The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #21 Divergent
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.