Roger Ebert famously said that "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it." In other words, the subject matter itself isn't the core, it is how that subject material is treated. In the same vein, you can have a bunch of books that all share certain similarities, and could accuse them of being lazy (and sometimes that's the case), but I prefer to look at the genre and see how the person has used the conventions of that genre. Well? Poorly? Paint-by-numbers?
is putting aside the immense pleasures of the truly original - but for
something to stand out as truly original, there has to be a lot which is
So thinking about this review led me into a digression on
this field of YA dystopian fiction. It's a mini-genre that has been
around for a long time, but there's been an explosion of material
recently, perhaps spurred by the immense success of the Hunger Games.
And YA dystopias are distinctly different from other dystopian worlds.
I make no claim to be an expert in YA dystopias, but I have read a few, and here are some tropes which stick out to me:
There is a public ritual in which people are picked/chosen/opt into
something, and this marks the passage, more or less, to an adult life.
Collins altered this in interesting ways with the Reaping, which has
nothing to do with talent, or aptitude, or anything except cruelty. In
the Pretties universe, what happens, happens to everyone, unless you
buck the system and opt out.
But in far more YA dystopias, this
is the moment when you pick, right then, when you're 15 or 16, pick
irrevocably, your future life. This seems to be the most distinct thing
about a lot of YA dystopiana - a reflection of worrying about what
you're going to do with your life, and the feeling that if you make the
wrong decision, you're screwed. Forever.
2) Society is divided into different groups, each of which fulfills a different function.
Districts in The Hunger Games, (these one are going back a ways, as I
probably know better the dystopiana from the time I was a teen than I do
the present-day stuff), the class structure of Monica Hughes' The Devil
on My Back, the aptitude structure of the companion book, Dream
Catcher, the genetic streaming of Carol Matas' The DNA Dimension.
A group exists outside of this structure - those who have run away,
escaped, been relegated to slavery. Their existence helps the
protagonist (in most of the books I'm familiar with, teenage girls)
realize that something is deeply wrong with the way society is
constructed, that life is controlled by forces that want to suppress
individuality and rebellion.
4) The main character doesn't quite fit in, whether or not they realize it. Or maybe they're forced to a painful awakening.
Not all the books that come to mind fit this mold exactly, but these are common themes.
Which leads me to Divergent, which I really did enjoy. It isn't earth shattering, but it's a good entry into this genre.
ritual of choosing a "Faction" is preceded by an aptitude test that
tells you what group you should belong to, but you do get to choose from
between the five Factions, each one devoted to a specific virtue.
faction performs a different function, from the selfless service in
government of the Abnegation, to the ruthless honesty and criticism of
Candor, the pursuit of knowledge by Erudite, the love and togetherness
of Amity, and the courage and defense of the city by the Dauntless.
(Yes, it does annoy me that the names of the factions don't harmonize
There are the factionless, the group of workers
who didn't succeed in the faction they chose, and now live lives of
drudgery, hunger and poverty. And there are also the Divergent, who
don't fit neatly into these five categories, and must hide that about
The main character, Beatrice, who renames herself
Tris after leaving her old faction to join the Dauntless, is one such
person. This makes her journeys amongst the Dauntless more perilous, as
she attempts to survive the initiation without letting any sign of her
Divergence show. (Also, of course, while falling in love, but it wasn't
insta-love, so it gets a pass. Teenage girls are allowed to fall
desperately in love, it just bothers me when it's Eternal and Forever
before a word is even spoken.)
I liked the character of Tris as
well - she's not always likeable, she makes decisions that differ from
many you see young female protagonists make. These attributes actually
endeared her to me.
Her Divergence helps her become aware of how
deeply wrong things are in this city, and small dropped details help
flesh out a world that is even more ominous than Tris actively realizes,
including the minor revelation the locks on the city walls are on the
outside, to keep people in.
By the end of the first book, Tris
has taken part in some pretty damned big happenings, and the faction
system at least partly lies in ruins. I look forward to seeing what
happens next, and hope it's as interesting as this was.
didn't reinvent the wheel, but it is a solid entry, the writing served
the story, and it explored the tropes of YA dystopiana in interesting