I tend to go through periods where I read certain types of books. Right now I'm on a memoir kick since I just finished that memoir writing class. For a while, I plowed through a series of sports biographies. Last year, I read a bunch of dystopian novels. I began with The Hunger Games trilogy, then moved on to the Matched series, then the Delirium trilogy, then Pretties, then The Program and then finally Divergent.
By the time I got to Divergent, I was pretty worn down by these action-packed, but -- let's face it -- rather depressing series and I didn't really give the novel the attention it deserved. I read through it quickly, then put it aside, not bothering to finish the trilogy. My friend insisted that the sequel, Insurgent, was even better than the first, but I needed a break from these bleak stories.
Well, I recently saw Divergent: The Movie and enjoyed it -- and decided to give the series another chance. For the most part, I'm glad I did. There are minor spoilers ahead; I'm keeping them pretty vague, but read at your own risk.
The first book is well-written and well-paced. Readers are introduced to this futuristic society, which takes place in what was once Chicago. Almost everyone lives in five "factions," which are Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Amity and Candor. At 16, teens take an aptitude test to determine which faction they'll most likely fit. Those unfortunate souls who don't fit in anywhere or are kicked out of a group are "factionless" and have to survive on the streets. Our narrator, Beatrice "Tris" Prior, is an anomaly because she qualifies for three factions... and is therefore "divergent."
Tris, who was raised an Abnegation, chooses Dauntless, and we follow her as she endures a grueling initiation period (think boot camp on steroids). During this time, she falls for one of her instructors, nicknamed "Four." As she grows stronger and their relationship deepens, she learns of a faction leader's evil plans ... and it's up to Tris to be the hero.
Insurgent picks up in the middle of the conflict and Tris' physical and mental strength are really challenged. And then everything falls apart in the final book, Allegiant.
I really liked Tris in the first two books. She's strong and tough, but isn't perfect. I rooted for her to win her fight, and I loved her relationship with Four. In some cases, it was a little hard to buy that a 16-year-old would react in such mature ways, but I could easily suspend my disbelief because the society was so extreme.
The story itself also moved along nicely in the first two books. The secondary characters were interesting and you really got to know the ins and outs of this particular society. In fact, Future Chicago was a character itself which tied everything together.
Unfortunately, Allegiant did not live up to the other books. For one thing, it's written from Tris and Four's points of view. I usually like when there are different narrators, but they sounded exactly the same! I'm not a huge fan of the Twilight series, but the one positive thing I'll say about those books is that in Jacob's chapters, he sounded very different from Bella.
My second issue with Allegiant is that Chicago is an afterthought. Yes, our heroes finally get to see what's "outside the fence," but there is still a lot going on inside the city -- and we're mostly told about it from second-hand sources. I don't want to hear about major events taking place; I want to SEE them. It's that whole show vs. tell concept... and in this case, there was way too much telling.
The worst thing about Allegiant is that it's dull and the main reveal doesn't make much sense. It took me over a week to finish it, which is long for me, and I really made it to the end out of obligation. There are many new characters introduced whom we just don't have the time to get to know or care about and there is a lot of exposition. I wasn't bothered by the controversial ending, but by the time the Big Event happened, I was just ready for the book to reach its conclusion.
It's a shame that Allegiant was such a disappointment because I think that author Veronica Roth is talented and has a lot of potential. She's only in her 20s, so she's still very young and I'm wondering if the pressure of writing such a popular series got to her? I felt as if this last book were rushed and not very well thought out ... and I can imagine her struggling to reach a particular deadline, especially with the movie coming out. I hope she gets to take a breather and really have time to plot out her next work (if she chooses to write something else) because I'm eager to see what she comes up with. Since I did like 2/3 of her series, I'm definitely going to give Roth another chance.
Do I recommend Divergent? Yes ... with the warning that you might not like the ending. The series was worth reading, though, because I did enjoy the story along the way.
Please check out my YA romance novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.