Despite the page count, this was a quick read. The present-tense of course lent itself to immediacy, so the pacing clipped along at a steady rate even through more mundane scenes. The prose was effective, clean, and simplistic. So much so, this reader often had the sense that the story might be geared for more of a younger YA to middle-grade range. But the level of brutality and sensuality was beyond that of what most would recommend for MG.
I was initially encouraged by the personality/faction-based society laid out by Roth: Abnegation, Amity, Erudite, Candor, and Dauntless. Break out a thesaurus and you'll have a clear enough idea about the identity characteristics and ideals of each. (And just in case you get confused, there's a handy glossary and manifesto listing in the back of the book to help you out.) Readers receive the vague sense that the previous world was destroyed by “war” and that a number of the post-war factions are tense with each other. The story takes place in some deteriorated version of Chicago, and secrets are the name of the game. So many secrets...it sometimes feels as though they impede the worldbuilding.
Beatrice (Tris) rapidly transitioned from oppressed, inexperienced little girl to confident bad@ass. A little too rapidly for this reader to suspend disbelief. While Tris' thoughts were logical and easy to follow, I maintained only a tenuous connection to her. In talking to more people who've read the book, I have to conclude that this is more of a personality thing. (I have developed the theory that she particularly appeals to smaller females who've struggled with a sense of impotency, repression, and helplessness. As a more physically powerful and innately aggressive sort, I had more trouble relating to her than I did with, say, Katniss Everdeen.) I also didn't really note the passive offering of useful survivalist information that might lend such a story more weight and lasting value. Add to this the semi two-dimensional side characters/villains and limited depth to Tris' family members...and the result is the character motives and emotional relatability being a bit less pronounced than other comparable books of this genre.
The major flip side to this was Tobias. We weren't in his POV, but I understood him. He wasn't sweet, smooth, or particularly gentle, but he wasn't bad-boy typical, either.
While I appreciate the mainstream author's unorthodox bravery in allowing her heroine to have come from a theistic background of some unspecified sort—and to allow occasional mention of God as part of her thought process—it seemed more like an afterthought toward the end than a cohesive integration. (Not that life-or-death situations don't tend to bring up afterthoughts like that. So, in one sense it did add to the realism.)