Just to be clear, this is not a review of the movie. I haven’t seen the movie, neither have I read the second or third books in the trilogy. So, anyone who reads this and wants to comment NO SPOILERS PLEASE!! That said, this post is full of spoilers. I should also point out that since I haven’t read the other books, any speculation or conclusions I make in this post have every chance of being completely wrong. That said, let’s move on.
Once again, SPOILER ALERT!
I am quite fond of Divergent. It isn’t the most amazing book I’ve ever read, but it has qualities that have lingered with me days after I finished reading it. I liked the characters. I liked that aside from the obvious villains, most characters were imbued with both negative and positive qualities. Instead of the “good” characters just being good, they had qualities and committed actions that might make the average person squirm (at least they made me squirm). Many books have themes dealing with the human struggle between dark and light. But Divergent took that theme and emphasized how humans are never completely either/or.
The character Al is a perfect example of this. He’s the big and strong nice guy. He’s capable of beating people in a fight, but hates hurting people so loses on purpose. He has an awkward crush on Tris and is overall a reliable good guy. Until he isn’t. Until he joins a group of Dauntless Initiates who try to murder Tris. Is he still a good guy? Is he completely evil? Does his inability to deal with the Dauntless faction just make him snap? What makes this particular character development brilliant is one can answer “yes” to each of those questions.
Tris is also a great character. As the protagonist, we know her better. Her interior struggle is a focal point of the book. Does she belong in Dauntless? Should she have stayed in Abnegation? Where is she supposed to be? Of course, another key theme to the book is how our choices shape us. Our choices shape who we are at least as much as what is inherently unique about us. So where someone is “supposed” to be might not exist at all. You are where you choose to be.
I think possibly the biggest theme of this book is that no one–or at least very few people–are all or nothing. People aren’t only Dauntless or Abnegation or Candor or Erudite or Amity. That’s why Divergent people exist in Tris’s society–because people aren’t just one thing. This is a fascinating theme. We see it daily in real life, but thrust into a society that says you have to be one or the other things can become scary. And exciting. Thus the story.
I appreciated that Tris did not wait to be saved. With the success of The Hunger Games, both the books and the movies, there might be an uptick of female characters who take control of their destinies instead of waiting for someone (usually a love interest) to come to the rescue. Tris might be a part of that trend. Or, more realistically, authors have written these characters often but since The Hunger Games was so successful publishers are choosing to publish more books with dynamic female protagonists. Regardless, I like it.
Tris is interesting because she is small. She’s not that physically strong. She’s not the best fighter. She is Divergent, which gives her an advantage in some areas, but she still doesn’t have that much physical prowess. That’s not to say that she isn’t amazing. Her mind and spirit are strong, even if she will always be a small person. What is great about this is, it is probably easy to think, “Well, I’m small. What can I do? I just have to hope someone saves me.” But she doesn’t!!! Does she almost die at the hands of prideful bad guys who want her dead because she ranks higher and only survives because a character named Four saves her? YES! But she fought like crazy and goes on to save the lives of many, even after her love interest is overcome with a mind control serum.
Tris is pretty awesome.
On the note of her almost murder: Despite what I’ve said about how she doesn’t wait to be rescued, I like that her size is not ignored. As a short, not terribly strong person myself I love the idea of smaller people beating the bigger guys in a fight. I like the idea, but I can’t ignore that the likelihood of that happening in reality is about as small as my arm muscles. Does that mean small people can’t train and learn to fight? No. But it is just silly to think that even a highly trained small person will beat a gang of bigger and stronger people in a fight. So, in short I like that she fights and doesn’t wait around to be rescued, but I also like that a fair amount of realism is maintained as concerns the limits her size can create. (I know this is fiction so realism might not be very applicable, but I like it anyway.)
Tris’s love interest is also pretty cool. He is another one of those characters where you just can’t quite figure out where he stands on the good/evil spectrum. At this point–the end of the first book–he seems pretty amazing. But I guess we’ll see. It isn’t just the character that is interesting, however. Tris develops a crush on Four, but she isn’t obsessed. She has other things to focus on and do. A love story is always nice (who doesn’t love love?) but it is not the point of the story, which is always a bonus in a story with a female protagonist. (Because females have more to do than chase love, in case you were wondering).
One of the most interesting moments for me was when Tris was in a fear simulation. She had to face all her deepest fears, one of which is a fear of intimacy with Four. There is a deeper fear, not just intimacy with Four specifically, but in general. I found this part fascinating because so often characters in love or lust just jump into intimacy and the writers ignore any fears that might accompany that intimacy. I can’t think of another book I’ve read where the author depicts fear–or at least nerves and contemplation–of something that is actually a very big deal. So neat! And how does Tris deal with the simulation of Four trying to make her sleep with him? She says NO!!!!! Wow. Empowerment by saying, “No.” That is an incredible scene to include in Young Adult literature.
Overall, this book is great. Interesting, fun, exciting, confusing, adventurous. I look forward to reading the second and third books as soon as possible and seeing how these characters play out. New books!!!!