Fiction: “Divergent” by Veronica Roth


Eagle-eyed viewers of That’s What She Read (or my GoodReads page, I guess) may have noticed that I’ve been reading Divergent since January.  That’s not quite true. I did attempt to read it back in January, but then I ended up going to the library a lot and focused on reading those library books over reading books that I actually owned, so I got to about page 80 and had to put it down and worry about not incurring any overdue fees.  Once I returned Love in the Time of Cholera (and three other books I had borrowed that I didn’t even get to crack open and I had already renewed them twice, and now that my new job [YAY!] is sixty minutes in the other direction from the Portland Public Library, I figured I should just return them all and borrow them from a more local library later), I could go back to the books I had been reading before the Great Library Experiment of 2014 began.

Divergent is the first in another dystopian Young Adult series.  In this universe, humans have been segregated into factions, based on how they interact with other humans: if you value kindness and peace above all else, you would belong to Amity.  If you feel that wealth and self-indulgence lead to wars and other bad things, you’d belong to Abnegation.  Like knowing everything?  You’d belong to Erudite.  Cannot tell a lie?  You’d be in Candor. And if you value courage and bravery, you’d be in the Dauntless faction.

Beatrice Prior grew up in Abnegation, and when the novel starts, she has turned sixteen and it’s time for her initiation test.  (I’d like to remember the name of it, but I’ve been writing this review longhand while on my legally-mandated hour-long lunch breaks [I CAN’T EVEN YOU GUYS – I GET AN ACTUAL LUNCH BREAK! AND PEOPLE FEEL BAD WHEN THEY INTERRUPT IT!], and even when I return home to actually type it up to post it, y’all know I’m still going to be too lazy to look it up, so we’re just gonna not care about actual names, okay?  OKAY.)  She is told that the results of her initiation test classify her as Divergent, which means she doesn’t really fit into a faction, and apparently, it is *~dangerous~* to be labeled as such, but no one really tells her why it’s dangerous, because it’s too dangerous to even talk about? Say whaaaaaat?

So anyway, the sixteen-year-olds go through this Initiation Test thingee, and then they go through a Choosing Ceremony, where they show which faction they are going to go live in by slicing their palm and bleeding on something. I mean, yes, there are specific things on which they bleed, but again — lazy.  For Beatrice, she really has to choose her faction, as Divergent is not a valid option. What I’m unclear on, however, is if the other kids get to choose, or if the results of their Initiation Test Thingee (official technical term) dictate where they’re supposed to end up.  For instance, Beatrice’s brother, Caleb, chooses Erudite in the Choosing Ceremony.  Does that mean that his test told him he should be Erudite?  Or did he just choose to be Erudite because he likes books? Does the Initiation Test Thingee mean anything at all?  (Please don’t tell me if the Initiation Test Thingee means something; y’all know I don’t care that much.)

Beatrice ends up choosing to live as a Dauntless, because she knows she is more comfortable scaring herself shitless by being brave than she is by being self-sacrificing.  There’s a lot of talk in her internal monologues about the difference between being brave and being selfish, and occasionally she comes off as whiny.  But anyway, she travels to the Dauntless Headquarters and meets Four, one of the trainers for the Dauntless initiates, who happens to be a mysterious teenage boy slightly older than her and obviously her intended love interest.

The initiates are divided between those that transferred into Dauntless (i.e., Beatrice) and those that were originally born as Dauntless.  Of the between ten and twenty initiates (I DON’T LOOK THINGS UP ANYMORE), the Dauntless will only take ten. Those that don’t make it are forced to live as factionless, which is essentially homeless.  This creates a horrible amount of competition amongst the initiates – one of the Transfers, Peter, is so mad at coming in second that he actually disfigures one of his fellow initiates to take him out of the running.  (Spoiler alert!: if you don’t like things being stuck in eyes you may want to skip that chapter!)

In the midst of all this mayhem, Beatrice – who renames herself Tris, because why not – comes to realize that she does have innate bravery: she has no fear of heights (which even Four has to an extent), and she strives to be one of the top-ranked transfer initiates, to prove to the Dauntless that those who live and/or grew up in Abnegation have something to offer society. (Oh shit, I should mention: there’s a whole big political unrest thingee going on between Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless, but we don’t really get into it until the last hundred pages, so I’m not going to talk about it here because spoilers.)

Tris’s mother comes to visit her on … well, on Visiting Day, and Tris learns that her mother was Divergent.  Her mother was told to hide, and to her, hiding meant living in Abnegation.  Tris was merely told to be careful, so instead she decided to become one of the Dauntless.  However, Tris realizes she has more in common with her mother than she originally thought, and the scene again brings up the political unrest between the factions without actually telling the reader anything about it.

During this time, Tris also begins to fall for Four (that’s a weird sentence), right on schedule.  He doesn’t show Tris any favoritism or mercy in the training, but he does pick her for his Capture the Flag team, as well as let her inside his Fear Landscape (the final test all Dauntless initiates must go through).  Their relationship manages to be romantic without being too sexual, which I found to be different from other young adult novels I’ve read – or, at least, different from what I’ve heard some other young adult novels are like.  I also appreciated that there was no love triangle, but I’ll get to that more in a second.

In the last hundred pages of the book, shit gets real.  I’m not going to delve into it too deeply here, mainly because unlike Citizen Kane (or Breaking Bad, if you’re Al Roker), I feel that this book is still slightly too new to divulge all the plot points so quickly. And let’s face it: most of the actual “plot” happens in the last hundred pages, and that’s not usually a good sign. Let’s just say that, true to any dystopian young adult novel I’ve read (all three of them), there is political intrigue that is hinted at throughout the first three hundred pages that finally comes to a head, and Tris, Four, and their respective families play an important part in how everything shakes out.  There’s some tragedy, there’s some romance, there’s some hope – it’s all very yada yada yada.

So now that I’m not going to talk bout the plot anymore, how did I like it? Well … I don’t know. Wait, I can’t say that – I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I’m left with too many questions – for instance, the city that the novel takes place in is supposed to be a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Chicago (they reference the Sears Tower). How did Chicago – and, presumably, the rest of the world – end up in this state of affairs?  Do the next two books answer this question? If so, I’ll shut up.  But I want an answer to this more than when I read The Hunger Games, because while Katniss tells us in The Hunger Games that Panem is essentially what was once North America, she doesn’t give us any details that hearken back to our time. Katniss doesn’t refer to New York City, or the Grand Canyon, or any other landmarks that we would be able to place within our knowledge of the world, so to me, Katniss’s story must take place in a future far, far away from where we live now.  But with Tris: once she mentions “Sears Tower,” I immediately flash to the building in the opening sequence of Family Matters, or the moment where Ferris, Sloane and Cameron are leaning their foreheads on the glass and staring at the ant people below their feet on their epic day off.  I have references to that image, and that tells me that it’s possible that Tris’s story could happen tomorrow.

(And before I get back to the meat of this, let me just say that after I post the review of the second book I’ve finished and then finish the book I’m reading now, based on the events of two days ago, I am definitely going to be reading The Pelican Brief and The Handmaid’s Tale next. Because clearly, five out of nine Supreme Court Justices believe that Offred had a pretty good thing going for her, and that just makes me really want to read a book where somebody’s trying to assassinate some Supreme Court justices. Unfortunately, I know I’m going to be disappointed in the outcome, but it will make me feel better while I’m reading them, so there.)

ANYWAY.  (Drink!)  Another question I still don’t know the answer to is: what’s the deal with the Initiation Test Thingee? Because Divergent is written from the first-person perspective of Tris, the only experience we have with the Test is through her. But her experience isn’t the norm, because she classifies as Divergent.  So I still don’t know if they are supposed to take the results of the test as their word of God (or whatever), or if they actually have some free will in the matter and can decide to move to another faction.  But if they have free will, then why go through the test? I DON’T GET IT.

Things I may have liked: I appreciated that there was no live triangle involved between Tris and Four, but that instead their relationship was impacted by Tris’s fear and her self-esteem issues.  Wait, that sounded terrible. What I meant was: because she grew up in Abnegation, Tris’s instinct is to not be able to accept compliments (it means she would be vain) or realize that a boy may like-like her.  Because she doesn’t know how to react and appreciate that type of situation, she is adorkably* awkward around Four in the beginning, because she literally doesn’t know how to react to those types of things.  So I was glad that the obstacle to their relationship was Tris figuring out what she wanted from Four and not that she had to decide between Four and somebody else**.

*and by “adorkably,” I mean it’s actually kind of painful. I’m using adorkably in the ironic sense here. Tris is trying too hard to be adorable, so she comes off as adorkable.

** There is a character named Al who likes Tris, but she acknowledges head-on that he has been friendzoned. I could probably write an entirely new essay on the relationship between Tris and Al and how some Male Rights’ Activists may seize on Al’s trajectory*** in the novel and how it could relate to the obvious horror that all men face when they are friendzoned, because clearly (almost supported by the Supreme Court, even!), women really aren’t allowed to make their own choices and must accept all offers of sex from men (wanted or no), but obviously I am not in the mental state to discuss it right now. Also, there would be spoilers involved.

***Those who have read Divergent may have noticed I just made a pun.

Uh, I think that’s it.  The plot sets up the second novel, which I’ll probably pick up at some point. But right now, I need to get the review of the next book I read done, then I need to finish reading the book I’m reading now, and then on to horrible wish fulfillment that will not fulfill me because why would anything work out the way I want it to, the Hobby Lobby people clearly don’t want me to be happy.

Grade for Divergent: 2.5 stars


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