This is a book that I almost read based on glowing reviews from friends when it came out, but then didn’t read based on some serious hate coming from another friend and a pile of other books to read. I’ve liked my fair share of YA dystopias, but I’ve also been extremely disappointed by others, so I wasn’t too concerned about giving this one a pass.
But then my book club picked it to read, and so I girded my reading loins for what would surely be a pretty bad book. And then I read the dang thing every spare second I had, because holy cow.
I will state up front that like many of those who dislike this book, I tend to disagree with the basic premise, which is that society has divided itself into five factions based on behavioral traits — one each for honesty, selflessness, thirst for knowledge, and kindness, and one for the incredibly nebulous notion of dauntlessness, which in practice has a mixture of daredevil-ness, bravery, and aggression that just doesn’t lend itself to an easy definition. Just picking aggression would probably have done wonders for making sense, but to Roth’s credit she uses the uncertainty in definition as a plot point, so… okay, fine.
The plot part is pretty standard — teen does not fit within boundaries of rigidly defined society, teen attempts to shrink self to fit boundaries, teen instead expands self and explodes society (sometimes literally). Nothing really new there.
But it’s the way that Roth tells the story that I find fascinating. The first person narration that bothers so many people is something I really appreciate because it keeps the story contained and lets us find out what the heck is going on right along with our narrator. And I really liked said narrator, Tris, because she’s a smart and resourceful girl who has to make a lot of tough decisions and who falls in love with just one boy at a time, thank you.
And the story builds really well, I think. It starts small, with the testing and the Divergence and the choosing, then goes into learning a lot about this strange Dauntless group, and then becomes about this big inter-faction schism and impending war. There were few if any dull moments in the book, and you probably could have kept time by my thumb tapping over to the next page on my Kindle.
If I had had the next two books available for me to read immediately after finishing this one, you can bet that I would have read them already, because even just the short preview at the end of the book I had had me clamoring for more. However, I did not, and it turns out that a little bit of absence from this book does not make the heart grow fonder. I still want to read the books, but the urgency is much less when there are newer and shinier books to occupy my time. Maybe after I see the movie (because I very much want to see the movie), I will feel compelled to devour the rest of the series?
Recommendation: Definitely worth a read, but if you’re not feeling it after the first few chapters, you should go ahead and put it down.