If I had a list of movies that I thought were better than the books they were based on, it would say, “Lord of the Rings” and not much else.

Until now.

This weekend, a group of friends and I saw Divergent, which is based on Veronica Roth’s dystopian, YA novel by the same name. The story, set in a futuristic Chicago, where society is divided into five factions, is a New York Times bestseller–why, I haven’t yet figured out.

But artistically speaking, with all critiquing aside, while the book never gripped me (getting under my skin doesn’t count), it did serve to help the viewing of the movie, oddly enough. Unlike some films based on books, where knowledge of the plot ruins the tension the screenwriters try so hard to keep (especially by throwing in extra elements and thereby jolting readers off course), Divergent stayed close enough to the book to keep readers comfortable, while adding extra elements that surprised without frustrating us. For example, at the climax, I was surprised at least twice and wondered, “Why didn’t the author think of that?”

No story will ever appear on screen the way it did in a reader’s mind, but for me the Divergent movie came alive where the book only appeared on page. It’s encouraging to see an art form adapted and yet improved. Hats off to the creators for “diverging” without ruining anything.

Lord of the Rings, be assured you are still top of the list. If more screenwriters and directors used their skills to portray books fairly and respectfully, you’d have a lot more company.

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