Divergent by Veronica Roth
Sometimes a book with a decent premise and positive word-of-mouth turns out to be a disappointment. Sometimes a book is so hyped up that you can’t help but be disappointed, no matter its quality. And sometimes the disappointment is not surprising at all. Somehow, Divergent falls into all three of those categories.
I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. After the lead character, Triss, describes herself as she looks into her reflection on the very first page, I expected even less. But I am a fan of classic dystopian fiction, I had enjoyed The Hunger Games, and I looked forward to what the trend for dystopia’s in YA (started by that series) would bring, what new takes on the common tropes might be revealed. Sadly, even with my low expectations, Divergent didn’t meet them at all. Once the first chapters were done, I did not care about any of the characters, and cared even less when the inevitable romance subplot between dull, derivative heroine Triss and brooding, mysterious (two of my least favourite adjectives used to describe male leads in YA) Four began.
Ironically, despite presenting a world where being unique is punishable, Divergent, ironically, doesn’t stand out amongst its peers. The division of young people into factions based on personality traits and skills echoes the sorting ceremony of Harry Potter, whilst Triss’ training in Dauntless (house of the brave… or thoughtless adrenaline junkies), her inevitable rebellion and incitement of war against the ruling classes of this society feel like the first two Hunger Games books condensed into one. Basically, if you’ve read any dystopian fiction for Young Adults over the past few years, then you have read Divergent.
However, what bugged me most about this story was that the concept simply makes no sense.
In order to write a good dystopian fiction, the dystopia in question has to be plausible, and the society presented in this one is completely implausible. I can see how, hypothetically, a society like the one presented in 1984 would come about, and even the Hunger Games, and how they are allegories of how our world may actually turn out if we go down certain paths of war or following the wrong governments. But there is no way I can see that would cause the society presented in Divergent to come into being.
Which brings us to the most unbelievable part of this: the very concept of “Divergents” at all. Because we are all Divergent. Not everybody in this world has only one single personality trait, not to mention that there are many whose prominent one isn’t “bravery”, “kindness”, “selflessness”, “honesty” or “intelligence” (or that kindness and selflessness are so similar as concepts that they really should be one faction, not two, or that this book’s concept of bravery apparently translates to “utterly recklessly stupid show off”). Everybody who takes that darned test should show up as Divergent because no one is that one-note, and if they are they would be a really boring person. And guess what? “Person with a single personality trait” in writing terms translates to “flat character”. Which just goes to show how this wasn’t really the best idea for a novel in the first place.
Divergent’s writing is not all that wonderful either. I’ll admit that I skimmed the later chapters, but only because Triss’s inner-monologue was just getting too painful to read. A warning flag pops up in the very first page, thanks to the aforementioned description via reflection. Any “how to write” guide will tell you that’s a cardinal sin. And then it goes on with the clichéd “my life changes on this day” plot and carries on from there.
It saddens me that Divergent is the one book amongst the many dystopian novels that have saturated the market in recent years that managed to grab hold of that Hunger Games bandwagon and become popular enough to have a film adaptation, because we deserve better and I am sure there are more worthy, better written, harder hitting titles out there that should have had the fanbase Divergent has. Unfortunately, we can’t always get what we want. Or, indeed, need. Because what we need is better YA fiction.