Let's just get right to the obvious. Divergent, which was written by Veronica Roth when she was still in college, reads, well, like a book that was written by a college student heavily influenced by Suzanne Collins's near-perfect The Hunger Games. Divergent is also a dystopian novel. It's set in a ravaged Chicago sometime in the indeterminate future, and adapts a number of devices used (once again, let's just say it: more masterfully) by Collins. The world seen by the reader is divided into factions, each one extolling what it sees as the most important human virtue: Abnegation, whose members strive for pure selflessness; Candor, where honesty is the only policy; Amity, whose motto might be "why can't we all just get along;" Erudite, which holds that knowledge is power; and Dauntless, where bravery is what it's all about.
The novel opens with the annual Choosing ceremony, in which sixteen year olds, after taking aptitude tests to determine which faction they're best suited for, choose--in front of family and friends--their affiliation for life. Not a whole lot of pressure there. Beatrice, our narrator and heroine, has an anomalous test result which causes her tester so much consternation that she erases it and tells Beatrice never to reveal the result to anyone. Beatrice is a Divergent. She has no idea what this means, but it's kind of scary.
At her Choosing, Beatrice chooses Dauntless. She's herded up with the other Dauntless initiates and taken to their compound, where her first test of bravery is to jump off the top of a building into the void. She does so--first in her group!--and renames herself Tris to commemorate the new person she thinks she'll become.
The bulk of the novel is taken up with the training of the initiates--to fight, to shoot, to face their fears--and the inculcation of Dauntless values. There's infighting and backstabbing, and more than one child is seriously hurt along the way. Nothing in the setting, the plot, or the characters particularly sets Divergent apart from the crop of dystopian novels that have glutted the young adult market since The Hunger Games hit just three years ago. Yet the action is solid, and the characters fine, and now and then there's a glimmer of something more, a glimmer which, in the last eighty pages of this 487 page novel, sparks the hope in this reader that the next installment of the trilogy may well embrace an originality not readily apparent in this one.
Divergent is recommended as a quick satisfying read for fans of The Hunger Games. Don't go into it expecting Tris to shake your world the way that Kat did, and you'll enjoy it just fine.