A few things you need to know before reading Divergent:
1. While comparisons have been made between The Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent trilogy,...moreA few things you need to know before reading Divergent:
1. While comparisons have been made between The Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent trilogy, the only things they have common are that they take place in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic America (in this case, Chicago) and that the heroine is a similarly aged teenage girl. Beyond that, they really don’t have much in common.
2. Like other YA dystopian novels out there, you need to be aware of the following things:
a. Whatever disaster occurred to make this world the place that it is will not be addressed, only alluded to. Roth drops hints here and there (i.e., Lake Michigan and the Chicago River are marshes; only the south side of Chicago is inhabited; technology exists, but is used sparingly and is controlled by one faction). She does not provide explanations for why this is the case. Don’t hold your breath. You won’t get any.
b. This happens in the near future, but how far in the future is unclear. It can’t be too far off, as many things that are common to us are familiar to the characters in the novel. For example, people still wear jeans and t-shirts. They know what banjos and paintball are. Cars and computers are still used, though sparingly. Public transportation exists.
c. This society is a fairly restricted one, meant to be completely self-sustaining. And like in Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy, there is the suggestion that other people live outside of the gates of this society, but as of this book, no mention is made whether any other states or countries exist.
d. And if you do wonder if other societies exist (because you just can’t let it go…like me), and wonder if they follow the same structure of having five different factions, you will be sorely disappointed as this is not touched upon at all.
Having done with the warnings and disclaimers, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. More than I wanted to. Certainly, more than I expected to. When I was about halfway through, I couldn’t believe I was actually leaning towards giving it a solid four stars. I do that sparingly. That this book made me feel that way that early on was a testament to how compelling the narrative was (for me), and how much I was drawn into Tris’ story. I had started off, ready to get my full-on cynical “Oh, this is another one of those books” snappishness in place, but…I was pleasantly surprised. That doesn’t happen often.
First thing I liked: right off the bat, this novel has introduced our young adult readers to at least six, count ’em six SAT words: abnegation, erudite, amity, candor, dauntless and divergent. And in a thoroughly creative way, too, so that the meanings of the words are retained long after the average teen has put down this book and forgotten where they placed it. (Sigh…I was hoping my cynicism wouldn’t pop up in this review…blame it on my now-current aversion to the word “glowering” and all its forms, because of Stephenie Meyer’s conspicuously high usage of the word in the Twilight series. Seriously, every other sentence had someone glowering. *shudders*)
But in all seriousness, I liked it for a variety of reasons. Most important to me was that Tris was not a Katniss clone. So much had been written about how these two series were similar, how the heroines were similar---even the movie has critics wondering if Divergent will be the new Hunger Games---that I was glad they weren’t. Everything I liked about Katniss---how independent she was, how she knew exactly who she was, how she was wise beyond her years and had equal amounts of selflessness and self-preservation---these were all lacking in Tris. And I was okay with that.
Divergent, at it’s heart, is really a story of a young sheltered girl discovering who she is and what she believes in. It’s a story of recognizing one’s limits, of accepting the good and the bad in yourself, and being okay with that. It’s about coming to accept a different lifestyle than the one you grew up with and knowing that your growth isn’t limited to what you were taught, or what you know, but on how you adapt to the constant shifts that occur in life.
Throughout the story, she discovers that strength isn’t all about the physical, that bravery isn’t about pushing ones’ self so much as being selfless, and that not fitting into any one category is actually okay. That you don’t need to be pigeonholed even though everyone else around you is.
And yes, there is a love story. These days, I don’t think you can get away with this kind of YA story and not have a love story. That’s part of the whole YA package, the experience. But Tris’ love interest was actually believable and sympathetic (ummm…how can you not fall for a guy who says “Fine. You’re not pretty. So?...I like how you look. You’re deadly smart. You’re brave.”). There weren’t as many eye-rolling moments in this romance. And unlike other stories where there are love triangles (and where, invariably, I will fall for the guy the heroine rarely ever ends up with), this one did not. Thank goodness.
Yes, she got annoying at times. Oh, she waffled and was immature, and she got oh-so-whiny more than once. But you know what? She’s a sixteen year old girl who’s only ever known one thing: abnegation. When one is taught, from childhood on, to eschew everything in favor of what is for the betterment of society, that really takes a toll on a kid, psychologically. Not many kids will be able to hold to that belief or will be able to follow it. For children---and teens, especially---are inherently selfish and self-absorbed. At least until they go out into the world and learn what it means to become a responsible adult. And even then, most people don’t choose true and absolute altruism as a way of life. Living a benevolent, munificent life isn’t easy. It’s easier to take care of one’s self, of one’s family first, and then give to others later, but only if you can.
Well, there goes my cynical streak. I was hoping it wouldn’t rear it’s ugly head again.
But I guess that is why for me, Tris’ journey was genuine. Everything is a new experience for her, even something as simple as eating hamburgers is new. And with all the new experiences will come experimentation, failure, a lot of self-recrimination, a lot of trying to convince herself of…stuff. Her immaturity was believable, as was seeing her grow from an insecure, hesitant young girl bent on proving herself to someone of conviction and resolve. Seeing her realize that sometimes, choosing to be selfish isn’t bad, especially when you learn what it means to be altruistic and selfless in the process. It was a great ride.
I highly recommend Divergent. And I’m really looking forward to the second book…I just hope it doesn’t disappoint, as most middle books in trilogies go. (Go away, cynic.) (less)
The Age of Miracles was both beautiful and extremely frustrating. Beautiful because the writing was exquisite; Karen Thompson Walker writes simply but...moreThe Age of Miracles was both beautiful and extremely frustrating. Beautiful because the writing was exquisite; Karen Thompson Walker writes simply but succinctly. She's very expressive and knows her way around the written word. While I don't think it was as beautifully written as The Art of Fielding, her writing was sophisticated, evocative and nuanced; without trying too hard, her words successfully evoked the images and emotions needed to further her narrative, something which many other writers try and fail to do. It almost reminded me of the beauty behind Colson Whitehead's Zone One, another book that I thought was both beautifully written but extremely frustrating.
So here are my reasons for loving this book: - this was a true coming-of-age novel - Thompson Walker did not shy away from themes of loneliness and ostracization that oftentimes comes with growing up - the death of the human race mimicked the death of the earth, which was also an analogy for that tumultuous period between the end of childhood and the start of adulthood
It was a good story...if it had focused on the coming-of-age portion of the story, it probably would've been more successful. However, when taken in with the sci-fi aspects of the story (the earth's rotation is slowing down, causing longer days and longer nights, which leads to the eventual dying of the earth), it fails miserably.
The science is weak. I had to stop nearly a dozen times in disbelief. While Thompson Walker does not go into details, specifically so that she wouldn't have to deal with the science, what did end up in the book irked me to the point of distraction. I finally had to tell myself to really suspend disbelief...to the point where I found myself glossing over some of the "earth dying" parts.
It's a good thing -- a really good thing -- that I enjoyed Julia's story. The heartbreaking end of her friendship with Hanna evoked painful memories of lost friendships in grade school; similarly, her growing friendship and initial romance with Seth reminded me of early crushes and never quite knowing how to behave around boys. Her reaction to the decline of her parents' relationship was real, as were her feelings of not belonging anywhere or to anyone (I, too, remember lunchtimes in the library, in grade school!).
I think this book is worth reading, but I must warn other science geeks out there: don't concentrate on the science! Don't try to think too much or too deeply. Just enjoy the story for what it is: a story of a young girl getting ready to leave her childhood behind.(less)
There were a few things I really, really loved about Agnes Grey: 1. The beauty, simplicity and flow of Brontë's writing (in epistolary form, no less!),...moreThere were a few things I really, really loved about Agnes Grey: 1. The beauty, simplicity and flow of Brontë's writing (in epistolary form, no less!), 2. The remarkably early consciousness regarding animal rights, and 3. The excitement of once again losing myself in a quaint, romantic little jaunt through Victorian England.
There were also a few things that really, really irked me about it: 1. Agnes (both the character and the work) had a tendency to be overly preachy and moralistic, 2. Despite being a coming-of-age story, Agnes herself undergoes very little growth, and 3. As beautiful as the writing was, there were some passages throughout the novel that were tedious and dry.
Okay, so positives first. The writing was beautiful. To me, there is nothing that quite approaches the beauty of works written in the late 18th through the 19th centuries. Some of my favorite authors and poets -- Austen, all three of the Brontës, Shelley, Tennyson, Frost, Eliot, Rosetti, Thackeray, Dickens, etc. -- were from that era. There are some fantastic modern writers that I would read over and over again, but nothing gives me pause or quickens my senses more than a wondrously written, perfectly worded passage, something that can whisk me away to some other place and time, something that stays with me just because it was so sublime.
To wit: my team and I were having a grousing session at work the other day, and I shared this passage from Agnes Grey with them as I thought it was quite apropos (Agnes was complaining about the thankless nature of her job as governess):
I can conceive few situations more harassing than that wherein, however you may long for success, however you may labour to fulfill your duty, your efforts are baffled and set at nought by those beneath you, and unjustly censured and misjudged by those above.
I was, at first, met with silence, then all of them gushed simultaneously: Martin: "Wow...that was great. Never would I ever have thought to use 'that wherein' together!" Alison: "That is so true! But so wordy! No one uses half those words anymore!" Melissa: "Don't you ever read anything simple? Funny? Easy?"
Of course, I could've just as easily have said "Nothing we do will ever please anyone here," but I thought Brontë's passage was so much more beautiful. Wordier, sure. But the fact that someone over a hundred years ago wrote this and elicited a sense of connection and understanding within me...that was pretty amazing.
There were many other passages throughout the text that were so carefully and brilliantly crafted, and to me, that made this work something special. I was also quite taken by how Brontë was ahead of her time in crafting a novel that actually tried to make headway in the yet-unknown arena of showing decency to animals. While animal rights are commonplace in our age, a hundred fifty years ago, this was widely unknown. Some critics have posited that Brontë tried to draw parallels between animals and women and their shared vulnerabilities in a society that regarded both quite poorly. No matter the reason though, I liked this aspect of the novel a lot.
Of the three Brontë sisters, I've always liked Anne the best, as I think The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is significantly better than Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in tone, scope and delivery. While all three sisters wrote about very strong women, I thought that Wildfell Hall was different in that it was about a woman who chose to openly defy societal and legal strictures to escape from a horrible life/marriage and establish herself as her own woman. Agnes Grey was written before Wildfell Hall, but in a way, I think that Anne Brontë may have used parts of Agnes Grey in what later became Wildfell Hall (e.g., a woman trapped in a horrible marriage, a woman deciding to leave her family and find her own way in the world). While Wildfell Hall is far superior to Agnes Grey, I think any reader would still benefit from a reading of the latter.
Now to some of what annoyed me: Agnes was obviously devout and some may even say a bit Puritanical. However, she was also quite proud and I sometimes found myself thinking that she thought her character to be better than her charges' characters. Through a good portion of the first half of the novel, I kept thinking that for someone so religious and pious, Agnes sure didn't recognize that she was quite flawed herself. It was disappointing to me that there really wasn't much growth in Agnes' character. Yes, she left her family to make a living and not be a financial burden. Yes, she tried to instill better values in the children she was hired to watch and teach. But she wasn't very effective as a governess at either family she worked for. She wasn't well regarded by her employers and was even less so by her charges. It was a shame, because I felt that at least in this, Brontë missed the mark.
Her romance with Mr. Weston was sweetly done; there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. What gave me pause, however, was not that the romance only blossomed in the last third of the book but that as Mr. Weston grew more familiar with Agnes, he -- and the readers -- didn't really see any growth in her. She was the same person at the start and end of her story and what is there in that, that would make someone fall hopelessly in love with that person? She didn't grow emotionally or psychologically; she didn't have any great discoveries about herself; she didn't have any "A-ha!" moments that made her realize that she had to be someone better. She just was. And that was kind of a letdown.
Nevertheless, despite those two things, this was a good, solid read. It wasn't perfect (for that, read Wildfell Hall!), but it was passable and enjoyable. A nice easy read, for someone who just wants something different and who wouldn't mind being whisked away to a quieter, calmer, simpler time.(less)
Kids are tough,that much is true. Last year, when I read The Hunger Games, I kept thinking that only a twisted individual would create a world, somewh...moreKids are tough,that much is true. Last year, when I read The Hunger Games, I kept thinking that only a twisted individual would create a world, somewhere in our distant future, wherein kids would battle to the death in order to garner their colony and family a year's worth of supplies, supplies which the government withheld in order to control its people.
Flashback, then, to two decades before Hunger Games was even created, and you have Ender's Game, another dystopian world wherein each kid is tested to see if they have what it takes to become xenocidal maniacs. Where kids are tested at age three, and if they're lucky enough to pass muster as a potential soldier, they're taken away from their parents and families and sent to a hopped up military school in space, where they live and breathe The Game. Where they learn tactics and command. Where they learn to kill.
In both books, kids are put through a sort of mental, physical and psychological torture, but because of the resilient nature of children, the adults don't seem to think about the lasting damage these exercises have on the kids. While the kids were expected to kill each other in The Hunger Games, kids killing kids were considered collateral damage and for the good of all, in Ender's Game.
I guess at the center of both narratives, it was Katniss' urge to survive and Ender's struggles to maintain his humanity that made both these books so compelling to millions of readers. This is what struck a chord for most: Katniss' and Ender's sense of isolation, that only they could do what was asked of them and they had no one else really, that they could turn to, and certainly not any adults. It was their feelings of desolation, that they had to do this to save the ones they loved (for Katniss, it was to save her sister Prim, and for Ender, it was to save his sister Valentine). It was the emptiness of loss, as the realities of the price and consequences of their successes weighed on them. Too much blood, all at the hands of kids. Heavy stuff; most adults wouldn't be able to handle dealing with such things. And what about kids? They're resilient. They have the rest of their lives to recover from whatever damage this has done to their psyche.
I remember seeing the movie (with Kyle McLachlan) during the summer when I was in high school, and thinking, boy, this movie really did the book a dis...moreI remember seeing the movie (with Kyle McLachlan) during the summer when I was in high school, and thinking, boy, this movie really did the book a disservice! While I'm not a big fan of Frank Herbert, I did enjoy this book at the time.(less)