I'd been told that this resembled The Hunger Games, and I think that's why I put off reading it for as long as I did. I am delighted to say that, in my opinion, the only thing this book has in common with that one is that they're both YA dystopian books.
In the beginning, especially as Tris is working up to choosing her faction, the story read like the most fascinating and amazing cross between The Giver and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It was so much fun to read, and I found Tris to be one of the most sympathetic YA heroines I've come across in quite a while.
Part of me wonders if I didn't find myself sympathizing with her so much due to the 1st person present tense of the narration. I'm coming across this style more and more often recently, and I think I'm really starting to like it. It makes all of the action seem so much more immediate--the reader is experiencing all of the events at the same time as the narrator. An extra benefit of this style is that it removes any possibility of one of my least favorite writing conventions: explicit ominous foreshadowing. Not to say I don't appreciate foreshadowing. In fact, Ms. Roth managed several beautifully subtle instances of foreshadowing that I totally LOVED my favorite one was when Tris tells us that she wasn't able to find Tobias to tell him about her connection between the serum and the Dauntless leaders. That was fantastically set up to give us that hint of horrible things to come without having to resort to silliness like "It was such a great day, if only I had known it would be our last as Dauntless," or something that so many authors seem to not be able to avoid lately...
I also wonder if I didn't find Tris so sympathetic because she made many of the decisions I like to imagine I would have made in her place. Especially in books with huge life-altering decisions, I like to imagine myself having to make that decision. But it wasn't just her choice of faction that I sympathized with, it was so many of her smaller decisions along the way. I found her to be just fantastically well-written and totally believable.
And on that note, I ADORED Tobias! He's such a delightfully complex and fascinating character--especially in a YA book. It seems sometimes like YA writers try to dumb down some of the content in a misguided attempt to reach their target audience. I love that Ms. Roth didn't do that. There were layers and secrets and hidden agendas and it was all balanced just so beautifully. I also loved the development of the relationship between Tris and Tobias, and I thought it was also perfectly pitched for the YA audience.
There were a few things, however, that pulled me out of the story. The biggest was the crazy acceleration of time. I'm supposed to believe that in just a week and a half Tris is now a trained and capable fighter (who somehow, in the middle of getting sent to the infirmary multiple times after getting beaten up, has been trained in the best hand-to-hand combat maneuvers for both single-and multiple-target attacks...) whose leg muscles have developed to the point that she can no longer get her pants on. I have no problem with her developing these skills and attributes--my problem is that there is no way that can all have possibly occurred in just a week and a half.
The other thing that pulled me out of the story near the end was the way Tris's parents were so neatly gotten out of the way. It sounds horrible to put it like that, but after both of them die horribly trying to protect her, that's the way it seems: that the parents would have been an inconvenience as the series went on, so it was time to let them die heroically and be remembered fondly.
Especially after Tris's mom died, I was very surprised that she let her untrained father accompany her up to the control room at the end and chose to keep her brother safe. Why not leave them both? Why not make ANY other decision than putting your last living parent in danger?
Those things are just niggles, really, and I absolutely LOVED the rest of the book. I already bought the second and can't wait to get started!