Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:52 pm

Cover to Cover: “Divergent” overcomes flaws with extraordinary protagonist


Books are like people: They have the potential to stand out in the crowd but are too often compared by others who only see flaws and disregard what makes each person (or book) remarkable.

I’m not tempted to compare “Divergent” to “The Hunger Games” like other critics have, but dystopian novels are a growing trend, and I’m naturally drawn to them time and time again. “Divergent” is Veronica Roth’s debut novel, and the overwhelming success of the novel speaks volumes.

Since the novel is engrossing and action-filled, it’s a fitting novel for a film adaptation, which is coming to theaters March 21.

With that said, the outbreak of dystopian has been both a blessing and a curse for the avid fan — a blessing because as a growing sub-genre, a rise in popularity means more young people are getting introduced to the awesome world of dystopian fiction. It’s a curse because a lot of crappy dystopian novels have turned up on bookstore shelves. Even so, I can’t help being addicted to them.

My addiction to “Divergent” begins with Beatrice Prior, who is the ruthless protagonist. Born into a Abnegation family, Prior has lived her life trying to uphold the ideals of her parents. The world she knew was divided after a great war into five factions where people with the same morals and characteristics now live a predetermined lifestyle — Abnegation values selflessness, Dauntless values bravery, Amity values kindness, Erudite values intelligence and Candor values honesty.

Prior, age 16, takes an aptitude test that evaluates which faction she is most suited for. Her test results are inconclusive, showing that she is both brave like the Dauntless and selfless like the Abnegation. She is Divergent. If the government discovers this, she is dead. So, Prior does the unthinkable and chooses to join the Dauntless, abandoning and betraying her family. Under any circumstances, I would be incapable of doing the same. But, I guess that’s why I love this gutsy gal.

I give Roth mad props for writing a girl like Prior. She’s selfish, manipulative and vindictive as hell and undergoing the Dauntless initiation only brings it out more in her. At one point, when another character asks for her forgiveness, Prior coldly refuses. It’s a brutal portrayal of a typical teenage girl, but it’s refreshing since most young adult heroines are so often weak, unextraordinary and over-forgiving.

Roth, though, falls short on one aspect of the book. A handsome boy comes into play, and he is as unextraordinary as the female characters I always rant about. His name is Four (I know, I don’t think it’s a very good nickname, either), and he’s in charge of training and preparing the new Dauntless recruits for their initiation into the faction.

But, in retrospect, Four could have been written as a close, trusted friend to Prior and not the main love interest of a formulated teen love story. Better yet, he could have not been written into the story at all. He’s mean, violent and only serves as eye-candy to Prior.

Nonetheless, Prior remains the main focus of the novel as I experienced the terror and violence of her world through her own eyes. It may sound sadistic, but I’m also addicted to stories with violence, and “Divergent” does not disappoint. I mean, it’s as gruesome as it gets. Roth offers vivid scenes where Prior gets beaten to a pulp, her nose bleeding out all over the wrestling mat and then gets knocked out cold with one hit to the head. There are knives stabbed into eyeballs and computer simulations of crows picking off Prior’s skin inch by inch. Did I mention this novel is violent?

So while Prior does toughen up and become a better fighter — better yet, a survivor — she never becomes a badass, sharp-shooting “girl on fire,” and that’s OK. Her courage still shines because she steps away from a life of comfort and safety to prove that she can’t continue acting how society expects her to act.

Ultimately, “Divergent” took me by surprise because once I was hypnotized by the strong female character, I understood the sacrifices she makes to protect the people she loves most. Prior proves that it’s when people do something selfless that they are their bravest.