When I was a kid I refused to read The Series of Unfortunate Events. My mom would point them out to me at the bookstore, or circle them in my book orders, hoping I’d pick one up, but I wouldn’t hear of it. My reasoning was simple. The boy on the cover had messy dark brown hair and round glasses. He was, to my adolescent mind, a “Harry Potter” rip-off. And I wasn’t having it. Nope. No way was I going to “betray” Harry with some look alike kid and some other series.
Then, one day, desperate for something new to read, I picked up The Bad Beginning, which my mom had the foresight to buy despite my many protests (yes, she often knows better than me). And guess what? I loved it. Couldn’t stop reading until I got to the end, and then I begged and begged my parents all through our nice dinner out (where I finished it) to take me to the Bookstop to get the next one.
Like the good parents they are, they finally obliged, and soon I was all caught up in the series and eagerly awaiting new books. To my surprise Klaus, the “Harry Potter” kid on the cover, had only three things in common with the boy wizard: messy brown hair, round glasses, and his status as an orphan. The stories could not have been more different.
Now, I tell this story to explain why I’ve resisted reading Divergent by Veronica Roth for so long. You see, I haven’t changed very much. I’ve heard that Divergent “just isn’t as good as The Hunger Games” so many times that I’ve always assumed it’s just a Hunger Games knock off.
But I was wrong again.
The only thing this novel had in common with Suzanne Collins’ book is that they’re both speculative fiction. That’s it. For one thing, this book is devoid of gladiatorial battles between children. For another, there is no immediate villain in Roth’s world. No Capital running things and basking in the wealth of the nation while the other districts starve. This book reminded me more of Lois Lowry’s The Giver because I saw it more as a dystopian world based on “sameness” – it’s a society that suppresses the consciousness and individuality of each person. While The Hunger Games uses a dystopian set up that revolves around pleasure (in the Capitol) and fear (in the districts) to keep people in line, Divergent’s society uses the five factions to categorize and brainwash its citizens into behaving like busy bees. Everyone does his or her part without question.
“Intentions are the only thing they care about. They try to make you think they care about what you do, but they don’t. They want you to act a certain way. They want you to think a certain way. So you’re easy to understand. So you won’t pose a threat to them.”
Yes, there is a love story element (“I never used to understand why people bothered to hold hands as they walked, but then he runs one of his fingertips down my palm, and I shiver and understand it completely.”) but the book had a lot more going for it than that.
I liked the overall message, which is just that everyone is a mixed bag of traits that make him or her unique and awesome. We shouldn’t try to typecast everyone and pin them down.
“‘I think we’ve made a mistake,’ he says softly. ‘We’ve all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest.'”
The book was fast-paced enough that I didn’t get bored, and I read through it in under a day, which is always a good sign. So of course now I’m going to have to read the second and third books too. Since I was never planning to read them I already know how the trilogy ends, but I think that might help me a bit, as I won’t be blindsided by the third book’s striking and controversial ending.
We’ll definitely see.
For now, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote of the book:
“It’s when you’re acting selflessly that you are at your bravest.”
Rating: 4/5 stars
Overall Reaction: “Okay, definitely not The Hunger Games. Interesting…”