I'm suffering from a very specific form of literary withdrawal. YA dystopia, to be exact, brought on by finishing that other famous trilogy. You know-I'm suffering from a very specific form of literary withdrawal. YA dystopia, to be exact, brought on by finishing that other famous trilogy. You know--"May the odds be ever in your favor." That one. I'm trying not to name names because the young author of this book doesn't deserve to have 1000 reviews name-checking someone else's series but it's almost impossible not to compare the two.
This is the first in a planned trilogy set in a Chicago of the unspecified future. Lake Michigan was turned into a marsh by some unknown cataclysm. Chicago appears to function as a city-state that runs by splitting its citizens into 5 factions based on dominant personality trait: abnegation, amity, dauntless, erudite and candor (yes, the mix of parts of speech drove me insane although the author says in the copious appendix features in my paperback version that this was intentional.) At the age of 16, children are tested in a simulation and then asked to select the faction they will live in for the rest of their lives in a public ceremony. There is no changing your mind once you select a faction and if you fail initiation or must leave your faction for any reason, you will be factionless and condemned to a dismal life of social exile and menial labor.
The heroine, Beatrice (or Tris) Prior surprises everyone on her choosing day and leaves her abnegation faction for the nearly polar opposite one of dauntless, a group of adrenaline junkies who value fearlessness and strength over placid self-sacrifice-although there is more overlap in their qualities than is first apparent when you consider how self-sacrifice and bravery can be fruits of the same impulse.
This being the rapid clip world of YA, all of this happens in the first 20 or so pages so I'm not giving much away. From there, we set out on an entertaining yarn about her initiation and training and what exactly the big deal is about divergence. The good news is Roth doesn't leave you hanging and answers many questions by the end of the book. There's also a romance which doesn't seem to involve a love triangle so it's refreshing to see that trope given a rest.
Roth has some interesting ideas here-the pain of forging an identity separate from your parents, herd mentality and conformity, the inevitable corruption of ideals by human institutions-but they don't feel quite fleshed out to me. And neither do the characters. I liked Beatrice but I didn't have a substantial emotional connection to her story. I also get that the factions are an intellectual device as much of anything but I couldn't quite wrap my head around them as a practical story point. I enjoyed this but it didn't hit me simultaneously in the gut and intellect the way that other series did (after one character died, I had to put that book down for a few days.)
If Goodreads allowed half stars, I'd give this a 3.5. I'm fairly positive I'll read the rest of the trilogy (the third book won't be arriving until sometime late in 2013.) If I were a 16 year old girl once again, I'm sure my love for the unlikely ass-kicking heroine alone would vault this easily into the 5 star pantheon. ...more