Maybe I was in a bad mood. Maybe I was in a cynical one. Maybe reading it while looking out over the pristine reflections of Glacier’s Lake MacDonald as part of a nerdy quartet of readers (including my wife, and a friend I’ve had since Pre-School), but for whatever reason I felt supremely let down by Divergent.
Try as I might, I could not shake the sensation that I was reading a mash-up of popular other works. It was as if author Veronica Roth took the influences of The Giver, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games and squeezed them all into one volume: children assume career roles at a young age (in this case based on the apparently exclusionary values of selflessness, honesty, friendship, intelligence or bravery), a sorting ceremony defines their lives, they are banned from association with rival factions, they must train and be ranked, friendships lead to dangerous adventures and to be unlike the others is to risk everything. I never managed to fully suspend my disbelief and appreciate the story for the fun of it, it was like looking at the blueprints of Versailles and never the building itself.
More problematic is how vague and undefined the heroine is. (While writing this I had to google her name.) Beatrice Prior seems to hold the fate of her world in her hands, but is plagued by far more doubt than her Fantasy-world predecessors (Hermione and Katniss). But that doubt is never really dealt with or examined as indicative of her character. Instead her reflections offer a superficial glimpse at her point of view before throttling ahead to dwell on another action-packed training sequence. And as the story breaks from education and training into full scale rebellion, the action blurs together so quickly that what happens (and why) isn’t altogether clear.
I can see how a lot of readers can latch on to the story (hopefully it’s pulled a few students away from the Xbox this summer): the action, the subtle growth of romantic affection (even if the foreshadowing gives away the endgame early on) and the feeling of partisanship and ideological entrenchment all too common in today’s society. Except I don’t buy that entirely either. Roth’s characters seem to willingly accept that they must be beholden to one value and living in accordance with that value at all costs (even the heroine Beatrice, is told early on that she could be smart or brave or selfless, the idea of being ALL isn’t even considered, Beatrice herself sees this as a flaw not an asset). To be sure there are ecological mavens and right-to-life die-hards, but I also know eco-fiends who get a giddy thrill out of Monster Trucks and fundamentalists who cordially engage with people of all faiths and walks of life. Taking the “which faction do you belong to quiz” at the back, I could not possibly limit myself to one. Philosophy is not a black-and-white affair, nor does the silent majority in our world live that way. Even in the future, I have to believe that our human will to individuality would rapidly explode any such utopian suggestion before it could go wrong.
I give credit to Roth for capturing the interest of readers around the country, for inspiring conversations and fandom a new. Any book that can inspire this much passion among fans (and detractors like me) is notable. But a popular mash-up does not a classic make.
Every so often a novel comes along that shatters the mold of its genre and pushes the boundaries of what you expected. In the slew of Dystopian novels I’ve read as part of the CannonballRead#4 challenge, Divergent stands out as the most unique and captivating first novel I’ve read since I bought a copy of The Hunger Games at a SCBWI conference in New York in 2009. My family devoured the book and knew long before the series became so popular that it was a story that stood apart from others.
Divergent is as unique a novel in its own way and perhaps even more captivating. The plot has been summarized countless times but here are the barest facts for those who still have not heard about this story. It is set in a dystopian version of Chicago where society has been divided into 5 distinct Factions; Candor (who prize honesty), Abnegation (who embrace selflessness), Dauntless (who embody bravery), Amity (who seek Peace), and Erudite (who strive for knowledge). Regardless of which Faction they grow up in, on the appointed day of their 16th year, after special testing, each young person must publicly choose which Faction they will belong to or become one of the Factionless who live in abject poverty and squalor. The only problem is that a few special people can belong to more than one faction… their personalities are unique enough that they can be hunted. Right before she has to choose, Beatrice Prior discovers that she is different… that she is Divergent. Revealing that could endanger her new life as she leaves her Abnegation family and Faction behind… that is if the training to be accepted as a full member of the Dauntless Faction doesn’t kill her first.
Divergent took my breath away. This is the single most impressive book I’ve discovered in the past few years. I found myself riveted by the struggles of the main character to define herself against all of the rules and philosophies that she had grown up with. It was as empowering a tale as it was captivating, challenging readers of any age to be true to themselves and who they really are, even as it kept them glued to the pages with a futuristic, breathlessly vivid and suspenseful story. I truly admire a new writer that can keep me guessing as to where the story is headed! Divergent was as powerful a read for me at 46 as it was for my 17 and 13 year old daughters. All of us inhaled this book and then fought over who would read the sequel next. Since I am the Mom (and I bought Insurgent)… I won!
Paperback format, 487 pages, published in 2012 by Harper Collins
You guys, I’m so conflicted about this book. I wanted to love it, I really did. But it was kind of a mess? I guess I’ll have to settle for merely “like” and hope book three is back up to the standard that Roth set in Divergent.
Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off, with the factions of Chicago at war with each other. The Dauntless are scattered and mostly dead, Abnegation has all but been wiped out, Amity is sitting pretty far from the conflict, Candor is neutral at the moment (I think?), and Erudite continues to belligerently attack everyone. Tris, Four, and the other Dauntless/Abnegation refugees wander all over God’s creation trying to find shelter against Erudite, who is hunting them for some reason I can’t really remember (not a good sign . . . I only finished the book three weeks ago).
Meanwhile, Four’s abusive dick of a father, Marcus, knows a secret that the Abnegation died trying to protect, and which Erudite is willing to kill to cover up forever. This is a pretty important plot point, but it’s mostly glossed over in favor of hanging out with a traumatized, PTSD Tris who feels such extreme guilt over her part in killing Will in Divergent that she can barely function. She puts all of her relationships in jeopardy and basically has a death wish for the entire novel. It is exhausting. There’s a couple of big battles, Tris goes batshit and gets herself captured on purpose, and then some other stuff happens that I can’t really remember. Also also, we meet the Factionless, who are headed up by a not-so-secret person from Four’s past, and who play in a big role in the final battle of the war, which surprisingly concludes in this book. Most authors would have dragged it out, but Roth makes the excellent decision to end it with book two and up the conflict in a different direction for book three.
If I had to sum it up (which I don’t, because this is my review and who the heck cares anyway so why am I even typing this, I don’t know), then I would say that Insurgent suffers from classic middle book syndrome. Since the war is over by the end, it’s clear that it wasn’t the focal point of the trilogy, and the big important stuff is still coming. That means that this book and this war served more of a transition function than anything else. Admittedly, it must be really hard to write a middle story (whether it’s a film or a book), but it can be done, as evidenced by The Empire Strikes Back. And I have to say, Roth was almost there in terms of the actual events of the story, but the book is so muddled it’s hard to tell.
The unpleasantness of hanging out with PTSD Tris (however accurate and true to character) is a close second, but my biggest complaint about this book is its complete lack of structure. One of the reasons Divergent was such a fun reading experience was that it was incredibly well-structured. That’s a weird thing to say about a book, and maybe it’s only something other writers really care about, but the net effect is the same: better structure, better book, even if you can’t necessarily put a finger on it as a non-writing layperson. I just felt so lost the entire book, like I never knew what to expect page to page, but in a bad way. Only the most experimental avant-garde authors fuck around with structure, and there’s a reason most people don’t read those assholes anyway. We like structures. We like expectations, even if the only point of expectations in a book is to frustrate them. I felt like Insurgent just flowed along with things happening here and there along the way, and even though it was a fast read, the good stuff wasn’t necessarily emphasized at the right times or in the right ways, and the frustrating stuff was more often than not front and center. Again, it’s hard to put into words and I’d probably have to read it again and take copious notes to figure it out, but it’s not like I’m writing a frickin’ dissertation here so shut it I’m done with my arguments.
Anyways, still excited for book three, and I’m hoping that Roth turns out to be just as good at endings as she was at beginnings.
[3.5 stars, for lingering affection]
Last year, I read and loved the first entry in Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy, Divergent. When the second book was released, I put my name down on the library list and waited to see if it would live up to the hype of the first book.
I just finished reading the second book, Insurgent, a few minutes ago, and I’m having trouble figuring out what I think about it.
Insurgent begins immediately after the events of the first book. Tris, Four, Peter, Caleb, and Marcus have escaped the slaughter of the Abnegation and are on their way to Amity, looking for asylum…and for answers. Why would the Erudite want to murder an entire faction? What information are the leaders protecting that is worth brainwashing innocent citizens and even killing for?
Honestly, I felt that the story was rather less exciting this time around. The first half of the book was much slower and yes, boring, compared to the first book. And honestly, I didn’t think the writing was as sharp. Entire sections went by and I felt like all I read was “Serum. Simulation. Serum. Faction. Headquarters. Stiff. Factionless. Serum. Simulation. Divergent. Serum.” And the romance between Tris and Four was really brought front and center this time, with lots of shirt grabbing and back touching and general (AND REPETITIVE) making out.
Luckily, the last third of the book picked up the pace a bit. Tris and her friends (as well as her enemies) go to battle to get their hands on some secret data that could potentially change their lives forever, and that part worked for me. Also, the scenes and descriptions of what the world of the Factionless was like? Very interesting. The talking and the arguing and the romance? Not so much.
If you are considering a re-read of Divergent before diving into this one, let me be the first to tell you, YES. REREAD THE FIRST BOOK. I spent so much of this book trying to remember tiny little details about the first story. Who is Lynn? I get her confused with Marlene. Who is Marlene? I thought she was Shauna. What happened in the glass case of water at the end of Divergent? What was Tris’ mom doing there, anyway? Argh. I really had a tough time with it.
I didn’t like it as much as Divergent, definitely a bit of a let-down. But I am still looking forward to the third book next year, as I really want to find out what’s out there beyond the gates and beyond Chicago…
This was my second time through Divergent, and it remains the only post-Hunger Games YA dystopian novel to even come close to matching my excitement for that series. I almost didn’t re-read in preparation for the sequel, but I knew that I liked it so much the first time that I’d be asking for trouble jumping into #2 without refreshing my memory. (Sidenote: Getting old sucks. My mind used to be a steel trap for book plots — they went in and they didn’t come out. But as I get older, I have less and less room up there or something. The ole hard drive is filling up. It sucks.)
Divergent follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior through a future version of Chicago (no word yet on how far in the future, although I expect that to come in book 3) where society has split into five factions: the Abnegation (whose members value selflessness), the Erudite (who value intelligence), the Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honesty), and the Dauntless (bravery). When a citizen comes of age, they take an aptitude test that determines which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives. Switching factions nearly always means leaving your family behind.
Tris, who has always felt out of place in her Abnegation family, tests as Divergent — possibly fitting into more than one faction — but her test results are kept secret by her proctor. Being Divergent is dangerous, although Tris isn’t really sure what it means. The story really starts when Tris decides to switch factions: to the Dauntless, whom she has always admired from afar, as they do crazy things like jumping off of trains and buildings and such all the time (and because their wild and seemingly carefree lifestyle is a huge contrast to Tris’s buttoned up existence in Abnegation). As she goes through Dauntless initiation, she has to simultaneously navigate the obstacles thrown at her by her instructors, and she’s also got to stay on top of the complex social politics of the Dauntless initiates, because if you fail at Dauntless initiation, you’re cast out of the faction system and become one of the dreaded Factionless. On top of all that, she has to somehow keep her Divergent nature a secret, even though it quickly shoots her to the top of the rankings. It gets violent and rather terrifying, and it’s one of the reasons the book reads so fast.
The other reason is that Veronica Roth — who began writing this series when she should have been paying attention during her college lectures — is actually a good writer. She has a clear instinct for how to write believable, flawed characters, she’s structured her story so that it never lets up and hits you in all the right emotional places, and the world she’s created (while slightly derivative) isn’t just there to serve those characters and get them into cliched situations — it’s a world created with a purpose. It has thematic backbone. There’s no love triangle in Divergent, but there is a love story, and it’s a good one. Both parties are fully fleshed out, and there’s more on their minds than romance.
If YA dystopias are your thing, check this series out, and even if they’re not, you still might want to check it out. If you don’t like it, you can come back here and punch me in the face. I promise I won’t mind.
Cannonball Read IV: Book #7/52
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Divergent is yet another dystopian YA novel. In this one, society is divided up into five factions which correspond with that factions core values: Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace), and Erudite (intelligence). Beatrice was born into the Abnegation sector, but on their 16th birthday, everyone gets to choose either to stay in their present faction or join a different one. It’s rare to switch factions, but Beatrice decides to leave Abnegation and join Dauntless. She also finds out during her placement test (which tells them what faction they’d be best suited to, although can choose whichever they want) that she is actually Divergent. Divergent is a rare person who exhibits strong traits from more than one faction. It’s also dangerous, so Beatrice is told to keep quiet about it.
“One choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs and determines your loyalties… forever. When sixteen-year-old Tris makes her choice, she cannot forsee how drastically her life will change, or that the perfect society in which she lives is about to unfold into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking betrayals and unexpected romance.”
This is a superb young adult novel and just the thing for people mourning the end of The Hunger Games trilogy as there are several obvious parallels; feisty, determined heroine fighting against the odds, dystopian society, romance (although no love triangle – yay!) and plenty of action. Incredibly readable with a really strong central idea that I loved reading the details of. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.