Friday, July 12, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth // Not The Hunger Games

I'm a little wary about the new SciFi/Fantasy sub-genre that I call Apocalyptica that's starting to take hold among Teen Literature. (In fact, I'm a little wary of Teen Literature in general, but that's a post for another day.) One of the most well-known examples of Apocalyptica is probably The Hunger Games, which I have read, and have nothing much to say about. It's not Bad Writing - but it's not Great either. And anyway, so many reviews of it are being written lately that I feel that everything about it has been said. I must say that I am surprised that The Hunger Games has swept the US as is has. It's nothing spectacular. (But then I remember Twilight, which swept the US even more. Seriously, how did that even happen?)

I've occasionally read two books of the same genre that I found so similar that I could hardly believe that the second wasn't a rip-off of the first. (Eragon, anyone?) And at first, when I read Divergent (by Veronica Roth), I thought it was a well-masked rip-off of The Hunger Games.
Both are Apocalyptica.
Both have strong, fearless, headstrong, female protagonists.
Both are written in first person, from the point of view of the abovementioned female protagonist.
Both are in the present tense.

But then I realized that other than these similarities, Divergent was really nothing like The Hunger Games.

First of all, Tris (the protagonist in Divergent) isn't immediately faced with a corrupt government. Katniss is. And because of how books generally work, we know that eventually Katniss will be an instrumental part in the downfall of the corrupt government. In Panem, things are definitely not going well. There is inequality and oppression.In Tris's world (which is basically just an apocalyptic Chicago), everything is quite dandy. There are  five factions, each of which values a different virtue, and places it above all others, but it all seems to be going well.  In pseudo-Chicago (which is what I am now going to call it), everyone seems to have basic freedoms. There is no one faction higher than the others, and there is no sort of supreme dictator like President Snow.
[Of course, this is just in the beginning of the book. But I'm not giving any spoilers!] 

Another major difference between the books is that there is no love triangle in Divergent. After Twilight, which was basically all love triangle and nothing else, it seemed like every single Teen book had to have a love triangle in it. Divergent refreshingly does not. And yes, Four is pretty awesome as love interests go. Roth describes a good amount of the kissing, which isn't exactly to my taste, since I like literary love simple and sweet. But of course it's still all very clean and not at all inappropriate, so no worries. :-)

Ok, let's talk about present tense. What's with the present tense? I have a few theories.
One reason people may write in the present tense is to promote a sense of urgency. They want you to feel in the moment, to experience the story, to participate in the story like it's happening to you, right now.
Or they are just trying to be all avant garde and different.
Somehow reading in the present tense bothers me. What if a story was written in the future tense?
"The rain will be pounding on the roof when I wake up, and I will drag myself to the window to stare at the grey cloudy fog that covers the landscape. What a great day, I will think to myself, a sarcastic smirk on my face. I will get dressed, then will rush down the stairs. I will smell the breakfast that my mom will be cooking, and will plop down at the table next to my little brother.
"'Are you ready for school?' My mom will ask. 'You don't want to miss the bus.'"
What about a fight scene:
"I will jump aside from the blow he will strike towards my legs. Taking a deep breath, I will run full force towards him, ramming him in the chest with my outstretched fist. He will double over, groaning in pain, and will fall to the ground."
It sounds like battle plans!

But seriously, how different is this from writing in the present tense? A story is supposed to be a retelling of past events, and it can only be that if it is in the past tense.
Call me old fashioned, but reading stories in present tense makes me slightly uncomfortable. And when reading makes me uncomfortable, that is not a good sign.

This fact that Veronica Roth writes in present tense is probably the only major complaint I have with Divergent. Otherwise, I consider her writing style even better than Susanne Collins', and her plotting to have more twists than the Hunger Games. I, who have a hard time thinking up even more than one twist for my stories, always appreciate it when I can't predict where a novel will go. I had my guesses for The Hunger Games. I didn't have as many for Divergent.

Overall, it was a good book (and it's sequel, Insurgent, was pretty decent as well). Not at my tippity top, with my Excellents (this is reserved for the likes of Les Miz, Narnia, LOTR, and Sherlock Holmes), but definitely a solid Good. (I must add that it's very hard for a contemporary book to get into the Excellent range for me. Very hard. It needs to be more than exceptional, and I haven't read one yet that is.)

By the way, you might have noticed that I managed to squeeze almost all the really famous contemporary Teen books into this post. The one missing is Harry Potter, and I have nothing to say about it because I consider it better literature than any of the others.

Still not quite Excellent though.



  1. I respect everyone you is able to write a story in present tense. You're so super close to the protagonist, that you feel like looking inside her head. And I couldn't write something like that, because I need at least two different perspectives to watch the story from different sides...
    Also I think, a story can be told in present tense, otherwise movies wouldn't work at all. A book in present tense I just more like a movie than a normal book. It comments the exact moment, not like in a tale. Although I understand, that present tense can be confusing (when I read The Hunger Games that was also a big trouble in my mind) but I think there is still a difference from the present to the future and that is, that it's still at least now and that it's not predicting. By the way, in The Lord of the Ring there are also passages in present tense, like "Hobbit aren't very common nowadays" (don't remember the exact quote) and a story tells about the past, but is told in the now. And everything I just wrote may be in present tense, but actually is already something, that happened in the past...

    1. Ah - but movies and books are two different media. And in the Hobbit, present tense was being used as description to make you feel as though Middle Earth still existed. But the narration was all in past tense.

      You know, I don't mind present tense. I read TONS of books in present tense. And I wrote this post back before I read a lot of YA, so I've gotten a bit more used to it in the meantime. Sometimes, though, if it's done wrong, the present tense can get flat through its immediacy, and not have the fullness of a story told in past tense. But if done well, present tense is gripping.


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