Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Divergent

Veronica Roth
HarperCollins Childrens Books
In a future-world Chicago, the city is closed off from the rest of the world and divided into five factions, each one honoring the quality they feel is the best way to live. Beatrice (Tris) Prior was born into Abegnation (the selfless), but at 16, after taking the aptitude test, she must choose for herself which faction to live by. Choosing anything other than Abegnation will mean leaving her family forever, but after years of trying she still isn't as selfless as she should be. So she chooses Dauntless (the brave), a faction that has always fascinated her, and soon realizes that life as a Dauntless is more difficult than she expected. She first has to survive initiation, a feat in itself, and survive well enough to avoid being cut from Dauntless and living among the factionless - society's outcasts.

I'm not usually very particular when it comes to world-building, but the society in Divergent didn't work for me. While I loved the idea of the different factions (Abegnation = selfless; Amity = peace; Erudite = intelligence/knowledge; Dauntless = bravery; Candor = honesty) I found it difficult to believe that so much of the population was easily sorted into one particular faction or that it would be so easy to be defined solely by one quality. This world was extreme; there was no balance. Being brave doesn't mean you can't also be honest, selfless, intelligent, or even peaceful. These qualities are not at odds with each other yet here, they are. When Tris' aptitude tests come back inconclusive and she's labeled "divergent" (meaning she fits into more than one faction), I was amazed that being Divergent was so rare. It was hard for me to get past the extreme views put forth by the characters of Divergent.

Tris, who has been raised in the selfless faction of Abegnation, chooses to be brave and leave her family. She says it's because she's never been selfless enough for Abegnation, and this is true: she's not selfless. In fact, at times I found it startling how selfish Tris was, especially during her initiation into the new faction. Dauntless is a faction that appreciates an extreme, often dangerously stupid sort of bravery. There are no rails on hallways towering high above the ground and the initiates must fight each other until one is unconscious and one is the victor. It felt senseless, like violence for the sake of violence, and Tris slipped into the role of cruel Dauntless initiate a bit too easily. While I liked many of her new friends (especially Christina, who came from the faction of Candor - honesty), Tris herself was difficult for me to root for and I suspect this may have been partly because I find it so difficult to relate to her. The selfless faction might not be the first I would choose, but the faction that leaps onto and off of moving trains would definitely be last on my list. However, as the book goes on, Tris grows as a character. In an ironic twist, choosing to be brave ultimately teaches her how to be selfless and by the end I could easily see why so many readers love her.

The story of Divergent hinges on the different factions, however the majority of the book is taken up by Dauntless initiation -- it's exciting, but I often wondered what it was building to and since I didn't particularly care for Tris, it was difficult to stay engaged in the book. The real story doesn't take off until the last 80 or so pages (the last fifth of the book). This is a lot of build up, yes, but for many readers it will be worth it not only because those last 80 pages are so intense, but also because the build up is also so full of action and adventure. For me though, it ultimately fell flat. It took too long for me to really care for Tris and even when I did I wasn't sure I liked her. The romance with Four wasn't as captivating as I wanted it to be and though there were some seriously great moments with Tris' friends, it wasn't enough. I wanted more from this book - or maybe just different - than what I got. I wanted to really understand why everyone in this world finds it so easy to take on one personality trait above all others and why Divergence was so rare. I wanted to be 100% behind Tris, but I never truly agreed with the choices she made. I wanted to connect with this book, but I couldn't. As much as I love the idea of the factions, the story itself wasn't nearly as captivating as the idea of it.


  1. Finally! Someone who wasn't blown away by this book! All those pages and pages of pointless filler for an unrealistic action scene at the end...No thanks!

  2. Jenny
    I'm a little surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response to this one, but others must be seeing something I'm not.

  3. I LOVED this, but I do understand where your criticism comes from. It is always interesting to see a different opinion even when I don't agree. Hopefully the next dystopia lives up to your expectations :)

  4. Zoë
    I think my next dystopian read is probably going to be Possession and I'm really hoping I like it. I've read the first few pages and really loved them.

  5. I can also see where your criticism comes from, but if you read Allegiant it might change your mind. Allegiant will explain everything to you. I personally love this series....

  6. I can also see where your criticism comes from, but if you read Allegiant it might change your mind. Allegiant explains everything. I personally, am a big fan of this series.