As a big fan of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent,” I’ve been scouring the Web for news about the upcoming movie release since it was announced that the book was being adapted for the big screen. I also got chills when I saw the new “Catching Fire” trailer for the first time…and the second time. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a die-hard fan of dystopian YA books, and to see the blogosphere jumping on “Divergent” and slapping it with the label of “the next ‘Hunger Games'” makes me crazy.
Most of the people who are rushing to equate it with the most recent YA franchise they can think of have only begun doing so since the motion picture was announced. That tells me that these people have not read the book. It also tells me they don’t understand that all art builds on everything that came before it; everything is derivative.
A lot of people would argue that “The Hunger Games” would not have happened without “Battle Royale.” And has anyone forgotten some other important dystopian trailblazers? Our friends Margaret, George and Ray probably think so.
To play devil’s advocate, let’s review the similarities between “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games.” Both are YA dystopian series that have been very commercially successful; both feature a strong female protagonist, a romantic thread, societies that live in factions, and some pretty dark premises. However, I would argue that Katniss and Tris are wildly different people, as are Four and Peeta. The basic premises of the books are very different, and “Divergent” reads younger to me — mostly because “Hunger Games” starts out so dark and violent in comparison.
The themes at the heart of “Divergent” are self discovery, being true to yourself, loyalty…very appropriate for the book’s intended audience. “The Hunger Games” deals with a whole mess of issues that are both near and dear to YA readers’ hearts and speak to our society at large: freedom, taking a stand for what’s right, self-preservation, socioeconomic inequality, reality television, people who make us crazy (Gale *swoon* Liam Hemsworth) versus people who bring us happiness (Peeta), etc.
I’m not saying one series is better than the other; I’m just saying they’re very different. And to be fair, when “Hunger Games” first came out as a movie franchise, people were calling it the “next ‘Twlight.'” Although I can’t imagine Bella hacking it in The Games and eating squirrels, I also can’t imagine Harry spending as much time thinking about Ginny as Bella thought about Edward. (Don’t forget “Twilight” was supposedly the “next ‘Harry Potter.'”)
Growing up, I progressed naturally as a reader from “Harry Potter” to “Twilight” to “Hunger Games” — but that was only because I was always on the hunt for fun new things to read. I also read a lot of books in between those series.
Some people who say “Divergent” is the next “Hunger Games” probably mean the “Divergent” franchise is the Next Big Thing in the entertainment industry, and they might be right. But wouldn’t it be great if a movie based on a book didn’t have to be “the next” anything?
While I’m sure Veronica Roth is flattered to be linked with something as successful as the “Hunger Games” franchise, she deserves independent kudos for the work she created. And I would like it if every author were given her own moment in the sun and every franchise got its own fair shake because not many books make it this far. As readers and movie lovers, let’s hope that more of them start to.