Since the film version of Divergent was released in the US last week, I thought it was the perfect time to finally get around to reading the book series. I had put it off because I've already read The Hunger Games, and isn't another trilogy about a hard-nosed, aggressive chick fighting against a dystopian society kind of redundant? Do we really need another one?
Uh, yes. Yes, we do.
This series is amazing. Anyone who says Veronica Roth ripped off Suzanne Collins's formula has missed the bus. Yes, there's a teenage girl fighting an oppressive society, but that's where the similarities end.
To make my case, I've put together a list of all the ways Divergent is better than Hunger Games. If you, like me, had been avoiding it because you thought it was a re-tread of old ground, go grab a copy and prove us both wrong. Do yourself a favor and snatch up the second and third books, Insurgent and Allegiant, as well. You'll definitely want to keep the party going.
Ways Divergent is better than Hunger Games:
No annoying love triangle or romantic pussy-footing around. Katniss always seemed kind of above romantic entanglements anyway. Who cares whether she chose Peeta or Gale? In Divergent, the narrator Tris (short for Beatrice—awkward, I know) knows who she wants from the beginning, and he wants her back. The drama comes organically from the conflicts that arise around them. No contrivances or fake hand-holding required.
The second and third books keep the action coming. I felt conned after reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay, as if Suzanne Collins had personally duped me into spending my valuable time reading a trilogy that should have been one stand-alone book. If you only have one good story to tell, tell it once and be done; don't rehash the exact same scenario in two other volumes just to pump up your sales. She also took Katniss out of the action for way too long, with the result being page after page of Katniss mentally whining about her powerlessness. Snore. Roth's writing may not always be smooth (her exhausting habit of listing every single character present each time Tris entered a room is one example), but she doesn't waste much time on Tris's reflections. She describes the feelings succinctly, and then we're back to someone getting her leg blown off.
The action should transfer well to the screen. I can't be certain of this one, as I haven't made it to the theaters yet, but my suspicion is that these books will work great as films. Basically, that's what Roth has written—three action movies, each with a nice, unique plot arc and plenty of high-adrenaline fight and shootout scenes. People jumping off trains is just the beginning. As I said before, Collins wasted too much time on characters' interior monologues instead of catalyzing the story from the outside.
The characters face real ethical dilemmas and have to deal with the consequences. I was absolutely furious when Katniss was bailed out of killing Rue in the first Hunger Games book. It's not that I was eager to see her get killed or to see Katniss become a murderer, but it seemed an impossibly cheap trick for Collins to pull to keep her from having to make the obvious tough decision. The risk of Katniss helping Rue and forming a bond with her was that eventually, it would just be the two of them left in the game, and Katniss would have to decide whether or not she could kill her ally to win. Roth is a more ruthless puppeteer, and doesn't bail her characters out of their difficult choices. Sometimes they choose wrong, and then they have to process the guilt and responsibility they feel for the outcomes. Sometimes their choices come with a heavy cost, including the loss of friends and loved ones. That's life, and Roth dignifies her YA audience by portraying it honestly and unflinchingly.
The series ending (though many readers hated it) is satisfying, realistic, and honorable. What happened at the end of the Hunger Games series? I don't remember either. I promise you won't forget the ending to the Divergent series. It's obvious not everyone agrees with me on this, as the average Goodreads rating for the third book, Allegiant, is almost a full point lower than the ratings for the other two books. However, I think Roth got it exactly right. She stays right in line with her themes of sacrifice and selflessness, and with her narration explains perfectly the motivations of her main character. Sometimes, life is hard and doesn't go the way we hope. (Exhibit A: My amazing Shocker basketball team losing by 2 points to Kentucky on Sunday.) Roth chose her ending because it fulfilled the greater themes of the book and created a depth that wouldn't have been there otherwise, not just because she wanted a surprise twist at the end. (Also, I have to say, she kind of telegraphed it when she suddenly changed the narrative structure at the beginning of Allegiant. So, maybe it shouldn't have been such a huge surprise.)
So if you've been living under a rock like I was and still haven't read this great YA series, come out into the sunshine with the rest of us and enjoy yourself.