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
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, too. 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:
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????
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.
Review continued at You're Killing.Us