Review: Divergent

Okay, so I thought I’d try something different for this book review. As an introduction to Divergent, here are the notes I took while reading the first chapter of the book:

THIS BOOK IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN POSSESSION

First chapter sets up premise and world clearly: world is divided into five factions, each representative of a different value, much like the houses at Hogwarts. However, children are sorted into their faction at 16 after taking an aptitude test.

One faction is Dauntless, and they JUMP OFF OF MOVING TRAINS TO GET TO SCHOOL. Also they guard the fence of the city but ~nobody knows what’s outside~. Spooky!

Sorry, Possession. But because I read Divergent right after Possession, the contrast was really obvious. I never had a solid feel for how the city in Possession was set up or really understood what the different divisions meant. The descriptions were unclear. But in the first chapter of Divergent, I had a very clear understanding of how things worked. The book opens with the simple image of Beatrice’s mother giving her a haircut in front of the only mirror in the house. During her monthly haircut is the only time Beatrice is permitted to look at her reflection, because she is from Abnegation, the faction of the selfless.

When you’re 16, you take an aptitude test (you don’t wear a singing hat, nor do you have to wrestle a troll) which tells you the faction you’re most suited for. You can choose to stay in the faction you were born into, or you can change factions. Each faction has their own area of the city, and do different jobs, but they’re very close-knit and secretive. If you change factions, you may never see your family again. This is what Beatrice faces when her test results are inconclusive – the woman administering her test tells her that it means she’s Divergent and could fit into several factions, but being Divergent is dangerous and Beatrice must keep this fact hidden at all costs. Oh noes! So Beatrice is faced with  a choice between Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless as well as almost certain death.

Spoiler alert: Beatrice chooses Dauntless, jumps off a seven-story building as part of her initiation, and changes her name to Tris, which is way more badass. I love the joy that Tris experiences during her introduction to the Dauntless faction. She values her Abnegation roots, but she always felt too selfish to belong there, so she’s pretty psyched that in Dauntless she can talk about herself, have friends, eat hamburgers (she had never had a hamburger! I know!) and get tattoos. And there’s a fantastic scene where she and a group of fellow initiates zipline off the top of the motherfucking Hancock building, which reminded me of the scene where Harry Potter first flies on a broomstick. Pure joy and wonder like they have never experienced before! But Tris also has to learn to fight, shoot guns, and go through simulations where she’s forced to face her greatest fears in order to be initiated into Dauntless. (If you fail initiation, you get thrown out to live on the streets, so the stakes are high.) The best thing about this is that Tris’ bravery really comes from her selflessness. She’s most brave when she’s trying to protect her friends from bullies or save them from embarrassment. Though she chose Dauntless, Tris is always going to be part Abnegation.

What I love about Tris is that she’s real and flawed, but still someone you want to emulate. She’s plagued with guilt for leaving her faction, for being too selfish, for not returning the romantic feelings one of her friends has for her. She sometimes indulges her anger and lashes out in ways she shouldn’t, but you always understand Tris’ motivations.

Now, there’s also a sinister plot to uncover and a brutal initiate who’s trying to knock off the others (trigger warning, there is a scene with some sexual assault) so that he’s guaranteed a spot in Dauntless. And those parts are done fairly well, but I don’t want to spoil them for you. I will tell you that I really appreciated that the Big Bad in this book was not some sort of poorly thought out Big Brother knockoff that watches and controls everyone for no reason. The factions were set up after a devastating war, with the intention of creating a utopia, which is why they are Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity, and Candor, but no “bad” factions to act like the Slytherins. Any ambitious Slytherins in this city would probably end up in Dauntless or Erudite, both of which have corrupt leaders. (Obviously the utopia thing didn’t work so well, but nice try.) I really dug this system, though, and discovering the Dauntless base carved underground or the huge libraries of the Erudite faction felt like discovering the house common rooms in Harry Potter.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed me comparing this book to Harry Potter a lot! This book has something I’m going to call the Harry Potter Factor, which basically means that it is super-awesome! You’ve got the factions, sorted by personality and values, each of which has their own common room base. There’s Peter, who is kind of like Draco Malfoy but with bigger balls. And of course, Tris. Like Harry, Tris is willing to make incredible sacrifices to save the ones she loves, and I was definitely reminded of a pivotal scene from Deathly Hallows near the end of the book.

Divergent is available in bookstores and libraries now, and I recommend you all go check it out. Fans who want more than a formulaic dystopian novel will love Divergent. Also, this book is a… GRYFFINDOR! (Yup, I just Sorted a book. Couldn’t you tell by the fire and stuff on the cover, though?)

Review: Possession

I’m not really sure how to start this review. I was pretty excited to read Possession, but I was ultimately very disappointed by it. I feel like I got tricked into reading Twilight under the guise of a dystopian novel.

The premise of Possession involves a 1984-ish dystopian future, where everyone is controlled by the government’s “Thinkers”, down to their jobs and who they will marry.

We link to the transmissions, work the jobs we’re told, marry who They match us with. In return, we’re provided with a good life. Or so the Thinkers wanted us to believe.

It’s not immediately clear, but the Thinkers control people with their minds. Violet Schoenfeld is a teenage girl who gets arrested for breaking the law by being alone with her match, Zenn, and meets a rebellious dude named Jag in prison. She and Jag hatch an escape plan together, go on the run, discover they both have secret gifts, and of course, fall in love.

If that sounds relatively gag-inducing, well, it is. I generally love dystopian YA because the books feature themes of rebellion and people fighting against their oppressors. If there happens to be some romance involved, that’s cool. But in Possession, the actual conflict ends up being which boy Violet should choose. She’s not really concerned about what it would mean if she chose Zenn and became a Director and had to control the population of the city. Violet never thinks about what’s best for everyone and whether controlling people is right or wrong, and she only rebels against that system because Jag teaches her about things like sleeveless shirts and kissing and spiked hair, all of which are too fun to turn down. But Violet never considers what duty she has to her family or to the population in general, which in my opinion makes her a pretty lousy hero.

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Review: Blood Red Road

After reading an excerpt of Moira Young’s debut novel a few months ago, I was dying to read the rest of Blood Red Road. The first chapter introduces us to this stark epic landscape that exists sometime in the future, when our civilization is long gone, and yet some people manage to soldier on in the desert wastelands that remain. Among these people is Saba, who lives with her twin brother Lugh, their pa and their little sister Emmi. The family lives in isolation in the middle of the red dustlands, until the day when everything changes. Some mysterious men show up and kidnap Lugh, kill Pa, and leave Saba alone and in charge of Emmi.

Before you start this book, you should probably know that the whole thing is written in dialect. I loved it, because I felt like it helped me get to know Saba very quickly and connect to her on an emotional level. I felt like I could already hear her voice, and it made the story her own. Everything is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, in Saba’s dialect, and without any quotations to indicate someone else speaking. It really worked for me, but I know it drives some people crazy, so consider this your heads up.

Read more about how incredibly awesome Saba is, with minor spoilers, after the jump.

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Ally Condie Reveals ‘Matched’ Sequel

Today Ally Condie revealed the cover to Crossed, which is the sequel to last year’s Matched. I love the new cover art, and I’m excited to read part two in this trilogy. One of my criticisms of Matched was that it was slow-paced and there wasn’t enough action, but I have hope that this won’t be a problem in Crossed. Here’s the official summary:

In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky— taken by the Society to his certain death—only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia’s quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander—who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia’s heart—change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

Crossed will be published on November 1, 2011.

XVI

I was really excited to read XVI, since the premise was so edgy and challenging. A dystopian novel in a future where girls’ bodies become fair game at age sixteen, and where lower-class teens aspire to join the Female Liason Specialists (read: high class hookers) as a way of moving up the social ranks. I thought this book had the potential to say something interesting about female sexuality and the virgin/whore paradox, but unfortunately I think Julia Karr failed here. She sets up a really intriguing world, but doesn’t dig deep enough into the foundations of that society or how it applies to ours.

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Across The Universe

Across The Universe, Beth Revis’ debut book, is a fascinating journey through time and space. It begins on Earth, with Amy and her parents being cryogenically frozen to prepare for a 300-year journey to colonize a new earth-like planet. Except when Amy is unfrozen and wakes up, she’s told that they haven’t reached Centauri-Earth, and it’s only been 250 years since they left! The book is told from alternating points of view, switching between Amy and Elder, a teenage boy aboard Godspeed who is meant to be the future leader of the ship. Ever since the legendary Plague that decimated the population of the ship, it’s been run by a figurehead called Eldest (rather than on a military model, as it was before the Plague). But Elder soon discovers that everything is not as it seems and that Godspeed has a dark history. Why has Amy been woken up early, and what secrets are Eldest hiding from Elder?

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