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Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts on the Divergent Series


by Dina Sleiman

This summer my daughter and I have been devouring YA fiction, and at the top of my list is the Divergent Series. These books by new, young author Veronica Roth have become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, and no doubt many of you have seen (or soon will see) the first movie.
Divergent is driven by a unique and powerful premise. The story takes place in a dystopian world that has been divided into “factions” based on a person’s dominant personality trait and way of viewing the world: Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite, and Candor. As someone who loves to study culture, psychology, and especially personality, I found the concept fascinating. The main character, Tris, leaves her Abnegation family behind to enter the brave, wild, and most importantly, free world of the Dauntless. There is plenty of material for an awesome book right there as Tris struggles in a new society to find her source of courage and inner strength, but as the plot develops, the story takes some awesome and unexpected twists. The result is action packed, romantic, poignant, and thought-provoking. (And the fact that my upcoming YA novel is titled Dauntless is only a small part of why I enjoyed it so much :)
The movie changes some details of the story, but keeps to the same theme and major plot points. I found the choices to be effective for the visual format, and equally enjoyed the book and the movie. However, both the book and the movie are fairly violent and contain some emotionally upsetting material, so I personally would not recommend either for children or preteens. They are also fairly sensual, although not inappropriate for the intended teen audience.
Books two and three take their own unique twists and turns as we delve further into this society, why it is breaking apart, and how it came to exist. And I loved every step of the way. Veronica Roth is a confessing Christian, and although the books are not Christian per se, I saw much more light, hope, and redemption than in other dystopian novels I have read. The main character makes one choice in book three that many Christians will not feel comfortable with, but it is handled delicately. Although I would have made a different choice as an author, the decision did seem to fit the plot, and I understood why Roth went in that direction.
I’ve heard people say these books aren’t well written, and to that I say: give me a break! I can only assume they mean something about these books did not live up to their preconceived notions of good writing, or perhaps that they are writers who are upset that this woman didn’t follow all the rules that they so meticulously adhere to and she succeeded anyway. No, Roth did not follow every “rule” of writing. She was a little heavy handed with the narrative summary, did not always place readers firmly in the scene, and sometimes drifted in and out of scenes without scene breaks. And you know what—who cares?!?! The books are mesmerizing. People love them, buy them, and tell their friends to buy them. In my opinion that is what makes a book great--the ability to move the reader--not an arbitrary set of rules.
That being said, I thought book three was the weakest. Books one and two have a single first person narrator. Book three has two first person narrators, and while I didn’t mind this choice, it was not handled as well as it could have been. I often forgot whose point of view I was in, which says to me that the point of views should have been more distinctive. That small distraction aside, I still thought it was a great book.
Minor spoiler alert – but keep reading anyway. A lot of people hate the ending of this trilogy, but they are usually the ones who didn’t know in advance that it would be sad. So I’m telling you straight out, the ending is sad. I went into the book aware of that fact, and was able to enjoy and appreciate the redemptive resolution, which I found quite powerful and satisfactory. In fact, my very favorite quote of the entire trilogy is found at the end.
Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can't escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.

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Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Check out her novels Dance from Deep Within, Dance of the Dandelion, and Love in Three-Quarter time. And please join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

19 comments:

  1. "...the ability to move the reader--not an arbitrary set of rules." Love it, Dina. It's so true. There are a lot of writers who don't follow the "rules", but they are powerful storytellers and can suck you right in and make you forget all about the rules. I want to be one of those writers. I've noticed in some trilogies, the third book doesn't always live up to the first two. I have this book on my list. I, too, have been devouring YA. I know I'm behind the times, but just finished listening to The Hunger Games on audio book. The Selection is next.

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    1. Suzie, I also read the Selection series. It is charming, romantic, and has a happy ending, but I thought the dystopian elements were weak, and it lacked the depth of Hunger Games and Divergent. Also put the Delirium series on your radar. I haven't gotten to it yet, but Christi loooooved it, maybe more than Divergent.

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  2. I'll add it, Dina. Thanks for the tip. The Hunger Games has really stuck with me. I wasn't ready to leave that world. I really enjoyed Matched, too. I did think the third book of that series was good, but weak compared to the first two.

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    1. I only read the first book of the Matched series for my book club. My daughter read all three, and her opinion was they weren't worth finishing. Were you glad you stuck with it until the end?

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  3. David and I just finished reading this series. Gotta say, I didn't like the ending. Not because I was expecting happy, but because I thought it was anti-climactic to have her beat the really-bad-thing (trying not to have spoilers, LOL) and then get caught by the normal thing. And because I didn't buy Tobias's stupidity in book 3, LOL. But I really loved the first book especially, and I'm looking forward to renting the movie here in a week or two. =)

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    1. Yeah, book three was not the best, but i love the thing Tobias does at the end. It will be interesting to see how they end the movie series.

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  4. I read the first book with my daughter and saw the movie--very thought provoking and a good read/watch. One thing I wasn't comfortable with in the book was some of the violence between Tris and Tobias. In context, it makes sense (all the battle training, etc), but I recall them pushing each other around a bit when they're alone and I remember it made me uncomfortable. It's been a year or more since I read it and I can't remember exactly what happened in the scene or where it was, so I might be remembering it incorrectly, but that's the impression I have.

    I know what happens in book 3 so I've avoided it, lol! There was such an uproar when that book came out!

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    1. I do seem to recall feeling a little uncomfortable with that violence between Tris and Tobias, but I took it as another flawed part of their Dauntless culture. Certainly another reason why the books aren't for immature readers.

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  5. Dina, the fact that you're an editor and have defended the book as great surely says something in itself.

    Thanks for this introduction to the series. I've heard about it, but not the details so I appreciate you posting this.

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    1. To me, great is a story that I get sucked completely into and think about and even dream about long after I put the book down. This series definitely did that to me.

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  6. Dina, no. I wish I hadn't read the third book of Matched. Things would have been better left to my imagination.

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    1. LOL. Then I guess I made the right decision. Seems like with dystopian, what people love is the creation and exploration of the story world. But these worlds are so messed up, that it is hard for things to end well.

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    2. Yes, I agree. Everything leads up to a battle, and that can be difficult to read (and to write). But if it's not done well it's a huge let down to the reader. Mockingjay was not a let down. A week after finishing it, I'm still thinking about those characters. I didn't want that series to end.

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  7. Glad someone else thought book 3 wasn't as good as it could have been. To me it felt rushed. Still a very thought-provoking series, though. Haven't seen the movie yet.

    Have you read Michael Grant's "Gone" series yet?

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    1. No, but I just peeked at it and it looks interesting. Have you read it?

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    2. I have, read the whole series in a week last summer. Very interesting premise, similar to Stephen King's "Under the Dome."

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    3. Oh oh. You ladies are giving me lots of titles to add to my list!

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  8. I haven't read the series, nor seen movie 1. My teenage daughter did read book one but barely finished it because she hated Tris so much. Needless to say, when she heard what happens at the end of Book 3, she was delighted. Even said "maybe I'll finish the series just so I can have one moment of happiness."

    I did ask her what was it about Tris she disliked. Her reasons were logical and admirable. And she contrasted Tris to Katniss who she loved. The biggest issue (and I think this is key for us authors) is Jerah understood and empathized with Katniss's motivation. At her core was the desire to protect her sister and those she loved. Whereas Tris, in Jerah's opinion, didn't have that moral core, a selflessness guiding her.

    Maybe she learned it. I just know Jerah hated Tris. She said the only redeemable part of the book for her was Tobias, and we know what happens there. Which also angered her enough not to want to read the rest of the series.

    I've read a handful of CBA novels this summer. Common thread: unlikable heroines. I felt like the authors presumed I would overlook the heroines flaws because they were the protagonists who eventually learned a lesson. I don't mind flawed main characters, but at least give me something to like about the character. Same goes with the hero. Handsome isn't a virtue.

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    1. Hmm...of course we're all going to have our own tastes, but I really liked Tris. She gave up comfort and security for freedom, which I understand and respect. But in the end, she could only tap into her Dauntless courage in defense of others, not just for herself. Again, admirable. And as the series goes on, every time she is called upon to make a hard choice for the defense of others, she chooses others over self.

      Probably just a case of Jerah's personality not fitting well with the heroine. Actually, although Katniss made an initial self-sacrificing choice, as the series goes on, she is often just tossed in the wind of circumstances and not making purposeful choices as all, then by book three she's a regular old PTSD mess, and just barely coping.

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