Book Review: Divergent

Background Information

Full Title:  Divergent

Author:  Veronica Roth

Publisher and date: Harper Collins, 2011

Plot

       Beatrice Prior lives in a society where there are five ways of life, and only five ways.  Amity, which emphasizes peace, Abnegation, which emphasizes selflessness, Candor, which emphasizes honesty, Dauntless, which emphasizes bravery, and Erudite, which emphasizes knowledge.  These are the five futures available to all students when they reach the age of sixteen, the age they choose the paths their lives will take.  These five futures take the label of factions, and each student takes an aptitude test to determine which faction they are best suited for.  The day after this test, they participate in a choosing ceremony to officially decide which faction they will join  Many choose to stay in the faction they were born in, with their family and loved ones. 

Beatrice is born into Abnegation.  But she’s not sure she’s selfless enough.  She wants more than simply serving others for her whole life.  She wants freedom.   But getting that freedom means changing factions, a betrayal of her family,  one that could irreversibly tear it apart. 

When most students take the test, they get one result.  But when Beatrice takes the test, she gets three:  Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. Her instructor tells her that getting more than one faction as a result of the test makes her “Divergent,” a special but dangerous result to receive, and that she should tell no one of her unusual result.  After some internal debate, Beatrice chooses Dauntless and changes her name to Tris.  

Tris is then bombarded with an incredibly challenging initiation process, knowing that only a fraction of those who enter the initiation will remain in Dauntless.  The rest will become factionless and live on the streets, begging for food. During her initiation, Tris’s instructor, who goes by the name of Four, starts to fall in love with Tris and, for reasons she can’t understand, Tris finds herself falling for him too. Surviving initiation would have been enough to occupy Tris,  but during her initiation,  she becomes aware that her old faction my be the target of a well planned attack, an attack that not only threatens those she loves, but endangers the fragile peace that currently exists between the factions.

Thoughts on Style 

The book is narrated from the first person perspective of Beatrice.  This style often goes hand-in-hand with supreme character development, since you are seeing right into the very thoughts and feelings of the narrator, and Roth does not disappoint in this area.  Beatrice and Tobias(Four) are both very well-developed characters, although their backgrounds are very similar.

Disclaimer: The following sections contain spoilers, I attempted to edit them out as best I could, but to truly understand the worldview and content of this book, it is necessary to discuss some sections of the book in more detail than I normally would.  

Worldview

Roth is a Christian author, but this does not really show through in her books.  The worldview expressed in the book is through Tris’s eyes, and she, having grown up her whole life in the factioned system, naturally judges the world around her through this system.   The Bible would obviously say we should not try to single out one moral and try to follow it,  disregarding all others, but there is little danger of readers attempting to follow this path, as the story-line follows this method to humanity collapsing on itself.

Tris and Tobias also become sexually involved with each other in this series, without any real sense of commitment.  In the first book this merely accounts for a few exploratory kissing scenes, but as the series progresses, the relationship continues to progress in this direction.

Appropriate Age/Content

There is a fair amount of violence in the story.  Many people are killed, a boy’s eye is gouged out, and part of the Dauntless initiation process  pits initiates against each other in rough fist fights, which don’t end until one of the students is unable to rise from the ground . There is also some sexual content, but nothing severe. There are a few scenes in which Tris and Tobias kiss in an exploratory manner, and in one scene two of the male initiates start groping a girl, but are stopped quickly.  Tris becomes panicky at one point about Tobias’s possible expectations of pre-marital intimacy.

As the books continue to progress, the sexual content continues to increase. For those interested to see the content of the final two books, I would refer to Common Sense Media‘s review of these books.

Age Recommendation:  13+ 

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, but I had one qualm.  I never figured out why  Tris and Tobias’s relationship had to be as sexual as it was.   They didn’t trust each other, listen to each other, or really show any sort of affections for each other out side of sensuality.It made their relationship feel rather fake, because their “relationship” never went beyond touching.   They would be having a shouting fit or having a petty argument one minute, and then be passionately kissing the next. It just didn’t make sense.  It’s not that I thought it was such a horror to include kissing in the book, or even to include some of the things Roth does in later books, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate given Tris and Tobias’s relationship.   I did enjoy these books otherwise, though.

Final Rating:  3.8 out of 5 stars.

Torn from the pages: Giving Up

“Like driving along a bumpy road and losing control of the steering wheel, tossing you- just a tad-off the road.  The wheels kick up some dirt, but you’re able to pull it back.  Yet no matter how hard you try to drive straight, something keeps jerking you to the side.  You have so little control over anything anymore.  And at some point, the struggle becomes too much-too tiring-and you consider letting go.  Allowing tragedy… or whatever… to happen.”

Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

Book Review: Jekyll and Hyde

Background Information

Full Title:  Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Publisher and date:  Longmans, Green and Co., 1886

Summary

Dr. Henry Jekyll is a well-respected London business man who creates a serum enabling him to change every night into a much younger, darker self, lacking of conscience and morals.  This character, Mr. Hyde, feels no guilt for committing crimes that would horrify Jekyll.  Jekyll enjoys possessing the ability to slip in and out of his darker self and begins to do so every night, changing back to himself come morning.  However, as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for Jekyll to return to himself.  Jekyll knows that he must stop turning to his dark side, or eventually he will remain there forever…

Thoughts on Style

The book is written as a mystery, and Stevenson does a great job of making readers feel part of the story , even though most readers who go into this story already know the ending.  The bulk of the book is narrated in third person from the perspective of Mr. Utterson, a well-respected London lawyer. Utterson is fascinated by Hyde’s  behavior, not knowing his connection to Jekyll, and continues to try and decipher the mystery of a man who does such extreme evil without the slightest apparent guilt.  The last two chapters of the book are narratives from Dr. Lanyon, a friend of Mr. Utterson’s who was murdered by Hyde, and a narrative from Jekyll explaining everything.

Themes

Stevenson uses strong symbolism.  Hyde and Jekyll demonstrate the two sides of man, the evil desires we all struggle with,  and our striving to conquer these desires and live lives of moral goodness.  Stevenson has Hyde prowl the night with his acts of evil, while Jekyll lives in the light of day.

Worldview

Because Stevenson was not a Christian when he wrote Jekyll and Hyde, it is interesting to see the concepts of right and wrong displayed in his story.   Although we know he is not writing a Christian novel, we can look at his work and see what almost looks like spiritual warfare.

Appropriate Age/ Content

The acts Hyde commits at night are very violent.  Hyde attacks a young girl within the first few chapters, but the incident is not described in any depth.  Hyde also attacks an elderly man one night, which is described rather vividly.  Near the end of the book, Hyde murders a young gentlemen who comes to see him.  Because the book is written as a mystery, it is rather suspenseful throughout.  This is one of the most appreciable aspects of Stevenson’s work, that although readers already know the ending to the story, he still manages to make you feel the mystery and suspense keenly.  However, this book may feel a bit too suspenseful for younger children.  Also, the theme of good and evil is very strong in the book, and the battle between the two is very present.

Age Recommendation: 12+

Final thoughts

Jekyll and Hyde is truly one of the great classics.  I loved this book, and Stevenson creates a brilliant image of the two sides of man that are constantly warring against each other inside us all.

Rating:  4.3 out of 5 stars

Book Review: Holes

Background info

Full Title:  Holes

Author:  Louis Sachar

Publisher and date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998

Plot

Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake to improve his behavior, but all he does there is dig holes five feet deep and five feet around.  After doing this for days on end, Stanley becomes used to this exercise, but he begins to wonder if there’s more of a purpose to digging the holes than the camp counselors are letting on.  While all of this is going on, Stanley meets a mysterious boy named “Zero.”  Zero begins to take a strange interest in Stanley. Stanley learns that Zero cannot read or write.  The two boys slowly forge a friendship, and they both have more impact on each other’s future’s than they ever could have predicted….

Thoughts on style

The book is narrated in third person, and most of it is about Stanley.  However, the author does sprinkle stories from the history of Camp Green Lake.  I originally found this confusing, but the author ties it in at the end of the book nicely.

Worldview

Stanley is sent to camp when he is found in possession of a pair of shoes stolen from a charity event.  It becomes clear throughout the book that the boys at the camp have almost no respect for the authority around them and will do what it takes to get out of the work they are told to do.  The boys also have a rather strict pecking order, and they tend to push each other around

Appropriate Age/ Content

There is a fair bit of violence in the books.  As aforementioned, the boys are rather rough with another.  Also, when the author references the history of Camp Green Lake, he talks a good deal about a famous outlaw, who murders a numerous people.  The murders are not described in any detail, but it may be disturbing for younger children.  The boys also insult each other fairly frequently, but no vulgar language is used.

Age Recommendation: 11+

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, but the plot was not overly developed, and there were brief times at which it seemed to stall.  The narration was creative, and I loved how Sachar tied it all together at the end of the book, but it did slow the book down.  The book on the whole is not overly fast-paced, so I would not suggest it for slower readers.

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

 

Quote to consider: On the nature of man

I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point.
Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens. I, for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and in one direction only. It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the
thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable;
the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together—that in the agonised womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling. How, then were they dissociated?

Robert Louis Stevens(The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)