Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday! Well, and as we’ll learn this week, sometimes also non-fiction Wednesday. I hope you don’t mind me speaking about the occasional non-fiction work, but I don’t think it serves a reader to only read one or the other, for a number of reasons (and let’s be honest, some non-fiction contains pure fiction and vice-versa).
This week I’m offering a review of Veronica Roth’s Divergent and my current thoughts on Cindy Young-Turner’s Thief of Hope, as well as the baseball book Bottom of the 33rd. My reading slowed a bit last week due to the holiday and some ongoing side work, but I’m hoping to pick up steam again this week.
Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…
Divergent by Veronica Roth. I finished Divergent not long after last week’s post, allowing me some much-needed time to ruminate on the title and its context.
Let’s start by saying that the characters of Divergent are not really where the story shines. Some, such as Peter, are paint-by-numbers, “he-bad” caricatures that serve as little more than a stumbling block for the protagonist, Tris. Others are somewhat one-dimensional; the leader of the “Dauntless”, Eric, falls into this category. I had to look up Eric’s name in writing this review, a true testament to his memorable nature. The rest of the characters, with one or two notable exceptions, come across as players on a stage.
Tris starts out just as hollow, but eventually becomes more compelling as she discovers the truth of the world around her and begins to realize that she might have more behavioral choices other than those that have been handed to her. This, in particular, is poignant and a big reason why the novel works, but I’ll get to that shortly. We are warned up front that Tris is self-centered, and this is borne out in the manner by which certain characters only take center-stage when they sacrifice themselves for Tris. For better or worse, those sacrifices mean very little outside of the context of Tris’s life, as we have barely gotten to know them and have no real reason to care for them. It annoyed me, but I suspect that may have been intentional.
Let’s also get one more gripe out of the way, as there’s no way around it: the writing is clunky. I’ve read worse, but I cringed in a few spots. I will say, however, that it’s not irredeemably clunky – Roth just makes some of the same rookie mistakes that most of us make, and I could see her prose becoming quite a force in the future. There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed without a little attention to the craft, and I see every indication that she’ll continue to dedicate herself to improvement.
I hate having to say all that about the book, because otherwise I really enjoyed it. The premise is interesting and, while Tris is a cipher at the beginning of the book, Roth plays this fairly well. The transformation works…well, okay, but the message behind the transformation is really what grabs the reader; essentially, Tris lives in a giant high school. In this world, appearance is pretty much everything and everyone has compartmentalized their emotions to one extent or another. Some, like the tribe she’s born into, abhor the self and anything to do with taking care of or wanting things for yourself; others, like the Dauntless, abhor fear and weakness. The law dictates that everyone is defined by their cliques and stay only within the narrow, prescribed social lanes. One’s greatest fear is not death, but of being without a clique altogether – “factionless”. Sound familiar?
Witnessing Tris’s journey as she realizes that this system is inherently fake and fragments not only society but one’s own consciousness is to witness the journey from teen to adult. It’s brilliant YA, and I see why it’s received so many kudos. I imagine it speaks to a Junior or Senior in High School very well, or even a college Freshman, as they learn that there are indeed boundaries beyond the artifice of institutional learning.
I’d be remiss to leave out the best part of the novel: the character Four. I don’t want to give away too much of Four’s story as learning his past is also one of the pleasures of the story, but he’s a fully-realized adult adrift in a world of teenagers. He’s just as miserable as you would expect, too. Four shows that Roth is capable of rendering complex characters, and gives me great hope for where the series will go in the future. Divergent is certainly worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of YA. Not perfect, but highly recommended.
Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner. I’m now more than halfway into Thief of Hope; my regrets, I had wished to have it finished by now, but life intervened in the way that it always does. All I can really say is so far, so good, and it’s made quite the companion when I go walking. I’ve just come out of something of a character-and-world-building section of the book; things are starting to pick up once again, and already I dread the repeated arrival of Schrammig (damn the man – and this is a good response, the guy is a force of nature) and his goons. I’m very interested in seeing how the Tuatha, or the fairy folk, fit into the story. I know they have a place, but I’m still not sure exactly where that puzzle piece fits. Side note, it’s not Cindy’s fault, but I am noticing a handful of formatting errors and some missing punctuation. I’m not a stickler for this stuff – it happens – but I know it takes some people out of stories and feel it’s fair to give you warning. Still, so far, so good.
Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game by Dan Berry. So yeah, by now it’s probably no big surprise that I’m a baseball fan – that is, if you’re at all familiar with my 2012 book list. I grew up playing and loving the game, to one degree or another, and my fandom has only grown as an adult. On one level, I am the stats geek that gets derided as living in his mom’s basement and only seeing the players as numbers in a spreadsheet; frankly, I don’t understand the disdain for statistical analysis in a game that has such a rich history of attempts to quantify and understand it via statistics dating back almost to the sport’s inception. On the other hand, I’m also that dork that sees the poetry in the game and understands why those crusty sports journalists still write stories about the hope and beauty personified in the game, seeing a metaphor for life in the endless permutations of random chance that make it such an interesting sport. Those two approaches can – and should – co-exist.
That’s what makes this book, about the longest game in professional baseball history (a minor league game played between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox in April 1981), so interesting. There is plenty of statistical information to chew on, but Barry places those stats in not only the context of the game but the many careers and lives that intersected in this one, singular moment of oddity. I’ll have more to say about it next week, but it’s a gem of a book, whether you like fiction or non-fiction and, I suspect, whether you care about sports at all. There’s a lot to be said about the human condition in the events of that one night, and he manages to capture a great deal in these pages.
And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!