You know what? I’m going to take it one step further and say not to bother with the entire Divergent series. Reasons why and maybe some SPOILERS after the cut.
OK, so, let me first put my cards on the table…when I’m not blogging for Gabbing Geek, I am an English teacher by profession. I read all the freakin’ time. I won’t say I have impossibly high standards (because I don’t), but I will say I am sometimes not as impressed with some books as others are. *cough* Ready Player One *cough*.
Furthermore, I don’t hate YA books or turn my nose up at something just because it’s aimed for people younger than myself. I actually really liked The Hunger Games and its sequels, and the various Harry Potter books improved with each novel…except for 5, because Harry spent most of that book acting like a spoiled, petulant teenager. See, I even have a different reason than Ryan for dissing The Order of the Phoenix.
Now that I have my bonafides established, let’s move on.
Anyway, a student had recommended Divergent, saying it was “very good”. I’m always up for something interesting, so I opted to give it a try.
I read the first book…and didn’t care for it very much. It hit a lot of the tropes that pop up in YA books with a female protagonist. She’s special. She’s different. The slightly older, moody, dreamy guy falls for her, though she’s a little scared of his strong, silent ways at first. Set the thing in a distopian world divided into factions, and we have a cliche. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
That wasn’t even the issue I had with Divergent. My issue was the whole society that Tris lives in makes no freakin’ sense whatsoever. I said as much when I posted the trailer for the next movie yesterday, so allow me to elaborate.
So, here’s this society. Everyone is sorted into factions based off their dominant emotions. There are five: Abnegation (selflessness), Erudite (intellectual curiosity), Dauntless (courage), Candor (honesty), and Amity (friendliness). Oh, there’s also the factionless, people who got kicked out of one faction or another for one reason or another. Children are raised in their faction, but at a certain age, they take a VR test where the computer determines which faction they should belong to…but then afterwards, the kids can completely ignore the test and choose the faction of their preference anyway.
Why’d they bother with the test again?
Our hero Tris, raised in Abnegation, chooses Dauntless. Why? Beats me. I thought the Dauntless faction looked to be full of idiots. Their role is to protect the other factions, acting as police or military or something (it’s vague). To prove how fearless they are, they do stuff like continually risk injury by jumping on and off moving trains.
Dude, that’s not brave. That’s stupid. I doubt any modern police or military unit regularly engages in drills and such that could be as dangerous as jumping off a moving train when there’s a perfectly good station. Such an organization would want its fighters and protectors in the best physical shape possible, and while there are dangerous activities these groups engage in, they also don’t put their people into completely unnecessary risks just to prove how fearless their personnel are.
In fact, what I saw of life in Dauntless made it look like the author was trying to make the group look cool to the teenage reader while making them look like morons to me. They get tattoos! They engage in X-Games style activities! Yawn.
The other factions didn’t help. Erudite is the bad guys because…well, I didn’t care. They seemed to object to the fact that Abnegation was given all the leadership positions. That’s…actually a good reason to object. Why is one group completely in charge? Even if they are selfless and living in near poverty compared to the others. Erudite did science stuff I guess. Candor was a bunch of lawyers. Amity was a bunch of farmers. Because kids who grow up in cities really want to be farmers.
You know what? A society that only has farmers, lawyers, scientists, police, and government workers sure seems to be missing a lot of vital professions. I’m guessing Erudite has the doctors too, but someone needs to do the grunt work, and the factionless don’t seem to be doing much of anything.
Of course, there’s still the matter of Divergence. Divergence, we are told, occurs when someone doesn’t really have one dominant emotion and could slip into different factions easily. Tris is told after her test that she is, in fact, Divergent.
See, here’s the problem with that: in the real world, everyone would be Divergent. No one has one dominant emotion. The society of Divergent is built on this concept, and it isn’t even true. That society probably should have fallen apart inside of ten minutes…probably ten minutes after all the Dauntless morons broke their legs jumping off moving trains, keeping them from preventing a riot.
Essentially, many of the factors and ideas of other YA books that I did enjoy were overemphasized here. I never cared much for Harry Potter’s house cup shenanigans, and Rowling put less emphasis on that as the series wore on. Faction is ten times more important in Divergent. Katniss Everdeen has the standard YA love triangle, but its a minor part of the narrative in The Hunger Games. Tris’ romance with Four takes much more precedence in Divergence. Even Percy Jackson, a less original character than many, had a very interesting and imaginative setting to make up for how much the books seemed to imitate Rowling’s series. There’s not much particularly creative about Divergence, with one noteworthy exception.
Author Veronica Roth gave Divergent a Christian subtext. There’s nothing wrong with that. It worked for Narnia. Roth herself is a devout Christian, and she should be allowed to explore her faith in her writing. I just personally got a little miffed at one moment when the subtext became text. Tris early on says her family prays before meals. Not everyone does, she says, but they do. I was fine with that. What is the role of religion in places like Hogwarts and Panem? No one ever says. No, I was majorly bugged when the Erudite villain of the first novel actually sneers out about how only the people of Abnegation believe in God, so they think they’re so special.
So, wait, the scholars sneer at the idea of God? And they’re the villains? Man, Roth sure did stereotype academics there, didn’t she? What was my profession again…
Now, I heard a bit about what happened that made Ryan so upset when he got to book three, and that sort of stuff was told to me in an effort for me to see some of my complaints were better thought out by Roth than I had believed. But I didn’t like the introduction, so why should I continue with this series, let alone see the movie? Short answer is I am not.
Oh, if I wrote too much, the guys at Honest Trailers made many of the same observations as I did, only much more succinctly. See below, and if you’re curious, just reread Harry Potter or The Hunger Games instead. Same basic ideas, told much better.