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Movie review: ‘Divergent’ is a great YA adaptation

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Divergent

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YA book to movie adaptations are hit and miss these days. Divergent, based on the bestselling dystopian novel by Veronica Roth, is one of the few that captures the spirit of the book.

Years in the future, a war torn Chicago has been divided into five factions. 16-year-old Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) lives in Abengation, the faction devoted to selflessness and community service. As the movie opens, Beatrice is preparing to take the test that will determine which faction she’s best suited for -- though the choice is ultimately hers.

But something goes wrong in her test. Her results show she’s Divergent -- she could fit easily into multiple factions. Beatrice is warned by the test administrator, Tori, (Maggie Q) to keep her divergence a secret. On choosing day, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, the faction that will force her to jump off buildings and fist fight her fellow initiates for her spot. Dauntless will teach her to be tough, but will it keep her safe from faction leaders who see Divergents as a threat?

It’s difficult to adapt a 500 page novel into a two and a half hour movie and still keep all the details. There are some significant changes to the story, but most work well. A few minor characters are cut, which keeps the narrative from getting cluttered -- though it might be a problem in future installments.

The focus of Divergent is really on Tris. It is her story and, as any good story should be, character driven. Tris’s divergence, secondary characters, and even her romance with trainer Four (Theo James) are very much subplots. This is Tris’s journey from reserved Abnegation to tough Dauntless, and Shailene Woodley does a fantastic job.

Two aspects of the book are not as fleshed out in the movie: The character of Peter (Miles Teller), Tris’s fellow Dauntless initiate who mercilessly taunts her, and the romance between Tris and Four. However, it’s hard to expand other characters when the focus on one. Hopefully future movies will show more of them.

One thing that stands out is the visuals. It’s hard to imagine a Chicago destroyed by war and divided into factions. For someone like your Young Adult Fiction Examiner, who has never been to Chicago, it’s almost impossible. But the city is brought to life here, as are the individual factions. Add in a score by the inherently awesome Hans Zimmer and even those who don’t like the story might still enjoy the scenery.

Divergent isn’t perfect, but most book to movie adaptations aren’t. If you enjoyed the book, or even if you never read it and it piques your interest, you should give both a try.

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