083 – Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent cover 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, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves…or it might destroy her.
I kinda feel like I should have liked this book more? I mean, it avoids doing a lot of things I dislike in YA genre romance, it includes a few things I theoretically like, and the writing was actually better than average for YA. Yet rather than making an enthusiastic fan of me, all of that stuff just…helped it break even. I’m really just sort of ambivalent about Divergent, and I’m still trying to suss out exactly why.

So whoo, let’s have a list. A VERY SPOILERY LIST.

Pros:

Here watch me try and be positive for once

  • A Flawed MC
  • So I have my issues with Tris not really speaking to me personally as an interesting character, but I can appreciate that she was a character with actual flaws and defects and deviant pleasures that a lot of female characters aren’t allowed to have. I appreciated that she wasn’t the best at everything, that Roth wasn’t afraid to let her suffer and fail, and that she had moments of harshness and vindictive glee that most proper, caring YA heroines wouldn’t think of showing.

  • No Love Triangle
  • There was no love triangle in this installment. Huzzah. That may change as the series goes on, I don’t know, but I do appreciate the restraint in not shoehorning a second viable romantic interest in there.

  • The Romance Was Relatively Up Front
  • No four hundred pages of milling and doubt, But does he like me? Sure, he follows me around and saved me from rampaging wildebeests and then held me sexily against him, but does that mean he likes me?. It’s still there, sure, but it’s not drawn out neeeeeeeeearly as much as it could be. Much to I’m sure everyone’s surprise, there does come a point at which Tris accepts that yes, a dude kissing and stroking you and holding your hand does mean that he is romantically interested. She even, gasp!, initiates some of the intimacy and relationship development between them. Thumbs up.

  • Lady Friends
  • Tris had like three, maybe four, and her mother played a good-sized role. Granted, none of them were super-developed, but hey! They were there. This is a selling point. Man this is sad.

  • Sacrifice & Suffering
  • Roth isn’t afraid to have her characters go through the ringer. Tris and several other characters get the crap beaten out of them, characters get brainwashed, maimed, injured, they even get killed, or kill other people – cartoonish as this future world may be, you can’t say there isn’t consequence or loss.

  • Tough Choices
  • They are there. Tris has to make them.

  • It was Compelling
  • Even when I was rolling my eyes at some of the dumbshit happening on screen, it was never a chore to read, and I always wanted to pick it back up. There was some nice turn of phrase, some interesting ideas, and some decent characterization.
So it’s not like it’s a total festering crap pile, there are good things. But they have to make up for:

Cons

Or basically just, “man this is stupid.

  • The World
  • I know it’s been harped on to death, so I’ll try not to go on about it for too long, but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST this world is stupid. Dividing into weird values-based factions was somehow seen as a solution to war??? Um how about no? Just aside from it being a dumb motherfucking idea, how would anyone come to this conclusion? How would reasoning fucking adults get together and decide, “Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Separating ourselves into themed societies. Nah really man, it’s great, we can pick a team name out of the thesaurus, design our own logo, make official seals, demand people be loyal to us over friends and family, pick a group color, it’ll be so cool! Dibs on “The Fire Ponies”!”

    The answer is that they didn’t, and that is because only small, excitable children would think that this is a reasonable way to run a society, and even then only for like half an hour, until naptime, and then the whole thing collapses.

    The whole idea is just so dumb, and asks for an excessive amount of my already limited suspension of disbelief. I mean, I’m willing to give some leeway when you’re talking satire or allegory or metaphor, and you’re trying to make a point, but if there’s a bigger point, I’m just not seeing it.

    I guess it’s my expectations getting in the way – I expected Divergent‘s weird social system to be have a point, to be a critique of some sort, but if the conflict is about proving that “Hey, people can be “kind AND brave AND honest AND selfless AND smart”, I already know that. We all know. Because, we, too, are (hopefully) multi-faceted human beings. All you’re proving is that somehow, this society has managed to exist for years without accounting for basic human nature. It’s not a feature, it’s a bug.

    Basically, if there’s not some sort of social criticism at work here, I have to be able to believe that Divergent World could conceivably exist, and I don’t. And seeing as how that is basically the entire premise, it seriously undermines my ability to enjoy the ride.

    Of course, it doesn’t help that…

  • The Dauntless are Dumb
  • I mean yeah the concept of the Factions is dumb, but the Factions themselves are infuriatingly stupid too, especially the Dauntless. For starts, I don’t really see how Courage is supposed to prevent war? I mean yeah I guess the core philosophy of “standing up for the little guy” is a good one, but you’d think that standing up for people causes more conflict than it prevents. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context we’re given, as separating into these six five groups was how humanity supposedly ended war.

    The Dauntless being physically trained as soldiers makes even LESS sense, since I THOUGHT THE WHOLE IDEA WAS TO GET RID OF WAR, so WHY ARE YOU GUYS TRAINING AS SOLDIERS? WHAT ARE SOLDIERS USED FOR IF NOT CONFLICT UGH THIS WHOLE FACTION IS A FUCKING CONFUSING MESS OF PHILOSOPHICAL IDEALS.

    If their existence or activities were at least geared towards the idea of defending the defenseless – and there are defenseless and downtrodden in this world, kthnx – I could accept the philosophical weirdness because at least they were following through in some sort of vaguely helpful manner, but instead the Dauntless just seem to be a faction of Jackass rejects and Darwin Award candidates who get off on giving common sense the finger, and yet inexplicably haven’t gone the way of the fucking Dodo yet.

    I realize that the divergence (hur hur) from their ideals is at least partially a plot point, but ultimately the whole concept and execution of the group just comes off like they wanted to have a “cool, sexy faction” that you should be SUPER EXCITED about Tris electing to join, whether it makes sense within the world or not. Also, I mean, it’s not a dystopian trilogy without a revolution, right? And if we’re going to have a revolution, there has to be someone to be threatened by. Definitely not those gross, nasty scholars, amirite?

  • Erudites are Godless, Science-loving Heathens (Which is Apparently a Bad Thing)
  • So, obviously a lot of the bias against the Erudites (the scholarly, academic faction) in the book comes from Tris, and Tris being raised among the Abnegation, who are apparently the most religious of the Factions and HOLY SHIT MOST OF THE DIVERGENT COME FROM ABNEGATION. JESUS FREES YOU FROM THE LITERAL MIND CONTROL OF THE HORRIBLE SCIENCE WIELDED BY THE SCIENCE ELITE OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE????

    mindblown gif
    Ahem. Er, anyway, sure, Tris being biased against Erudite makes sense, it’s true to her character, and it’s cast as unreliable, so you know, whatever. Except THEN we get to the end, in which we learn that the Evil Mastermind behind the sudden downpour o’conflict is the leader of the Erudite faction, who has brainwashed the Dauntless with science so that she can mind control them into eliminating Abnegation.

    Wait what.

    She keeps smiling and stands smoothly. She wears a blue dress that hugs her body from shoulder to knee, revealing a layer of pudge around her middle.

    lightbulb_ouran1

    She smirks at me. “I have had a question since I began the Dauntless project, and it is this.” She sidesteps her desk, skimming the surface with her finger. “Why are most of the Divergent weak-willed, God-fearing nobodies from Abnegation, of all factions?”

    lightbulb_ouran

    “Weak-willed,” Tobias scoffs. “It requires a strong will to manipulate a simulation, last time I checked. Weak-willed is mind-controlling an army because it’s too hard for you to train one yourself.”

    lightbulb_ouran2

    “I am not a fool,” says Jeanine. “A faction of intellectuals is no army. We are tired of being dominated by a bunch of self-righteous idiots who reject wealth and advancement, but we couldn’t do this on our own. And your Dauntless leaders were all too happy to oblige me if I guaranteed them a place in our new, improved government.”

    lightbulb_ouran3

    “Currently, the factionless are a drain on our resources,” Jeanine replies. “As is Abnegation. I am sure that once the remains of your old faction are absorbed into the Dauntless army, Candor will cooperate and we will finally be able to get on with things.”

    lightbulb4

    She presses her palms together. I see no vicious glee in her eyes, and not a hint of the sadism I expect. She is more machine than maniac. She sees problems and forms solutions based on the data she collects. Abnegation stood in the way of her desire for power, so she found a way to eliminate it. She didn’t have an army, so she found one in Dauntless. She knew that she would need to control large groups of people in order to stay secure, so she developed a way to do it with serums and transmitters. Divergence is just another problem for her to solve, and that is what makes her so terrifying – because she is smart enough to solve anything, even the problem of our existence.
    whatgif

    So the head of the fat and lazy Academic faction is an evil unfeeling capitalist who wants to kill the poor people so that the factions can prosper and the only people who can stop her are from the strong-willed Jesus-loving faction, whose free-thinking minds she is trying to crush with her evil unfeeling science brain.

    If there is an allegory here, it is the most confused, kaleidoscope shit I’ve ever come across. But I think we CAN all agree on one thing: science is for assholes.

  • “Technology”
  • I know, I know, it’s the future, and in the future technology has advanced, blah blah, and I was with the book through the hokey Aptitude test and shit, but at a certain point, (right around the time we got to the room that shows you your Deepest, Darkest Fears), my suspension of disbelief crawled out the window. By the time we got to mind-controlling-serum-nanites-or-some-shit, it was about six towns away. This shit was basically plot device magic at that point.

  • The Romance is Boring
  • I just literally do not care about these people as a couple. Or Four in general.

  • The Plot Looked Like This
  • divergent_chart
    Which is generally fine, you know, I like character stories, I like armed fucking rebellions, I might even like character examinations that turn in to surprise rebellions. But Divergent is the first in a trilogy of YA dystopian books with a terrible governmental system, and a Dangerously Different heroine: we KNOW this is going to end up at Rebellion Street, so why fuss around? It took forever to get even an idea of what is presumably the overarcing conflict, and it was less of a “build up” than it was a few “no no don’t worry, there’ll be plot eventually I promise” check-ins. Then in the last fifty pages, BAM, the plot smashes through the wall like a desperate Kool-Aid man whose name we called fucking days ago.

    The two sides weren’t terribly well balanced or interwoven, is what I’m saying.

Basically, I think it comes down to a strange tonal dissonance for me in Divergent’s construction. It’s got this weird, unbelievable, silly-but-extremely-marketable society, with a cartoonish villain and a cartoonish evil plan, meshed with this dark, gritty, violent, character-driven tale, and weird politics that make no sense. I guess I just need something more interesting to tip it one way or the other.

Two ****AND A HALF***** stars

Two Stars
 

5 Responses

  1. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    January 9, 2014 10:26 pm, Reply

    Oooh there’s a lot of “damned with faint praise” there. Such i the sign of depressingly lowered standards!

    ” not like it’s a total festering crap pile” should be printed on the book cover as a recommend. It just should

    With an added note of “Jesus saves you from evil knowledge!”

    And I hate books that pack all of their plot in at the very end of a book. Vampire Academy had a nasty habit of doing that too

    • Cyna Cyna

      January 16, 2014 1:15 am, Reply

      Ahahaha, see, I was trying to be fair, too. Like, I can see why people would enjoy this it just didn’t work for me xD But yeah, lowered standards might have a looooooot to do with that.

      Ugh yeah, deus ex climax. Nooooo thanks.

  2. Cheryl Hopper

    January 19, 2014 12:50 am, Reply

    Spare me from the ‘savd frum evilz of DA HORIBUL SYINCE by Jesus’ bullpucky. *twitchtwitchBOOM* I’m a Christian and…well, it’s a major pet peeve of mine to see Christians cast as close-minded, ignorant folks who recoil from knowledge, especially science, like a vampire from a garlic cross. Those kind of people exist, but they are not representative of Christians as a whole. They’re not representative of all conservative Christians. I’m very well-schooled in the sciences and embrace natural selection. I’m all for a solid education, and so is every other Christian I know. We’d be against mind control and the crap in this book because that’s not the way Jesus rolls. Not even going to get started on the messed up idea that most of the Divergent come from the sect ‘freed’ from the ‘control’ of science (read: education), because the impression I get is that those who come from Abnegation are brainwashed and poorly educated. They’re totally controlled. Extremists are extremists, whatever their ideology. Far left wing and far right wing both use lies, deception, and hate to achieve their purposes, and when you’re identifying bodies in the wreckage afterward, you don’t give a damn how the hatemongers worded the lies they used to justify the attacks; you just want the bombs to stop falling.

  3. Bob

    August 9, 2014 12:48 am, Reply

    i thought this review was spot on. I shared exactly your set of frustrations. Have you read the second one? I would be interested to know if the series gets better now that we’ve hit that uptick at the end of your chart (the actual revolution instead of this training phase stuff).

    • Cyna Cyna

      August 20, 2014 3:32 pm, Reply

      Thanks, Bob. No, I have not read book two yet, but I probably will? Divergent ended in a relatively intriguing place, so I’m also curious to see where it goes. Just dunno when I’ll get around to it xD

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