Review: Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth

DivergentA dystopian trilogy with a strong female lead character who makes sacrifices for the sake of her family – no I am not late to The Hunger Games party, this is also a look at the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I read the first book Divergent back last year and see a review for the book is missing from my site (missing as in, I never wrote one — it must have been while I was taking my unannounced hiatus). I came to the series when a few friends posted about it on my Facebook call for a good summer read. And the book did fit the bill, I quickly feel into like with the heroine Beatrice, aka Tris. She’s cool, but uncertain and so she plays up being dark and sullen. If there were Emo in this undated future of the fallen apart Chicago society, she would totally be it.

I liked the concept that the book explored, a society that is divided by the type of personalty set that you are – if your main focus is book smarts and knowledge you are Erudite, selfless you are Abnegation, put truth above everything you are Candor, strive to keep the peace you are Amity and if you’re bold to the point of reckless you are Dauntless. Tris was raised in an Abnegation household, but at the time of choosing she chose to move to Dauntless. And in this society, you do sort of get to choose – you take an aptitude test (it’s the future so it’s a brain simulation and all very Matrix-like) and are told what you are meant for. Of course there is one other group that no one speaks of, they exist in old-wives tales – the Divergent, those who could fit into multiple groups, they really can’t be categorized.

I doubt I am really spoiling anything here (and if I am don’t read on …) but Tris is really Divergent. To avoid being found out as Divergent she chooses to advance her Dauntless tendencies, turning her back on her parents and brother.

OK, so that’s the set-up for Divergent. A showdown happens that brings us to the second in the series Insurgent, which picks up where Divergent ends. I have to be honest, I waited a few months in between and I already have a bad memory when it comes to many books. So, I was a little lost in the beginning because it didn’t have a great recap and at times I found myself being pretty far into the book before a little light bulb went off on some of the plot points. But that aside, I enjoyed this book and watching Tris develop and start to realize who she is as a person and not specifically a “type.” That doesn’t mean I always liked or agreed with who she was becoming – as a dystopian teen she has an overinflated sense of obligation over things.

I haven’t yet read the third and final book, Allegiant, but I have it and will get to it in the not too distant future. So while it’s not fair to judge the whole series yet, I’m going to say that it’s not as good as The Hunger Games — in the writing, flow, story, etc. — but it’s still an enjoyable YA series that explores important topics of personalty and control.

You might have heard the rumblings, or even seen a preview that Divergent will be a movie coming out this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing that. As I was reading it I could see that the story would translate well on the big screen, and I think this movie might be one of the few where I enjoy the movie better then the book, but all in all I am not disappointed in the time I am spending reading this series.

Review: The Lowland by Jhumpta Lahiri

The LowlandTwo brothers, raised almost like twins. They share everything except a sense of adventure (or at least a fear of danger). Subhash, the older brother, is mature, level headed, while Udayan is the risk taker – and there are many risks to take in India in the 60s and 70s, as political upheaval overtakes Calcutta, taking Udayan with it. Udayan stays and builds a life in India becoming more involved with politics, while Subhash leaves India to pursue a PhD in Rhode Island. This is the world that Jhumpta Lahiri builds in her latest novel The Lowland.

I came into this book not knowing any real background or information on the political groups portrayed in The Lowland, so I found it very interesting. Much of my knowledge of this time period is on U.S. focuses such as Vietnam. But what I did have a lot of knowledge of were the places in Rhode Island that Subhash explores as he builds a life for himself outside the watchful eye of his parents, or anyone really. Reading about Port Judith, Block Island and others RI shore areas brought me back to my own childhood summers.

But this book is not about relaxing, or reflective moments along the shore. It explores complex relationships, as Lahiri’s books and stories often do, and also personal responsibility. I found the relationships in this book very interesting (I won’t go into them here for fear of some spoilers in case you go into this book totally blind). There were plenty of characters that I didn’t like, if I knew them personally I would probably say something directly to them about their behavior and actions. But Lahiri makes me care, makes me invested in what they are doing – whether I like them or not. And if you have never read anything by Lahiri before then you are in for such a treat with her writing, it is lovely and page turning. Not in a gripping, fast-paced sort of way, but in a slow moving, slow building storytelling sort of way.