Divergent by Veronica Roth

18 Jun

When I went to see The Hunger Games in the theater for the second time, I was surprised to see an ad for Veronica Roth‘s Insurgent pop up during the pre-movie “entertainment.” Insurgent is definitely one of the bigger spring/summer YA releases this year, but it still surprised me since it was the first time I had seen a book previewed like that at the movies. That plus the bajillion holds placed on it at my library made me realize I should probably read the first book, Divergent (Katherine Tegen Books), to prep me for it so I wouldn’t be the lamest/most clueless librarian ever. It was a Goodreads reader’s choice whatever, is hugely popular, and constantly gets lumped into “If you liked The Hunger Games…” lists, so I had high hopes. High hopes that were shattered into a million not-so-dazzling pieces.

Beatrice Prior lives in a future Chicago where society is divided into five “factions” meant to cultivate a different virtue: Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Abegnation (selflessness), Amity (…friendship? Being nice? Peacefulness? I don’t know), and Erudite (Smartassness). Every year, all the sixteen-year-olds of the society must choose their faction, which often means leaving their families to go to a NEW faction. Before this happens, though, they are administered an aptitude test which supposedly shows them which faction they would do best in. However, the ultimate choice is still that of the sixteen-year-old (haha, I wrote “sexteen” at first. Appropriate!), so that there is still an element of free will when it comes to the teenage version of choose-your-own rest of your god damn life. Anyways. Beatrice’s test results are “inconclusive,” which means she is “divergent,” which is apparently even worse than being a Slytherin, so much so that she is told to keep it a secret or she’ll be killed. Anywho, Beatrice chooses a faction, renames herself “Tris,” starts lusting after her hunky and oh-so-broody instructor, Four, and as she undergoes the brutal Dauntless initiation she begins to unravel a dark conspiracy that is corrupting the foundations of her society.

This book has a promising dystopian premise that, unfortunately, falls way short of the mark. GOOD science fiction, and dystopian science fiction in particular, is usually good because it points a finger back to our current society. If I can’t actually think about my world and figure out how it could possibly evolve into the fictional future world I’m reading, it doesn’t have any bite. I tried and tried to figure out what the connection is between Roth’s future Chicago and our present and I just couldn’t see it. It felt like the sorting hat in Harry Potter got smashed into a dystopia, only you’re being sorted 4EVA. The five factions also felt insanely reductive to me, which I guess was maybe the point but that didn’t come across ENOUGH. How on earth can you cram the entire range of human traits into five categories? How could a society EVER function like that? Roth didn’t give enough background as to how on earth this even came about to make it believable. Plus, as a pierced and tattooed lady I was borderline offended by this idea of the Dauntless members being pierced, tattooed adrenaline junky sadists. What is she trying to say? The whole Dauntless idea read like someone from a conservative background blaring her ideas of how or why people modify their bodies which is false, false, false. Also, you’d think that for the number of times the “tattoo place” was mentioned she could think of a better name. Tattoo place? Really?

Plus, just hold up. If you don’t make it through your chosen faction’s initiation you are factionless? A social pariah? It makes no sense. I guess that’s why it’s a dystopia, because it’s about a highly dysfunctional society, but I didn’t understand how or why such a supposedly morally advanced society would think that was a good idea. “Hey guys, so we have this totally asinine awesome idea for eliminating war: let’s arbitrarily pick some virtues, force people to choose one for the rest of their lives, then make sure there are some outcasts who aren’t allowed to participate in society. It’s worked out great in the past – we can’t lose!”

I guess where I’m going with this is…why is this book so popular? Seriously, if any of you readers have read it and enjoyed it, please tell me why. Beyond the concept not holding water, the writing wasn’t that great and I found the story to actually be kind of boring. There are plenty of books that I will devour as guilty pleasures; I can forgive a lack of artful writing if I am dying to keep turning the page, but that wasn’t the case with Divergent. The Hunger Games it most certainly is not, and while I’m on the topic can I mention how much I loathe calling books “the next bippity boppity boo?” Let’s just judge them on their own merit and stop touting them as the next whatever. If Suzanne Collins hadn’t blasted YA dystopian fiction into the wide world of popular reading (and I’m not saying she’s the first to write in that genre, merely that this craze went viral with The Hunger Games) I am fairly confident that a book like Divergent would not have been as sweepingly popular. That said, these books are being devoured by a plethora of teens so I may still read Insurgent so I can feel hip, but I can and will gladly recommend other AWESOME YA dystopias or post-apocalyptic books to my friends and fellow readers in the meantime. (Uh, have you READ Blood Red Road?)

For music, because I was so off-put by the “bravery” of the Dauntless really being sadomasochism much in the same way that the words patriotism and fascist jingoism are confused in our country (whoa, did I make a connection?! If so, that was a stretch…) I chose Darkest Hour’s “Sadist Nation.”

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