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Review: 'Divergent' is predictable but enjoyable teen sci-fi

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Like young-adult near-future fascistic dystopias with a strong female lead and can’t wait for the next Hunger Games? If so, "Divergent", based on the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth, may be for you.

Set in a future Chicago, society has been divided into five castes based on personality characteristics in order to “keep the peace.” People choose their class at age 16 after a rigorous test. Our heroine Tris is from the Abnegation class, who dress all in gray and always put others first, denying their own egos and running the government. Dauntless are the police and keep order; you can tell who they are because they’re always running everywhere and climbing up buildings. Erudites are the smart ones, they’re in charge of technology and knowledge and such. Amity are kindly farmers. Then there’s Candor, who always say what’s on their mind, without filter.

The story starts shortly before Tris has to choose her class. We learn there are rumors that Abnegation is hoarding food and the Erudites want to take over. Tris takes her test and learns she is “divergent,” carrying the traits of three classes instead of the normal one. How should she choose? To care about her choice, you have to get past the fact that this is not a believable way to organize society. For me there were several stages to this journey:

1. Disbelief: A dystopian future defined by rigid assignment of caste by personality trait - what the huh? Other improbable dystopias (Equilibrium, Hunger Games) look practically inevitable in comparison.
2. Acceptance: Well, okay, Dauntless are the warrior caste, Abnegation is the priest class, Amity are the farmer-peasants, I guess Erudites are the clever elite. That’s basically plausible. Candor? That’s undeveloped and extraneous, but maybe there’s a reason for them later.
3. (Halfway through, when a character is revealed to be divergent and there’s a speech about how they don’t want to be just one trait) Return to disbelief: Ugh, thanks for reminding me this whole premise is ridiculous.
4. Realization: But that speech did totally remind me of the last scene in the Breakfast Club and I remember that was sooo deeep when I was a … oh right! This movie is for teenagers.

If you overlook the silly premise and keep in mind that you’re not the target audience, there are aspects to enjoy. Ashley Judd is good as Tris’s badass mom. Theo James is likable as an initially inaccessible brooder who turns out not to be a total jerk, and his romance with Tris is sweet, authentic, and much less annoying than Katniss’s with either of her two beaus. The plot is decently paced and reasonably suspenseful, if not terribly surprising. Worth seeing? If you’re looking for an action-adventure and can turn off your brain, it’s kind of fun. Extra points if you’re less than 20 or have unresolved authority issues.