Trio Mini Book Review: Divergent, Shatter Me, Under the Never Sky

With all our talk of dystopians, here are our brief impressions of 3 of them.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Pros: Interesting exploration of virtues in society, amazing and realistic character development, great culmination of themes interwoven into Tris's character arc.

Cons: Insufficient world-building, laughable pseudo-science, implausible societal structure, WTF-MAKES-NO-SENSE climax.

Krispy's Take: You may recall that I was skeptical after reading the first 100 pages (the ones up for preview). My main issue with Divergent's world was the virtue-based society. While this set-up is itself interesting, the fact that it was supposed to be derived from our society was what tripped me up. It's because the society is so rigid, dictating every aspect of the characters' lives, that I found it difficult to see how our society became that one. But past that first 100 pages, once Tris has made her choice, the story really picks up.

While I don't love or even particularly like Tris, I found her incredibly engaging. She was strong and selfish, insecure and compassionate. She had contradictory traits but a consistent personality - like a real person. She felt authentic, and so I thoroughly enjoyed her character development. The romance is also done quite well, not at all insta-love. Basically, I ended up enjoying Divergent a lot because of strong character development and interesting exploration of overarching themes (i.e. the virtues, choice, identity).

Intellectual Rating: 6/7 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: B

Alz's Mini-Take: The concept of a virtue-based society is interesting, although the absolute rigidity of the society and the fact that it's supposed to be future-our-world bothered me the way Harry and Ron bother Snape.

On the plus side, Tris's character feels very real. She has issues and a conscience and mixed feelings, friends and enemies, weaknesses and determination. The themes of family and bravery and the explorations and interpretations of both are wonderfully thought-provoking without being preachy.  Also, for once the romance is actually developed romance! Not insta-lust at first sight. The relationship that develops is based on character, history, and integrity.

I liked the book all the way up to the climax. There was a dramatic plot device that made no sense, had only the barest minimum of foreshadowing, and the antagonists involved were so incredibly ridiculously Moustache-Twirling Evil in their actions that I started Tweeting furiously at Krispy all my displeasure and criticism as I read.

But if you take what happens for granted and/or are deeply engrossed in the story, you might not even realize the implausibility and absurdity of what is happening. In which case you'd probably enjoy Divergent and probably have no inkling of what I'm talking about.

Intellectual Rating: 4 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: B-

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Pros: Unique hyperbolic writing style; engaging voice; successfully conveys intense emotions.

Cons: This isn't X-Men; Juliette accomplishes practically nothing; the dystopian world is a standard unremarkable backdrop.

Krispy's Mini-Take: The standout feature of Shatter Me is undoubtedly Tahereh Mafi's hyperbolic, lyrical writing. It's a brave move in a YA dystopian because I think people will either love it or hate it. Luckily, I loved it, even if it got a little excessive at later points. The style is solid enough though, and I'm excited to see Mafi's style develop and improve. I also appreciated the focus on Juliette's inner development and I liked seeing the shift in her inner self. However, I have to agree with Alz that Juliette's role is very reactive - and while that can fly (e.g. Katniss is a very reactive character) - it's a little disappointing that she's kind of weirdly passive in what is supposed to be a story about her gaining strength and self-initiative. I never felt like she really took control of her life; she was always fighting her way out of a corner or otherwise being saved. It's worth noting though that this didn't cross my mind as I was reading because I was very engaged. Another con was that the X-Men-ish connection was a little much for me, so I have iffy feelings about that. Also, while it didn't bother me, the dystopian back-drop is very much just that - a back-drop. There's not a lot given in terms of world-building.

Finally, I have to note that I have an inappropriate crush on the villain, Warner. He's shady and well-dressed and I was never sure what his motives were. Characters that keep me on my toes tend to attract my attention.

Intellectual Rating: 5 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: B+

Alz's Mini-Take: You'll either love Shatter Me's hyperbolic writing style or you'll want to gouge your eyes out with a spork. I happened to love it, although it took a while to get used to it and even then I'd have to count to three every time Juliette's organs fell out onto the floor or her eyebrows hit the ceiling. That girl seriously needs to learn some control over her body parts.

Plotwise, there isn't much to say because there isn't much—it's a character-driven story. It was all right until the end when it suddenly turned into full-fledged X-Men complete with brightly-colored bodysuits.  I was going to rate the book higher until that happened, along with the realization that I'd just read 300+ pages of Juliette having all the resilience and spine of damp tissue.  Most of the book is her angsting and being repeatedly and respectively rescued and poked at by Adam and Warner.

Oh yeah, Warner. I found it hard to take him seriously since he's a 19-year-old dictator. Also, all the reviews were all wow Warner is SO EVIL and I thought he'd be really evil and then in the beginning when Warner is like, "Oh? You like Adam? Hmm. Here, Adam, take these gloves so you can touch her," and then he gives Adam this order that I thought meant he was ordering Adam to rape Juliette I was like OMFG HE IS EVIL but it was really just Warner ordering Adam to take Juliette outside so she could taste freedom.


Overall, though, I'd recommend Shatter Me. Overall I enjoyed it—it just didn't quite survive my Post-Book Critical Phase entirely intact.

Intellectual Rating: 3 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: C

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Pros: Different from other YA dystopians! Practically two dystopians for the price of one, Pod-dwellers and Outsiders! Some interesting Outsider politics!

Cons: Not enough explanation or world-building! Crappy plot twists! Too Much Random Capitalization of Names!

Krispy's Mini-Take: I just finished this and I've heard all the hype. Firstly, it was an enjoyable reading experience overall and I'm curious about the sequel. I can see why so many people love it. The world is unique, and I loved the Aether storms. I also liked that the Outsiders had a culture that felt like it had substance, and I liked that Aria and Perry don't have an insta-love relationship. I liked that they had different goals and are forced to work together.

So here's the weird part: the world-building is both a pro and con for me. Above, I already gave you the pros of the world-building. I take issue with other parts of the world-building because some of it is too vague - just enough to kind of annoy me. Then one of the more detailed world-building and important plot reveals was, well, factually incorrect. This doesn't sit well with me, and while this factual flaw didn't ruin the book for me, I'm still trying to decide how much this incorrect thing bothers me. Lastly, one of the turning points with Perry and Aria happens because of a physical change, and well, it's fine but a little weird/squicky.

Intellectual Rating: 4 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: C/C+

Alz's Mini-Take: As I told Krispy, I never before read a book that tried so hard to fail its own potential—and succeeded. The world is indeed very different from other YA dystopians out there, and the separate worlds with the Pod-dwelling insiders and the Savage outsiders are interesting. 

But Under the Never Sky still doesn't have nearly enough world-building. If you're curious about what Aria's life is like in the Pods, prepare to be disappointed. If you're wondering how our world became this way, prepare to be disappointed. If you want to know exactly why etc. has so much random technology, prepare to be disappointed. If you want to read about a burgeoning love that is based on the fact that the boy can smell when the girl gets her period and decides she's suddenly hot, it's your lucky day!

Yeah. I just. I can't. No.

There were too many things in this book that didn't add up for me, and the plot twists just went  nine kinds of ridiculous in the end.  Not to mention the fact that one the crucial scientific/medical plot points is factually flawed and incorrect.  Mind you, most of these plot twists and points make surface sense, so if you're reading quickly you might not realize there's something fundamentally wrong.

For all that, though, the book did read quickly, and it is different. But if you look beneath that shiny new differentness, the book is a pile of plot devices and plot twists that don't make sense. I can see the appeal and why people like it, but Under the Never Sky is not for me.

Intellectual Rating: 2.75 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: D

We've been reading a lot of dystopia lately, some more successful and/or less annoying than others.  Got any dystopian recs for us?

Also, Happy Pi Day!


Connie Keller said...

The only one of the books I've read was Divergent and I enjoyed it (I agree with you that I wondered how our society could end up that way). One thing that was really interesting to me is how the supposed utopia was actually a dystopia. Hmm.

Emy Shin said...

You two should definitely do this more often. It's fascinating to read two different takes on the same novel. :)

Lydia Kang said...

I like your side-by-side reviews. It's so interesting to see what worked and didn't for you. I have Under the Never Sky and I'm reading it this weekend. I'll let you know what I think!

Angela Brown said...

Of the books mentioned, I've only read Under the Never Sky. I couldn't help laughing at Alz pointing out the period thing. I have to, sadly, agree with the world-building point although I was rather enamored with the book.

One book I'd like to read is Starters. Supposed to be an intriguind dystopia about teens who rent their bodies out to old people. I think there's something deeper than that...I think, oh yeah, something about killing too.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading Cinder right now and liking it.

I love these dual reviews. We all read books differently.

I have Under the Never Sky. I read a few pages and put it down, but I'd like to pick it up again and finish it this year.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Omigosh, I love your reviews! You guys always crack me up! The only one on that list that I've read is Shatter Me and I totally agree that the world building left a LOT to be desired, but the writing, the characters, kept me reading. I've looked at the other two but never been compelled enough to buy them. And I'm sorry, but the period thing didn't really change my mind! Ew! :P

linda said...

Thanks for the reviews! So interesting to read two different takes side-by-side.

The only one I've read is Divergent. I don't think Shatter Me is for me, though -- read the sample and the style isn't really my thing.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

This is my favourite genre. I've read all of these books and I'm one of those people who LOVED Never Sky. The whole journey was fascinating and the characters were worth rooting for.
Some other dystopians I loved were Ship Breaker, Birthmarked, Prized, Blood Red Road, Crossed, Matched, The Maze Runner.
Thanks for these reviews. I like how you've structured them with two views! New follower.