A Divergence and a Review: a Look at Veronica Roth’s Divergent Series

I read Divergent, by Veronica Roth, as part of my 2016 Reading Challenge. I’ve already reviewed it here, if you’d like to see my thoughts on that book. I loved the characters and the energy of Divergent so much, that after finishing it I couldn’t wait to continue on with the series, so I deviated from my Reading Challenge plan and immediately picked up Insurgent. I have now finished reading all three books, and would like to share my thoughts on the series as a whole.

In Divergent, Roth has set up a dystopian society based on “factions” chosen by citizens when they reach the age of sixteen. The factions are built around a specific personality trait: selflessness, bravery, kindness, intelligence and honesty. In the first book, this system is under attack as one faction seeks to usurp power from the one that has traditionally held it. The main character, Tris, is instrumental in bringing the hostilities to an end. This story moves at a breathtaking pace, the suspense is perfect, and the ending is just right, satisfying, yet clearly incomplete.

However, in book two, I felt slightly disappointed.

Why was I disappointed? Two reasons. First, Insurgent, more than either of the other two books demonstrates the primary weakness of a first-person narrative. The story is limited by what Tris could see and do. There were moments in this story where I felt this limit was stretched a little far, and Tris was forced to do things that didn’t quite feel right in order to move the story forward.

The second reason Insurgent disappointed me is that it didn’t seem to be the same story line set up in book one. I’m not sure I could explain where I thought the story was going, but it wasn’t where it went. I still enjoyed the book, and I’ll read it again someday, but it left me somewhat unsettled. Basically, there is a twist in the plot line that I simply didn’t see coming.

In Allegiant, Roth switches from a single first-person narrative, to a dual first-person narrative, adding Tobias, a.k.a. Four, as a second narrator. While this enables to story to go in different directions, and to end the way it does (no spoilers!), it took me a good chunk of the book before I could wrap my head around this. I continued to want to read it in Tris’s voice, making things a little confusing.

In the end, I think Roth finishes the story very well, and I was not left with my disappointment. I would still give the series as a whole a solid four out of five stars. If you find yourself getting hung up on book two like I did, I would encourage you to keep reading. It is worth it in the end.

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If Writing a Novel Was Like Baking a Cheesecake: A Recipe for Success

I was making a cheesecake the other night instead of writing, as I frequently do when there’s a pot luck at the office the next day. In fact, I’ve become almost famous among my coworkers for bringing in these rich, delectable desserts.

I like cheesecake because it is a beautiful, decadent dessert with a sort of mysterious reputation for being difficult to make. They can be challenging. Making a perfect cheesecake might be difficult, but in truth, a delicious cheesecake is not that hard to make, just follow the recipe and trust your instincts.

As I worked on the cheesecake rather than my novel, the thought occurred to me, if only writing a novel could be like baking a cheesecake. Mix it up, put it in the pan, bake it. An hour later, done! Sadly, I can’t write a novel in an hour. I don’t know if I’d trust anyone who said that they could.

Then I thought, why not? Why can’t writing a novel be just like making a cheesecake? So, here it is, the recipe for writing a novel. Maybe not a perfect one, but a good one.

Ingredients:
Crust:
-flour: genre
-sugar: time
-butter: place

Filling:
-cream cheese, softened: plot
-sugar: theme
-eggs: characters
-the extras (vanilla, caramel, nuts, and so on): your own voice

Directions:
1. Start with your chosen genre and blend in all elements of your setting. Press the mixture into your pan. I recommend an adjustable pan, one that can stretch or contract to fit the needs of the story you’re trying to tell. A “one-size-fits-all” pan will only generate cookie-cutter fiction. Bake the crust for a predetermined period of time allowing your world to become real and solid. Remove from the oven, set aside and allow to cool.

2. Combine the plot with your theme until smooth. The cream cheese is the essential ingredient in a cheesecake. Without it, it isn’t really a cheesecake. For a novel, this is the plot. Essential and pervasive, you don’t really have a story without plot. The sugar is your theme. Apparently, every story has one. This will sweeten the story and soften the edges of the plot, and if mixed well, becomes undetectable.

3. Next, add your characters slowly, one at a time, beating only until blended. Beating the mixture for too long will remove too many hard edges and soften the inevitable friction between characters. Add as many characters as it takes to achieve the right consistency, but not so many as to turn it into a souffle. Don’t forget to throw in at least one bad egg—every story needs a villain.

4. Blend in any unique, personal elements, adding your own voice, or flavor to the overall story. Pour over the prepared setting. Bake until the edges begin to brown and the middle is just set.

5. Return it to the oven because the center isn’t done yet.

6. Maybe just a few more minutes will do it.

7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Run a knife around the edges to loosen it from the pan. Allow to cool completely.

8. Refrigerate several hours, or overnight. (Translation, cool your heels while you wait for your manuscript to be accepted somewhere.)

It turns out, baking a cheesecake is a perfect analogy for writing a novel. But it’s not done yet. Now, you share it. The cheesecake is a dessert made for sharing and doing so, is much the same as sharing a novel. There is the same sort of fear, the giddy anticipation when you serve the cheesecake, or reveal the book. Is it really done? Will anyone like it?

In order to be complete, every novel needs to be read, just like every cheesecake needs to be eaten. And like a cheesecake being eaten, a book can be read much faster than it can be written. In the end, after all the hardship and toil, the consumer gets to enjoy your end product. And it takes mere moments in comparison to the time you put into your beautiful work.

Ultimately, a cheesecake will not be left untouched. I can almost guarantee that. Someone will cut into it. And the thrill that comes from watching people enjoy your efforts is unparalleled. As I’m sure, is the thrill of receiving a good review on your writing. A good book, like a cheesecake is made to be enjoyed.

Happy writing!

If you’re curious, here’s the cheesecake I made the other night. It turned out great!

Divergent, by Veronica Roth: a Review

My 2016 Reading Challenge continues with “a book I’ve been meaning to read,” Divergent, by Veronica Roth. This book has been on my shelf for awhile now. I’d intended to read it before I saw the movie, which is typically the way I prefer things. However, that did not happen this time. Still, even knowing something of how the story would play out, I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

Divergent is a distopian, science-fiction thriller written from the perspective of Tris, a sixteen year old girl living in a future Chicago. The society of this city-state has been divided into factions, each centered around a specific personality type. At the age of sixteen, each citizen must decide for themselves which faction they will join, the one they were born into, or one of the others. There is also a large population of “factionless” people, those who either don’t make it in their chosen faction or for some reason have chosen to leave their faction.

Roth does a masterful job of keeping the suspense high. Written in the first person and present tense, the narrative puts the reader right into the action as it happens. This lends an immediacy to the story, making it all but impossible not to turn the next page. And the next. Roth draws the reader in, inviting them to feel everything Tris is experiencing, from the blush of her first romantic feelings to the intense fear and grief of the traumatic events of the story. Yes, even the inexplicable insecurities all teenagers face in some form.

There are plenty of other characters, of course. We get to know Tris’s parents, Four, her trainer turned love interest, her fellow initiates in the Dauntless faction, and many others. Some of these people we like, and others we don’t. As a first person narrative, we only get to experience these others through Tris’s viewpoint. We see them the way she sees them, through her flawed vision of who these people are.

I feel that Roth has set up an intriguing premise. She’s placed her story in an intense and gritty environment and has provided plenty of specific details to put me right into the story. While I didn’t always agree with the things Tris did, or the reasons for her actions, the story is presented in such a way as to make me believe this is how Tris would, and should behave in the world Roth has put her in. And the ending, well it’s just about perfect.

As a debut novel, I think Divergent is phenomenal. I loved it, and couldn’t wait for more, jumping right into the next book in the series, Insurgent. (My thoughts on the entire trilogy to follow in a later post.) I look forward to what else Veronica Roth has to offer in the future.