6.29.2011

Currently Reading: Divergent

In order to get down, I have to trust them to catch me. I have to accept that these people are mine, and I am theirs. It is a braver act than sliding down the zip line.

I wriggle forward and fall. I hit their arms hard. Wrist bones and forearms press into my back, and then palms wrap around my arms and pull me to my feet. I don't know which hands hold me and which hands don't; I see grins and hear laughter.

"What'd you think?" Shauna says, clapping me on the shoulder.

"Um..." All the members stare at me. They look as windblown as I feel, the frenzy of adrenaline in their eyes and  their hair askew. I know why my father said the Dauntless were a pack of madmen. He didn'tcouldn'tunderstand the kind of camaraderie that forms only after you've all risked your lives together.

Author: Veronica Roth

Synopsis: In post-apocalyptic Chicago, you set the path of your life at age sixteen by choosing one of five factions: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, or Dauntless. Your faction defines your home and family, your beliefs, your work, and the way you live.

After testing proves that sixteen-year-old Tris could live comfortably in more than one of the factions—a deadly truth—Tris must decide between selflessly staying with her family or making the bold choice to switch. Her decision plunges her into a wild existence, her life and security depending every moment on her own bravery and strength. But the dangerous result of her tests may be the only thing that can save her family and friends, provided it doesn't kill her first.

Notes: Divergent immediately appealed to me, as I've done adventure-and-risk-based education. Though I never could find actual pleasure in adrenaline itself, I know pre-risk fear and the resulting camaraderie very well, and Roth captured the nuances of feeling beautifully.

I'm with Four, though: I've climbed rocks and rappelled, guided class 3 and 4 whitewater, and done trust exercises, but the zip line is the one thing I couldn't make myself do. My head knew it was one of the lowest-risk activities I tried. My body refused to accept the challenge. Part of me almost regretted that as I watched Tris enjoy her ride. Almost.

The book has strengths beyond adventure. I suspect Roth, an evangelical Christian and Harry Potter fan, has read John Granger's books; if this book doesn't prove to be the first phase of an alchemical trilogy, I'll be shocked. The nigredo coloring, the breaking down, the reference to fire, all seem to point to an upcoming albedo and rubedo. There may be an internal cycle, too. I'd need to read it again to be sure.

Almost more interesting than the nigredo phase was the use of the number five. In alchemy, the quintessence is the resolution of the four elements, the hub of the wheel—if I'm understanding Granger and Burckhardt correctly—that has Earth, Air, Water and Fire as its spokes. Roth puts forward four factions paralleling the elements, and a fifth, Abnegation, that may track with either the lead to be made into gold, or Spirit, the fifth essence—the quinta essentia. Or both. Between Four's tattoos, Tris' number of fears, and the way the factions work, I'm very interested to see where Roth takes this in the next two books.

The book does have its dark and frightening moments, and Roth included some unremarked potential for sexual misconduct. When I look at things alchemically, I know why she included that scene; when I look at it as a writer, I get why she didn't try and pass open judgment on the situation; when I look at it as a woman who was once sixteen, I understand why she put that fear into Tris' simulation, and appreciated it. But still, there's the advisory. We'll see where the story goes.

While I don't often identify with pushy, tough-girl heroines, I found myself liking Tris very much. I could sympathize with her even when my own feelings ran in opposite directions. It takes a skilled author to pull that off.

The ending involves both real pain and equally real satisfaction. I'd say more, but it would involve spoilers. I do have every intention of watching for that second book to come out.

If you want more review, I just posted some additional thoughts over at The Hog's Head.

Recommendation: Read it with a sense of adventure. But make sure you find trained safety professionals before you start jumping off trains and running zip lines.... you can at least minimize the risk to your life. :)

2 comments:

  1. Good review, Jenna!

    I liked the book. Gave it a 5 star rating on Goodreads but thinking about it might downgrade to 4 stars. I can't quite put my finger on it but there's something about it that just falls short for me. We'll see; I'll probably leave it at 5 stars. :)

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  2. Thanks, George!

    Me and the stars on Goodreads do not get along! Ranking by number terrifies me, and I'm desperately inconsistent with it. So 4 or 5 stars is close enough, in my book. :)

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