Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent--Veronica Roth
April 2011 by Katherine Tegan Books
496 pages--Goodreads

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, 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 to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating 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 a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Divergent is one of those books that is action-packed and dramatic for the purpose of being action packed and dramatic.  It all felt very empty.  And SO IRRATIONAL.  Garg!  The world building is weak.  The characters are flat and do irrational, unexplained things.  They miss glaringly obvious plot "twists".  And yet this book has wormed its way into so many people's 5-star list.

First, the world building:  so many holes.  I get that Roth has this really cool premise that she wants to try out, but the cardinal rule of dystopias is that they are supposed to be extensions of current society.  They're supposed to explore the problems in our society.  That means your dystopian world has to be at least semi-plausible; we have to believe that we could get there from here.  But we get almost no explanation on how this post-civilization Chicago works.  What made human society fall apart?  War?  Internal conflict?  Tumblr?  I seriously don't see the entire country breaking up because of personality traits.  And what happened to the rest of the world?  For that matter, what even happened to the rest of the country?  What about people who lived in rural areas?  What exists outside Chicago's boundaries?  And while we're at it, how is everyone surviving in this city?  Where is the food coming from? Where are the farmers?  Where are the cows supplying hamburger meat?

Even the little world building we get doesn't make sense.  Everything about Dauntless is messed up.  They're supposed to be protecting the city, but no one patrols or guards or protects.  The Dauntless just jump off buildings, shoot muffins off people's heads, and perform other acts of recklessness chalked up as bravery.  And what the crap is up with Peter?  I get that Roth is going for the whole "corruption within the factions" thing, but, just what?  Stabbing your competition in the eye or tossing them over a cliff is a supreme act of cowardice, and he should have been banished.  You can't trust someone who will eye stab you.  It takes much more courage to admit to weaknesses than to pretend you don't have any, but the Dauntless are too focused on visible "bravery" and physical domination.

And why did all the transfers pick Dauntless in the first place.  We get Tris's reasoning and a bit of Al's, but why on earth did Will and Christina transfer?  This is never explained.  They're just there because Tris needs a group to train with.  Overall, the characters in this novel are not explored or fleshed out; they're just flat.  Tris, in particular makes no sense.  She's illogical.  Or stupid.  Allow me to demonstrate.  Warning:  spoilers.

  • Hmm, Erudite wants to start a rebellion, but they need a way to control the Dauntless.  They also have simulation serums that alter what the brain perceives.   Oh, look.  A new serum from Erudite.  Don't worry; it's just a tracking serum that we're injecting ALL the Dauntless with.  It couldn't possibly be a very convenient mind control serum.
  • I need to destroy the computer controlling the dauntless-wide simulation.  I could shoot the computer that's controlling the simulation.  No, I'll instead hand the gun to the person who's trying to kill me.  Don't worry, the power of love will save me.
  • One of my brainwashed friends is trying to kill me.  I could disable him by shooting him in the arm or leg.  Nah, I think I'll shoot him in the head.

There is a lot, a lot of violence.  If you don't like action flicks with guns and punching, Divergent is not your book.  It certainly wasn't mine.  But action lovers who don't care much about character development or plot progression will probably like it.  It's kind of like The Maze Runner and summer blockbusters in that way.

I could not take the romance seriously.  And that's all I have to say about that, so I'll rant about other things instead.  Let's just conflate depression and cowardice, why don't we?  As if we don't have enough problems in this country with how we handle mental illness.  And while we're at it, let's just promote the idea that the best thing to do after being sexually assaulted is to not report it.  Because reporting=cowardice apparently.  Garg. 

By the end of the book I got at least a bit invested in what would happen to some of the characters (Uriah, Will Christiana,  all deserved larger parts).  I was slightly curious about the plot, but it had ceased to make sense so I didn't care much.  Divergent wasn't awful, but I'm not invested in the rest of the series.  

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