Most of the people I know who have read Divergent loved it, and I think that’s great! I love when people love books, and I even appreciate it when people love books that I don’t particularly like, because it makes me think more about what it is that makes certain books resonate with me and with others.
So without further ado…
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
I found some of the main plot points of this book—war/revolution in a dystopian world, building an army of mindless “robots”—to be fairly unoriginal. I was pretty bored by the discord among the factions, and I couldn’t even get all that into it at the end, once the revolution had begun.
I did, however, find the idea of personality-based factions interesting. I thought all of the factions (based on selflessness, honesty, knowledge, courage and peace, respectively) were deeply flawed, because none of them were in any way balanced. Personalities are very fascinating, because they determine so much of who we are and how we operate and behave as human beings. But the most wonderful thing about personalities is how richly complex and multifaceted they are. This, of course, is the fatal flaw of Divergent‘s dystopian society. Citizens are expected to choose and be only one aspect of their personality, suppressing all other personality-based inclinations. And, of course, the cultivation of the dominant aspect of the personality has become corrupt over time, especially in the Dauntless and Erudite factions. (Courage = jumping onto moving trains? Being able to beat someone to a pulp? Haven’t they ever heard of subtlety? Courage of the heart?)
So, the dystopian society of Divergent is interesting (and I like that it takes place in Chicago). But what ruined the book, for me, was the main character, Tris (formerly Beatrice) and the choices she makes.
Unfortunately, almost nothing about Tris resonated with me. Whereas Tris chooses Dauntless, I would’ve chosen Amity. Whereas Tris embraces violence as a means to an end, I would have been repulsed by the violence required by the Dauntless initiation process (not to mention the psychological torture). And I was repulsed by the ruthless, violent person into which Tris was transformed. While I was impressed with her strength, I didn’t find her to be a particularly admirable Strong Female Character. I liked her a bit more toward the end of the book, but mostly I found her to be malleable, self-absorbed and much too obsessed with Four, her initiation leader. (Don’t even get me started on the romance in this book, which I thought was unnecessary and forced. And of course, even though Tris was the strong female protagonist, she still depended on Four for validation.)
And finally, although I like the idea of Divergents (people who don’t smoothly fit into one of the five factions—right? Like Tris, I never really got a good grasp of what exactly a Divergent is) I found it unbelievable that there would be so few Divergents in existence. Really? Barely a handful defied the simulation? Barely a handful displayed strong tendencies toward multiple factions? I have a feeling that, in real life, Divergents would’ve destroyed the faction system almost immediately after its inception.
I think I would be more interested in a protagonist who leaves Dauntless in favor of Amity or Abnegation (the Hufflepuffs of the Divergent world), or even Candor. I know that there wouldn’t be as much action in a story like that, and it wouldn’t be as “cool,” but maybe that’s just my personality showing through. In fact, I think my personality is the reason I didn’t like this book!
So, have you read Divergent? What are your thoughts? How did you feel about Tris? about Four? What faction would you choose?