Divergent by Veronica Roth
Released: May 2011
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Age Group: Young Adult
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
For the most part, there are more important things to me than world building. I’d rather get trapped in a character’s mind or a character’s conflict than in their world. I think this is why I struggled with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sometimes there is a perfect balance of world building, adventure, and character development like in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
And then there is Divergent by Veronica Roth, a reading experience for which I struggle to find adequate words to describe it. The world in Divergent is so full of holes and contradictions that it was distracting.
Divergent takes place in Chicago in the future. Readers know this because famous landmarks are name dropped on occasion—the Navy Pier, Lake Michigan, the Hancock Building. If you’re not familiar with Chicago, you’re screwed. Roth doesn’t make it a point to paint you a cityscape. Nothing about the scents and sounds and hustle n’ bustle is mentioned. Even the lack of the aforementioned is not described. I had no concept of how Chicago may have changed due to the dystopian society, and I had no idea how the people actually interacted with the city. It became like a backdrop in a middle school play—poorly painted and only there so the characters can walk in and out of door frames. Chicago was so vague that I didn’t even realize that the train the Dauntless were jumping from was the famed L-Train; I thought they were just your run-of-the-mill freighters that roar through the rest of the Midwest. (This explains why I kept wonder what the big deal was because gunslingers and hobos have been jumping in and out of freight cars since they first invented the dang steam engine).
Then there is the matter of the society that induced MASSIVE amounts of eye rolling.
It’s mentioned in passing that the people grew dissatisfied with war and greed, so they decided to do something about it. This is hardly the cataclysmic event that leads to dystopian societies, but whatever. Chicago in the future is divided into factions based on personality traits: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (…niceness?), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), and Dauntless (daring). It’s believed that nurturing one of these traits can eliminate all of the injustices in the world. For example, the Abnegation raised their children to be selfless because they thought greed was the downfall of the world. Uh, what? Further, there is this type of person considered Divergent, which means they embody multiple personality traits; it’s dangerous to be Divergent. But…human nature will inevitably kick in, and so most of the people will at some point value multiple and perhaps contradicting traits. It’s evident when the kids choose their factions when they’re 16. One may have been nurtured to be selfless, but desire for knowledge may truly be in their heart, so they abandon their old faction for a new one. Based on this pretty much everyone would be in some sense Divergent.
Also, I should mention that this is all disregarding the Factionless who are such because they chose to or they failed their initiation. Everyone pretty much views them as the scum of the earth. I don’t know why they haven’t started a rebellion yet. Those factions are so bourgeois!
I read somewhere that if you can get past the poor world building, Divergent is a really fun novel. I’m not so sure I agree with that statement. Most of Divergent takes place during the Dauntless initiation. It was like…oh God, 400 pages of boot camp and daredevil stunts. During initiation, potential Dauntless candidates learn how to shoot guns, throw knives, and beat the ever-living stuffing out of each other. Because that’s what real daring people do. Every day is Fight Club when you’re brave. I felt like there was an extreme lack of story line during initiation.
The violence in this book made me uncomfortable. Bloody noses and broken bodies don’t make me squeamish, but lack of remorse surrounding those things does. The Dauntless candidates are cold. The main character, Tris, is cold. And they weren’t even raised or brainwashed to think this way. Tris’s passive past and aggressive present is alarming, and it’s not even because she’s a Divergent. The rest of the other candidates from Candor and Erudite are equally, if not more aggressive. Drawing blood is bravery. Almost killing your friends is bravery. Being able to stand in front of a target while someone throws knives at you is bravery. Really? It’s not like they’re even training to butt-kick enemies; they’re just beating the crap out of each other. Why? What’s the point?
The other half of the story revolved around the “shocking” appearance of the Dauntless. They had tattoos and facial piercings and wore leather jackets. I think the last time this kind of attire was considered shocking was…when? The 1980s? Roth successfully described half of my friends.
More annoying than the world were the characters because they’re all flat and symbolic of their initial faction. You know what they say—once a Candor, always a Candor. (They don’t really say that, I just made it up). Oh, but really they’re Dauntless. You can tell from their left hooks.
And then there is Tris, who is a walking contradiction—and not because she’s Divergent. One minute she’s all gung-ho about beating someone to near death and ziplining off the Hancock Building because that’s what daring people do. The next, she thinks her bravery actually lies in her Abnegation values, which I think is a valid conclusion. Then she back tracks during the next chapter when she’s channeling Chuck Norris and repeating her mantra—I am brave. I am Dauntless. My biggest pet peeve
is a nitpicky one that revolves around her motives. During the last 40 pages, something interesting actually happens. And during these 40 pages, Tris comes face-to-face with several enemies. Her new-found Dauntless-ness means she should be able to kill them on the spot, but her Abnegation side keeps surfacing. Instead she decides to disable them by shooting out their knee caps. But then, when she’s face-to-face with a friend, she lodges a bullet between his eyes and doesn’t think twice about it. That’s what being Dauntless is all about afterall. But, wait…why couldn’t she just disable this person like she did to all of her enemies? But, it’s okay! Because this will provide conflict for future novels, I’m sure. Tris will have to deal with the regret of taking her friend’s life over her enemies’. LOL Tris, you don’t make any sense.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on Four, Tris’s love interest. He has about as much personality as Molly Ringwald’s character’s love interesting in Pretty in Pink. He treats Tris like garbage in front of the faction because the two have to keep up their appearances. That’s supposed to justify things? How is this not the same, problematic relationship we see time and time again in young adult novels these days?
I didn’t like this novel, and I do not understand the hype surrounding it. Goodread choice of the year…really? I won’t be continuing this series. I don’t even want to hit of wikipedia to find out what happens next.
Okay, the cover is pretty freaking neat. I love the symbol and the bold colors. This would definitely catch my eye from the shelves.
Read at your own risk. If you like your action with a side of action, have at it. But, I don’t really feel like I can recommend this book because I didn’t find anything redeeming about it. But, there are loooooads of people who LOVE Divergent. Here is a raving, five-star review. Heck, here is a well-balanced 3-star review.