Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on March 6, 2012.
Author: Veronica Roth
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 5/3/2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
What’s it about?
Beatrice, Tris for short, lives in the city of Chicago, but a Chicago of the future, and a Chicago that seems isolated from the rest of the United States. In her society, people are divided into five factions. The selfless and serving Abnegation, the honest and candid Candor, the artistic and caring Amity, the knowledgeable and studious Erudite, and the brave and fearless Dauntless. Every citizen is a member of a Faction, and those without a faction—the Factionless—are an untouchable caste.
Tris grew up in Abnegation, but every teenager is tested for which faction will best suit them and allowed to choose. The test is a simulation where several scenarios are presented and the reaction shows whether they are selfless, honest, caring, studious, or brave. Tris must choose to either stay with her family in Abnegation—where she has never felt she fits in—or to choose her own path—which will mean she will never truly be with her family again.
When Tris chooses to follow her heart and become a Dauntless, she must face the consequences of leaving her family and jumping into the dangerous initiation rituals of the Dauntless faction. And she must also keep secret the true results of her test, a secret that if revealed would be even more dangerous than the often deadly Dauntless initiation.
It’s YA. Tell me about the boy!
Four (yes, his name is a number) is everything you expect from a cliché YA boy….at first. He’s mysterious, aloof, unpredictable, and dangerous. But he’s a member of the Dauntless Faction so “dangerous” pretty much characterizes everyone in that faction. And I was really afraid for a good half of the book that Four was only going to be that dangerous, cliché boy—the one that you cringe to think about any girl being with. However, as the story progresses and our main character gets to know Four better, we see that all this cliché expected stuff is a very surface interpretation of him by a girl who barely knows him. The more we learn the more we discover that Four is anything but cliché. He’s a fully realized character, and if anything seems like a real boy in his late teens. (And really making a character seem real is the highest compliment.)
What makes Four real is not only his characterization but the relationship he develops with Tris. This is not your standard dangerous boy that girl is mysteriously drawn to and can’t help it. And it’s not your standard, boy completes girl by being awesome and being so much stronger than her at everything. Four is good and strong in some areas, and in some areas he really needs someone like Tris in his life—someone to be strong for him, to protect him. I really can’t say more than that without being spoiler-y, but I thought the relationship that developed between Four and Tris was amazing.
What makes this dystopian different from all the rest?
In most dystopias—especially YA dystopias—the main characters somehow know or quickly learn there is something innately wrong with the world they live in. One day they find an old document that describes how the world used to be and the main character thinks “What freedom people used to have! We are so oppressed. I’m dissatisfied! Argh!” Now in some dystopias, this response makes sense (example: Dark Parties. I don’t really think there is any other reaction you could have upon learning what she learns.). But this response doesn’t make sense in every dystopian situation.
A dystopia by definition is the opposite of a utopia, a land that is not a perfect idyllic place. Well, I love my country and I’m so glad I live in America, but let’s be honest. We don’t live in a utopia. Star Trek is a utopia. Modern America is not. But most of us don’t look at our world and think “I must overthrow all of this now!” Instead we look at our world and say, “I see the good intent here. I see the beauty and strength of the Constitution. But we as a society are missing something. We need a course correction.”
That is exactly the response Tris has to her world and it’s beautiful. It fits perfectly. She doesn’t look at her society with horror, seeing it as a place of restrictions and oppression. She looks at her society the same way we look at ours. She sees the intent behind the society, understands it, and wishes not to completely alter her world but to bring it back to its roots and intents. Is she correct? Should she want to completely alter her world and make it our own? Some people probably think the answer to that is yes. I think that’s a little ethnocentric. Our own society of freedom has its downfalls, it’s aspect of dystopia, just as hers does. Perhaps we’ll discover in sequels that her society is even darker than we think and the answer is to overthrow it. But for now, I think her desire not to overthrow but to fix is more realistic, and I love that. It’s a different perspective than most dystopias have, and honestly I think it’s the more realistic one. And that makes this book worth reading.
If this was a movie, what would its rating be?
This book is pretty safe when it comes to sexual situations and language. At the most there is some kissing and I can’t recall any bad language. But there are a couple of other things for parents and readers to be aware of.
Tris is encouraged to do many things that in our society would be viewed as reckless (jumping on and off of trains, jumping off buildings….). She also gets multiple tattoos, and I know some people don’t like tattooing in general, so just be aware of that.
However, the worst thing rating wise is undoubtedly the violence. The students are trained in hand to hand combat—which overall I wouldn’t say is a bad thing, but the hand to hand combat takes a turn for the worse when one of the instructors basically encourages the students to beat each other to a pulp. There are also some rather violent assaults (people being stabbed, people being threatened with being dropped over a cliff) and a suicide. There is also basically a massacre. I’m not talking a war. I’m talking people being lined up and shot. So yeah. Violence wise this probably gets an R. However, I think it’s important to note that none of the violence is gratuitous. It all makes sense in the world that Tris lives in and the story that is being told. And the violence isn’t glorified; most of the violence is viewed in a negative light.
So even though violence is R, I would say everything else is around PG or PG-13. This book is more than appropriate for teen readers (who are the target audience) and even advanced younger readers. I could have read this in fifth grade with no emotional scarring.
Overall, how was it?
Overall I loved this book. It was quick, fast paced and it sucked you in. It had great tension and characters who readers can relate to. If you love dystopians or just YA in general, you will love this book. I give it two thumbs up!