I began reading Veronica Roth's Divergent, because I heard that Kate Winslet was starring in the adaptation. It's a bad reason to pick up a book, but I felt if I was going to delve into another dystopian, young adult world I should read the source. Unlike so many of my friends who read the book, I thought the writing was troubling in areas. I thought the setting lacked clarity (set in broken down Chicago), and the female protagonist's comfort in her man at the end of the book bugged the heck out of me. The movie adaptation looked promising, and I think my issue lies in the story rather than how it's told.
Society is divided into five factions, and each faction represents a different quality of human traits: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (intelligence). How you can be more than one doesn't really make sense to me, but whatever. When you come of age, you take a test to determine which faction you belong to, but you don't have to choose this faction. It's kind of like a BuzzFeed test. You can find out what career your cat should have but you don't necessarily have to enroll your feline into this line of work. Once your choose your faction, you stay with them for the rest of your life ("Faction before blood" is the country's eerie motto).
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is an Abnegation-born, but when she takes her test her results are inconclusive. She's told that she belongs to more than one faction--she's Divergent. Apparently, Divergents are a threat to the perfect, rigid system, so she must keep this a secret. At the Choose Ceremony, Tris shocks her family by picking Dauntless, and can I say thank goodness?! Abnegation's drab grey colors were doing Beatrice no favors. Depending on how you look at them, the members of Dauntless either look really cool to you or they were the kids your parents warned you to stay away from. They clearly all shop at whatever dystopian Hot Topic there is, and they all have tattoos and piercings. I know I wouldn't have had the balls to pick Dauntless, because they kind of scare the crap out of me. I can barely walk off the train for my morning commute let alone jump off it every time with bold enthusiasm.
Since Dauntless are the brave ones, they must train physically and mentally right away. In the broken, underground base camp, the Dauntless spend their days beating each other and then getting scored on it. It's like the worst gym class EVER. Every day. Beatrice adopts the name Tris, and she meets two hunky mentors: Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney). Eric is all pierced and scary, but Four has those plump lips and bulging arms, so it doesn't take an Erudite to figure out who Tris is going to like.
This is where Divergent loses me. Yes, it's young adult fiction, and, yes, the template for said young adult fiction usually features a romantic element. The romance that begins to bloom (it doesn't go too far, thankfully) isn't Twilight bad, but it feels a bit unnecessary. Katniss Everdeen is forced to portray a young person in love all the while navigating real confused feelings and killer teenagers in The Hunger Games. The hot guys in Divergent are there with their moody stares and gruff hands, but does Tris have to fall for one? Can't she just be a strong female lead in a (box office) world that undervalues strong female leads in the first place?
Quibbles with the source material aside, Woodley is a good Tris. She's both likable and relatable. When she she must endure the physical tests (shooting guns and hand-to-hand combat), you can hear her voice breaking a bit. The strain in her voice--the raspy quality--is a small reminder that Tris is no superwoman even if you couldn't tell that by Woodley's small frame and warm face. Is it bad that all I can think of for Four is how hot Theo James is? I thought Four was a bit harder to read in Roth's novel, but James seems very honest the entire movie. Plus, he's very easy on the eyes. My love of Kate Winslet knows no bounds, and gets to play a bit more as the leader of the Erudite who might have too much control on all the factions.
Divergent isn't bad (I enjoyed the movie much more than the book), but it's clear that this dystopian thing is the new sparkly vampire. I love me some dystopian, young adult fiction, but I wish the story was a bit better.