Book Review: The Divergent Series

"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."

Allegiant by Veronica Roth


In between my personal reading list, this year I've decided to try and keep up with my kids' favorite books.  I haven't been into their books since Harry Potter Days (which I still miss!).  There are plenty of good reasons you should be reading what your kids read, but mostly I like knowing what they are exposed to (more on this later), and I like being able to compare notes with them on the stories.

It's like living with a built-in book club!

These days my "book club" is reading assorted "dystopia" novels.

In case you don't have (pre)teenagers, dystopian novels are books where the setting and plot lines center around political or societal structures which are undesirable.  The environment is decidedly grim with lots of broken windows and concrete jungles.  Just remember the word dystopia is the opposite of utopia!

At first blush, this entire genre feels like a bit of a downer.

Think about The Hunger Games, the most famous series of this ilk, which has plot lines where kids kill other kids in order to protect their families and home territories.  Not exactly fantasy material.  Some people don't want their kids reading anything close to this kind of story.  I think it's helpful to talk about the topics.  Plus, all compelling stories have the protagonists overcoming challenges, and in dystopian novels usually the blame falls on the over-involved governments (ahem - I will resist the urge to digress).

Like all Young Adult fiction ("YA" is a common abbreviation), dystopian writers know their audience.  They know what young adults like to read and (spoiler alert), I don't mind reading them  either.

This is what you should know about teen literature.

The plots move quickly and what the dialog lacks in originality, it compensates for in brevity.  This isn't a criticism as much as it's an acknowledgement of  the genre.  I make it through a book in a couple of days, zipping through the plot line while still finding myself fully engaged in the characters.

The appeal is easy to understand.  Characters in dystopian novels in general go through the life struggles most teens face and in the Divergent series in particular, most of the time their thoughts are well-reasoned and well-said.  Consider this vast array of topics (quotes are from all over the series)...

Parent relationships: "You are not your parents. You are a sixteen-year-old girl—"

Fitting in:“Who cares about pretty? I'm going for noticeable.”

Facing fears: “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” or “Learning how to think in the midst of fear is a lesson that everyone needs to learn.”

Friend drama: “Sometimes, the best way to help someone is just to be near them.”

Self-Image:“People tend to overestimate my character," I say quietly. "They think that because I'm small, or a girl, or a Stiff, I can't possibly be cruel. But they're wrong.”

Forgiveness:“The first step to loving someone else is to recognize the evil in ourselves, so we can forgive them.”

and, of course...

Dating drama:I might be in love with you." He smiles a little. "I'm waiting until I'm sure to tell you, though.”

LOTS of dating drama: “Then I realize what it is. It's him. Something about him makes me feel like I am about to fall. Or turn to liquid. Or burst into flames.”

Above all, I love the tidbits of wisdom that spill out from so many of the characters' conversations. These thoughts include nuggets such as:

 “Change, like healing, takes time.”  

 “Grief is not as heavy as guilt, but it takes more away from you.”

“Pride is what killed Al, and it is the flaw in every Dauntless heart. It is in mine.”

As a parent, you should also know that while there are no explicit sex scenes, the love interest between the main characters progresses over the course of the three books and becomes more intense.  While this development was a bit of a surprise for me (so are Viagra commercials!), it provides fodder for candid conversations.

Overall, I'm happy to read what my kids are reading and even more pleased that I'm having a good time in the process.

Next week I'm back to grownup books!