Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Date Published: 2011
Ranking: 2 stars out of 5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):
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.

Why I read it: I read this book because I’ve heard a lot of students raving about it, and wanted to be able to discuss it with them/ incorporate it into lessons to raise participation levels in the classroom. Apparently I forget my tendency to dislike books pushed upon people at school (unless, of course, I am doing the pushing. Then I am just fine with it!)

My thoughts:

I was decidedly underwhelmed by this one. It had plenty of good ideas, but far too much inconsistency and silliness for me to properly enjoy it. 

The book is set in an isolated city (apparently Chicago) where society is divided into 5 cult-like factions. Military members of the Dauntless guard the outskirts; the only people allowed out are the Amity, who farm the surrounding environs. In any case, people seem remarkably incurious about the wider world. What’s important is your place in society, determined by your faction – so naturally this critical decision is decided on your 16th birthday, and once made can never be changed. Riiiight.

I quite liked the idea of the different factions, although they frequently verged into the unbelievable. Each is described as having their own traditions, style of dress, and possible career paths. For example, the Abnegation never celebrate birthdays, the Candor dress only in black and white (because ‘that’s how they see the world’) and the Erudite provide the scholars & scientists of society. However, this is taken to ridiculous extremes – especially with the Dauntless, whose defining characteristics include dressing entirely in black, having a love affair with piercings and tattoos, and jumping off buildings wherever possible. Roth occasionally lampshades the Dauntless’ confusing style – they’re meant to be military, so why, exactly, are they covered in impractical piercings? And are you seriously telling me that one fifth of society are wandering around looking like punks? – but for the most part she treats it as standard. Also, it frequently seems like the entire Dauntless unit is run by teenagers. There are brief mentions of adults, but they rarely feature in the novel. Maybe they killed off all the elderly because their tattoos were sagging. 

Tris was the main character of this novel. A teenager on the cusp of choosing her future, she’s daring and reckless (and apparently intelligent & selfless, although I never saw much evidence of that. In fact, her actions in this book are frequently baffling). I really liked her friendship with fellow-initiate Christina; beyond that, there’s not that much I want to say about her. Most of the book follows Tris’ struggle to be accepted by her faction, and I enjoyed those parts. Again, there are elements of silliness (I’m sorry, but you don’t become a master marksman in a week) but on the whole, it’s pretty fun.

One last thing I want to talk about is the entire concept of the novel – that a rare few individuals come up divergent, meaning they are equally suited for multiple factions, rather than just one – and the idea that this is somehow a dangerous and subversive act. The testing process is carried out with simulations that are supposed to let teenagers know what faction suits them best. However, choosing a faction is ultimately up to the individual. People can remain in their home faction, or not; making decisions contrary to their (secret) test results is perfectly acceptable. So I don’t see why being divergent is such a problem. Yes, it seems to give you some control over simulations (for reasons that make no sense, but whatever). But simulations are rarely, if ever, used in everyday society. So that shouldn’t matter either.

There are a couple of other things that bugged me about this novel, but I don’t want to complain too much. Yes, it had serious flaws… but I still managed to finish it, so clearly it wasn’t all bad. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but rabid fans of YA dystopias though. 


  1. I blasted this one too, and I like it even less as time goes one. It was so mind blowingly silly, and it comes down to exactly what you pointed out. The entire premise of the big bad stand off shouldn't happen because there is personal choice in the choosing process, proving that the factions are not hard wired into the brain.

    Gah, so dumb.

    1. Yeah, the more you think about it the less sense it makes. I'm glad you didn't like it either though - before now, I have literally heard nothing but good things about this book.

  2. I fell into the hype machine trap for this one too. Probably the last book I would ever pick up just because other people are talking about it, that's how badly it burned me. What bugged me was how absurd the whole idea was, and how the people's behaviors felt like it was written through a child's view of the world. People in Erudite wear glasses because it makes them look smarter? Jump out of a train to prove you are brave and therefore worthy for the Dauntless? And these hooligans are supposed to be the security force. It's like, no thanks, I don't think I'll leave my peace and safety in the hands of daredevils.

    I managed finished the whole trilogy though. I gave the second book a chance to see if I'd like it better (I didn't) but at that point I discovered it was just going to be three books and so I might as well just finish it up. To its credit, the third book was probably the best out of all of them.

    I'm actually quite curious to see the movie...it makes the story look 10 times better.


    1. I feel like some books were really designed to be movies. Maybe this was one of them. I dunno. It was all so silly. (I must keep my allegiances secret or I might die! But wait. I also want to tattoo them on myself where anyone could see them...)

      Impressed that you managed to finish the series though! I am a bit curious about the world outside Chicago, but I think I'll just wikipedia it.

  3. My congratulations on finishing the book despite your misgivings: I could not find that much strength in me... Probably I'm way too old for the target range, or I can't silence my inner nitpicker, who knows?
    But it was refreshing to find in your review the same kind of dissatisfaction I encountered - with the huge acclaim these books (and now the movie) are receiving, I was wondering what was wrong with me!

    Oh and... "sagging tattoos"? I'm still laughing my head off! ((applause))

    1. Yeah. I don't like criticising super popular books - I mean, it's great that other people are reading and enjoying them, and I don't want to judge (too much, anyway!). But I agree. Totally mystified by the acclaim this book is getting. But I don't think it is purely an age-range thing - yes it's YA, but lots of YA is decent.

      Your inner nitpicker has good taste :)

  4. I wondered also about why being a Divergent person was a threat to society. In the end, I came to think that it was not really because it gives control over the simulation, but more because you are less predictable as an individual. The whole society in Divergent relies on people's need to belong to a group. When they identify to one of them, they just follow the same pattern (for instance, all Dauntless get tatoos). I think the problem with the divergents is that they are more open-minded, supposedly, because their profile is not that clear. They have skills and sensibility from several faction "archetypes". Being more open (or less likely to blindly identify to their faction), they might question the faction model in society.
    So basically, I thought divergents were a problem because they were potential dissidents. They are less likely to fit into the mold, so they will ask unwanted questions (and I assumed it was a problem because I thought their society was far from a democracy, but more a society ruled by the faction leaders but I actually don't know...).
    I might be entirely wrong about all this :D Just giving my interpretation of it :)

    1. You're probably right (unless there is some odd historical reason that made the elders wary of divergent folk?). But it isn't made that clear in the books, which is curious considering how important being divergent is meant to be.