Chicago. Many of the negative reviews I’ve read about Allegiant criticized the ending but I thought Roth painted a beautiful picture in the final act.
However, the alternating first-person POVs in Allegiant between Four and Tris made the story difficult to follow. Four and Tris have very similar voices and there were many places in the novel where I found myself flipping back to remind myself whose POV I was reading. There were also far too many characters introduced for me to keep up with, let alone care about.
I finished my Divergent marathon with what ended up being my favorite book in the series: Four. Roth’s love for this complex character is clear in this collection of novellas about Tris’s love interest Tobias Eaton aka Four. She writes him with a passion and insight that I felt was lacking in the Divergent trilogy. Roth’s ability to paint a scene is strongest in this book and after finishing it I am much more inclined to read future works by this author. This was a fast and compelling read. Upon finishing it, I wished I had read Four before Allegiant. I think had I done that, it would have been easier to keep track of the supporting characters.
Overall, I think the Divergent series is worth reading and if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend checking out the book series before the Insurgent film adaptation comes out in March. This is a must-read for fans of young adult dystopian books. If that’s your cup of tea, then you will love these books– though not as much as you loved The Hunger Games. If you’re more like me and you enjoy occasionally dipping your toe in the young adult fiction waters but prefer adult swim then your feelings will be lukewarm. Oh, and if you hated Hunger Games, skip this one entirely. Divergent is the Jan Brady to Hunger Game’s Marcia, the Casey Affleck to Hunger Games Ben, the Shasta to HG’s Pepsi. You get the idea.