Summary: Beatrice Prior lives in a world divided into five factions. Each faction bases its lifestyle on a virtue, in the belief that it is the most righteous way to live. There is Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity, and Abnegation. Until your sixteenth birthday, you live in the faction in which you were born. But then you must make a choice. Do you stay with your family, or do you forsake the virtue (and the people) with which you grew up? Though it’s a tough choice to make, most people know to what faction they belong. Beatrice is different; she’s what’s known as a Divergent, someone who doesn’t fit into just one group. This makes her very dangerous in a world whose motto is “faction before blood.”
It’s official – Leaky Con is over. Our blog posts are done, I’ve assimilated all the THINGS I accumulated, and I’m battling the last vestiges of Leaky Flu with some serious antibiotics. In short, I’m depressed. Real life kind of sucks compared to the one giant wizard party that was Leaky Con.
To fight this Post Potter Depression, I plucked Divergent from the library stacks after hearing several rave reviews from my patrons. (Yes, I know – nothing like a dystopian novel to lighten the mood.) While it was an engrossing premise, it left me a little under-whelmed. And some things just plain annoyed me.
Let’s get this out of the way – Hunger Games comparisons are bound to happen. This novel is also written in the first person, present tense. Girl heroine fights dystopia. Other similarities (some rather striking) beg the question – is this derivative? Answer: This novel doesn’t come close to the Hunger Games, and I will review it without further comment upon the matter.
Divergent has a really interesting social concept: people form groups based on one ideal that they think should be valued above all others. Over time, the lifestyle of each group evolves to be vastly different from the others. Everything from clothing to food choice is framed by the ideal. At first, it seems to work out. It even makes job distribution easier. Abnegation are selfless, so they are leaders. Erudite are smart, so they are researchers. Dauntless are brave, so they protect the city. I could just imagine humans trying to do something so deliciously stupid and reductive. As the book progresses, you see the flaws this sort of society produces.
Some people aren’t able to function in the faction they chose, so they are forced out. They are called the factionless, and the way they were portrayed really bugged me. They basically live in the ghetto and survive on charity from Abnegation. Beatrice is terrified at the prospect of having to be factionless, as they are devoid of community. She describes their lives: “They live in poverty, doing the work no one else wants to do. They are janitors and construction workers and garbage collectors; they make fabric and operate trains and drive buses.” OH MY GOD THE HORROR. A busdriver, or even worse – a factory worker? Who could even imagine such an awful, dirty life? UGH. This passage couldn’t reek more strongly of privilege if one tried. Blue-collar-kid grumbling aside, I don’t believe the factionless would just not have a community. If you’re thrown into an area with other people of very similar circumstances, you’d form bonds and friendships. Not just become homeless drunks who also happen to drive the city buses. Yeah, it didn’t make much sense in the book either.
Another flaw in the society is the trait known as Divergence. Our heroine, Beatrice Prior (which is far too similar to Beatrix Potter), is one of these apparently rare people who can belong to several if not all of the groups. They also react differently to a serum used rather frequently in this world, but that gets into spoiler-y territory so I can’t really delve into that. Anyway, Beatrice is Divergent and is told that she should keep it a secret. Following the logic of the society, being that different would be dangerous. Because it would basically mean it’s not possible to have one correct faction; that people don’t have to make just one right choice. If your existence conflicts with the way society runs, then yeah, you want to hide it.
Stepping out of the logic of that world – why isn’t everyone Divergent? I’m honestly perplexed by it. Unless I missed something in my Leaky Flu haze, it seems like most people happily fit into one of the five categories. It doesn’t seem likely that there are so few who can belong to different factions. I think most people could belong to a different faction every day of the week. Or maybe they need to institute a sort of Rumspringa, in which every 16 year old visits each faction and then gets to decide where they belong. As is, I thought it was going to be revealed that everyone is really a Divergent (like everyone turns out to be a witch in Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones). Sadly, this is not the case. Perhaps we will find out more about what makes so few people Divergent in the sequel.
Speaking of that sequel… I don’t really know where this series is headed. And that is mainly because of the pacing of this novel. It seems so normal. Beatrice finds out she is Divergent, makes her choice, and becomes an initiate. She faces extremely difficult tasks, makes friends, finds a love interest, and learns about sketchy plans that will cause problems between the factions. Then the day of her initiation comes and bam – all hell breaks lose. Characters start dying all over the place. (A note about this – there are a few Movie Dobby Deaths, a term I coined after seeing Deathly Hallows Part I. Essentially, characters that should’ve been given more development come in right before they die to do or say something heroic/poignant/etc/ and then are killed off. It’s a cheap, cheap filler that pisses me off to no end. Ahem.) Basically, the plot advances rapidly in the last fifty pages, which feels off after the sometimes slow pace of the previous 420 pages. Seriously, so much shit happens in the last part that I don’t know what’s left to happen in the sequel. Maybe Beatrice will make everyone a Divergent with a special serum and all the factions will implode. Hooray implosion!
Let’s talk about writing – Roth pulls off the first person present, which is difficult to do. I think it really works because Beatrice is a good narrator. Born into Abnegation, she doesn’t want to talk about her self too much because she is supposed to be selfless. And when she does talk about herself, it’s usually highlighting her struggles with selflessness and how she isn’t good enough to be one of them. It’s never whiny, which is a relief. Nothing gets old faster than a whiny first person narrative. There are some clunky parts, (at one point, Beatrice is clubbing us over the head with an explanation of how her fears are metaphors) but overall the writing contributes to the readability of Divergent.
-Interesting world building
-First person present grabs your attention and keeps you engrossed in the narrative
-Beatrice’s struggles with the self are refreshing and add some deeper philosophical notes to the novel
-Blaaaah at the Christian undertones
-Factionless just sound like working class people, which is the worst thing to be, like, EVER *eye-roll*
-Where the eff is this story going?
-Some logic problems (including one GAPING plot hole that I want to talk about but can’t because it’s a huge spoiler and it’s driving me batty so I threw it in here in hopes someone else has read it and noticed and can discuss with meeeee)
Ultimately, Divergent is an easy book to get through. It’s interesting enough that you want to see where it’s going, and it has enough substance to sink your teeth into. But after the end, I was supremely unsatisfied. I was left with more questions about the logic/workings of the world than about what would happen next.
So it looks like the search continues for something to bring me out of Post Potter Depression. Maybe I’ll pick up Crime and Punishment next…