Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Hunger Games" vs. "Divergent" - A YA Dystopian Faceoff

I just finished reading the "Divergent" series, and since it's basically trying to be the next "Hunger Games," I thought I'd compare and contrast the two series.

"Divergent," by Veronica Roth, is a series about a girl in dystopian future Chicago who discovers that she may be in danger because she's divergent, which means that she has an aptitude for more than one trait in a strict faction-based society. "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins is about a girl in dystopian future America who is sent into an arena in an annual contest where teenagers fight to the death.

(Mild spoilers for "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" series ahead. No major plot twists are revealed.)

Main Character

Katniss in "The Hunger Games" and Tris is "Divergent" are both brave, self-sufficient women. I like the way Tris comes out of her shell in "Divergent." She starts very quiet, because she's from the Abnegation faction, which values selflessness, but really comes into her own when she joins the Dauntless faction, which values bravery. Katniss really retreats into herself and is very calculated about her personality in order to impress the people watching the Hunger Games, in hopes that she will survive. Both Tris and Katniss have a strong survival instinct, and they are both strong both physically and mentally.

The thing that is notable about "The Hunger Games" is that Katniss is not inherently special, while Tris proves to be to an almost ridiculous degree. I like that Katniss cannot call on anything other than her own inner strength and the desire to save the people she loves to survive the games. Tris, meanwhile, has her divergence to save her, and it does several times throughout the books. As an adult, I much prefer Katniss for this reason, because she must do what we all do (most of us to a lesser degree) - dig deep and keep going. However, I can see why teenagers might like Tris better, because teenagers want to think that they are special like Tris.

The Guy

In "Divergent," the main male character is Four, a fellow Dauntless and love interest for Tris. Four is incredibly strong and very brave - he's called Four because he only has four fears. He is pretty damaged - we find out later in the series that his home life was pretty rotten - which makes him a more compelling character. I love his confidence, and the way he has overcome a very tough life. Four is definitely a traditional guy character.

The main guy in "The Hunger Games" is Peeta, who enters the game with Katniss as a fellow tribute from her district. I love Peeta, because he is not a traditional guy character. He is romantic, artistic and emotional. He is also an incredibly sweet guy with a great soul. Peeta is physically strong too, but I think his defining characteristics are more about his emotional strength.

The Romance

In "Divergent," Tris and Four have a pretty traditional romance. They fall in love and slowly work their way into being more physical with their love (it's slow going due to their upbringings, but worth the wait). They have trouble being honest with each other and their romance is frequently interrupted by the goings-on in their world, but it's a well-done traditional romance. I am glad that there are no real romantic triangles, which is quickly becoming a YA trope - Tris and Four have plenty of other threats to their relationships without another person coming into the equation. 

"The Hunger Games" has a romantic triangle of sorts, with Peeta somewhat competing with Gale, Katniss' best friend, for Katniss' heart and loyalty. However, what makes "The Hunger Games" interesting in its romantic plotline is that Katniss largely rejects any notion of romance because she is too concerned with staying alive. She does (very, very slowly) fall for Peeta, and she also feels a lot of love for Gale, which causes her some angst, but Katniss really doesn't have time for romance. I also love the role-reversal of the female, Katniss, as the strong and silent type, and the male, Peeta, as the emotional romantic.

The World

Both worlds are very interesting. I like the way that the city in "Divergent" is recognizably Chicago, giving a great frame of reference and making the dystopian world more vivid. Roth used some of Chicago's landmarks, like the El trains, Navy Pier and the Hancock Building to great effect. However, the world is not very big and so the book sometimes feels a bit constrained. This works in a lot of ways, because the people of Tris' city don't know that there is anything outside Dystopian Future Chicago, but later in the book I would have liked to see some more of the world to get a better picture of it.

The world of "The Hunger Games" is incredibly vivid. The first book only takes place in three main places - District 12, the training facility in the Capitol, and the arena (with a few scenes in transit between these places) - but by the end of the book we have visited a huge chunk of the world. It's easy to picture the world of "The Hunger Games." 

Both books have interesting ideas for how their worlds came about, and I really appreciate both visions. "The Hunger Games" executes that vision better, though.


"The Hunger Games" is just a better book than "Divergent," both for Collins' better writing and for the way it rejects and reverses a lot of tropes. However, "Divergent" is a pretty solid series with an interesting point of view. It's definitely more traditional and, therefore, feels more formulaic, but Roth still adds a lot of very interesting pieces to her book. I would definitely read both, but while I'm glad I own the "Hunger Games" books so I can pull them off my shelf and read them again and again, I'm fine with the fact that I don't own the "Divergent" books. 

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