Sunday, December 1, 2013

Divergent, a review...

I had to wait a while before I could write this review. The feelings I had while reading it were so strong that I wanted to understand them. They weren't good feelings and I wondered if maybe it was jealousy. After all, every writer is prone to feelings of inadequacy.

And to be honest, I did approach Divergent, by Veronica Roth, well aware (and weary of) all the hype surrounding it. It isn't the same level of hype as that involved with The Hunger Games, but it was still there (and will be there more now that there is a movie coming out about this novel).

Of course, those who have loved Divergent compare it to The Hunger Games. And there are many, many who do love it--look at the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. But I didn't love it.

It was so bad I didn't finish it. I stopped about a fourth of the way into it and could take no more. Curious to see if the rest of the novel was as bad, I skipped ahead and, yup, confirmed it. Then I read a summary of the remaining plot online and, yup, confirmed it again. This novel is not for me.



Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian

Premise: In the future, the citizens of Chicago create a society divided by Factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite) whose members embrace these traits while rejecting those of other factions. Beatrice Prior, 16 years old, must learn to survive in her new Faction, Dauntless, while enduring the pain of leaving her parents (who are members of the Abnegation faction).

What didn't work for me:

Oh, where to start...

1) The Premise: I didn't buy the premise. The people of Chicago decided that certain personality traits in humans were responsible for all the problems of the world. They therefore created factions that held firm onto one virtue that eradicated one of the undesirable ones. When I saw that, I was unsure as to why there were factions. I mean, if you identified certain traits that are negative and you want to create a society that does away with them, wouldn't you want your entire society to get rid of all of them? Aren't the Dauntless prone to selfishness? Aren't the Amity members going to be less daring, bold, and just plain old less physically fit than the Dauntless? The other factions could potentially suffer from one of the negative traits too. It just seemed like the faction system just chases around its own tail. And why didn't Greed make it onto that list of characteristics? Greed is one of the top reasons for wars, crime, etc. Or Envy? No? Okay.

Also, the whole premise had the feel of a philosophical thought experiment. You know, if you were strongly against capital punishment and a comet was doomed to crash into the earth and the only way to save humanity was for you to allow capital punishment to exist, would you allow it to? Or would you doom humanity? Yeah. Like that. Plato's Allegory of the Cave is a famous one, and also John Rawls' Theory of Justice. These are scenarios that assume that humanity can be taken out of the world and put into specially created circumstances--in order to think about some aspect of it.

The problem with these scenarios is that humanity cannot be removed from the world. It just can't. You cannot take the human race out of the world. Nope. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. So, building a fictional story around such stiff set of circumstances is difficult to swallow because it demands that you consider a world that can only exist as a thought experiment.

2) World-building: Okay, so the premise didn't work. That doesn't mean there are no writer tricks to make it work. This is a Science Fiction novel so I expected some Science Fiction to come to the rescue. For example, The Giver has a very similar premise, but the author wisely adds genetic engineering as a way to control undesired traits. In 1984, the author has the fear of Big Brother curve undesirable behavior (and constant surveillance). In The Hunger Games, the constant threat of a very aggressive and technologically advanced dictatorship keeps the population in check.

No such reasoning exists in Divergent. There is advanced technology in the form of simulation tests, etc. but none of this explains why humans broke off into factions that allow only members who display certain personality traits.

Another problem with the world-building is the idea of the Divergent. These are people who show aptitude towards more than one faction. This is a rare condition that is undesired, so when the protagonist is revealed to be one, it creates tension. Without genetic engineering, the idea doesn't make sense. It seems to me that it would be more rare to have someone who displays aptitude towards only one faction.

Also, if you built a society like this with the intent to keep the peace, why is there such animosity for the teens who switch over to other factions? Tris and her brother are seen as traitors, as are others who switch factions. And, the families of the kids who leave are ostracized in their communities. Wow. Why? That didn't make sense to me. Wouldn't you encourage your community members to seek out the best place for them?

This was so contradictory to the whole premise of the society that I couldn't get around it. The animosity seems like a recipe for war.

3) Military: So, the Dauntless are supposed to be the city's defenders against its enemies, within and without. Now, these are very selective individuals who want the cream of the crop (the top ten make it, the rest become Factionless or dead, whichever comes first). Throughout the selection training, both happen to a number of recruits and the rest struggle to stay on the top ten. The end result is a very lean and mean group of well-trained soldiers-like thrill seekers.

The problem with what I described is that it only makes sense to civilians. No military leader would ever agree to such a process because at the end of it what you will have left is a very TINY army. Today's armed forces are made up of more than just the elite; most of their bulk is regular folks who you train to become decent soldiers.

This part of the novel just didn't make sense at all to me. It lacks any military commonsense. It's like looking at your chessboard and getting rid of those pawns because they don't really do as much as the knights, castles or queen.

What worked for me:

I didn't finish the book so I can't really add comment on this. The main character's voice may have developed into more, but I won't know because I'm avoiding this book and its sequels.


One of my co-workers stared at me viciously as I wrote this review. He liked the book, as did some of my other co-workers. It makes me giggle a little.

The number of positive reviews of Divergent makes me think there is something for others to enjoy. I'm going to scratch my head while I try to figure out what happened. Maybe it's because I just binged on a number of books? Maybe because this was compared to The Hunger Games and it just isn't in par with it?

I don't know. I feel bad I actually bought the book instead of checking it out from the library I work at. I can't even give it to someone who does because it's a Kindle book.