Divergent, by Veronica Roth

>> Friday, December 07, 2012

TITLE: Divergent
AUTHOR: Veronica Roth

PAGES: 576
PUBLISHER: Katherine Tegen Books

SETTING: Future version of Chicago
SERIES: Starts a series

She turns to the future in a world that’s falling apart.

For sixteen-year-old Tris, the world changes in a heartbeat when she is forced to make a terrible choice. Turning her back on her family, Tris ventures out, alone, determined to find out where she truly belongs.

Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead….

A debut novel that will leave you breathless.
Divergent is set in a world where the entire population is divided into factions, originally based on what different groups thought was the cause of war and strife. People who thought ignorance was the problem are part of the Erudite faction, those who thought it was cowardice make up Dauntless, and so on. Our heroine, Beatrice, grew up in Abnegation, made up of people who think selfishness is the worst possible thing, and devote their life to being completely selfless.

Of course, growing up in a particular faction does not mean it's necessarily the best one for a particular child. That is the case with Beatrice, who often chafes under the requirement to always think of others first and never want anything for herself. At 16, all kids undergo a sort of personality testing, which tells them what faction they're best suited for. They can then choose what to do. Most stay in the faction they were brought up in, but some do change.

Beatrice's testing turns out not to be particularly helpful. The results are inconclusive. She's something known as Divergent, and she's warned not to tell anyone about it, as it's really dangerous. She has to rely just on herself to make her choice, and it's a surprising one.

The book follows her as she, now calling herself Tris, undergoes the brutal tests (both physical and mental) required before she can be initiated and a real member of her new faction. Because there are fewer spots than candidates, and if she fails, then she'll become factionless, a fate worse than death as far as she's concerned.

Let's get this out of the way: the world Roth creates makes absolutely no sense. It's completely preposterous. It's not believable and simplistic beyond absurdity, so I couldn't buy that anyone would think this was a good idea, and that a whole society would go along with this, let alone survive for even a few decades. If you are going to enjoy this book, even a little bit, you just need to let this go and simply suspend disbelief. Fortunately, I was able to do this, but it was a close thing.

Once I did that, I was able to just take the story narrated with that world as its background and appreciate it for what it was. Or not appreciate it, in sections, because although I found the book intensely gripping and compelling, and it kept me listening intently, it wasn't without flaws.

Tris' character has in it both the good and the bad about the book. She's actually interesting, mainly because although I was happy to root for her, she's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, she can be majorly bitchy and even quite mean sometimes. She's also got a ruthless side. If being safe requires her to manipulate her closest friends in the process, then she'll do it. Also, although there is an element of her being naturally better than the others at stuff, it's because of her dangerous divergence, whatever that means, so it's actually risky for her to be better.

Something else I thought was good was that Roth keeps the tension ratcheted up by making it very clear that bad things really can happen to her. They can happen to anyone. Roth doesn't pull her punches. It's violent world, and that has consequences, even on likeable characters. But at the same time, it never felt like she was killing or hurting particular characters just to shock her readers, or to jerk us around. It always felt like it was the logical thing, exactly what the narrative required.

Alas, in some cases, what the narrative required was that Tris be incredibly dense and not think logically. She's supposed to be smart, but when the plot requires it, she simply won't notice really obvious stuff right in front of her eyes, and will take silly risks for no reason. It's not a minor issue, it really drives whole sections of the book, and it annoyed me. Add to that villains who are just as preposterous as the worldbuilding, and it's a very flawed, if weirdly enjoyable book.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: This was an audiobook, read by Emma Galvin. It was ok. Nothing particularly great, but nothing particularly annoying, either.


Darlynne,  8 December 2012 at 17:04  

Divergent was one of my favorite reads and I blame that on the location. As a Chicago native, I was already predisposed to like it. Your criticisms, however, are certainly valid; I just let them go.

Specifically, the factions worked for me because, when the world as we know it ends, chaos will ensue and I have no problem seeing people splinter into groups. I suppose the unbelievable aspect--without murderous suppression--is that there were only four. I don't recall if we hear much about what came before the orderly world Roth introduces us to.

Tris's behavior was frequently disturbing and contradictory, but that too made sense in the context of her own personal revolt. I don't expect teenagers to think logically, not even in RL, and her mistakes and lack of understanding fit, however frustrated by them I was as a reader.

I really enjoyed Divergent and grabbed the sequel as soon as it came out. As unbelievable as the premise may be, I was more than willing to believe. Go figure.

Rosario 9 December 2012 at 07:57  

See, I didn't feel Tris' behaviour and mistakes arose from her personality and what we knew about her. That was the problem. I'm fine with characters who make mistakes and make the wrong decisions, or think illogically when it feels natural that they would. With Tris, I felt that many of her oblivious moments were simply plot-driven, Roth wanting the story to go in a particular direction and needing her to be oblivious for it to work.

Glad you liked it better than I did, anyway! I might actually read the sequel at some point. I was mostly able to suspend disbelief in the premise, so that shouldn't be an issue.

Janine Ballard 11 December 2012 at 01:41  

I thought the first half of Divergent was amazing, the third quarter still very good and the last quarter not as good -- but I still gave it a B+ overall.

Insurgent though, sigh. If you find Tris's choices illogical in Divergent.... I thought Insurgent was full of plot holes, contrivances, and also, continuity errors. I believe I gave it a C-.

It was one of the most disappointing books I read in 2012 because, despite the weaker last quarter of Divergent, I had high hopes for it.

Rosario 12 December 2012 at 06:40  

Janine: That sounds about right in relative terms, although I obviously generally enjoyed it less. Uh-oh, not great about Insurgent! Thanks for the warning!

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