Sunday, March 18, 2012

#12 (2012-cbriv) "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

And just like that, I am addicted to yet another young-adult series. I think it was a fellow Cannonballer who first recommended Divergent (2011) by Veronica Roth, so I dutifully found it in the library and started reading. And I found an exciting, violent story that kept me from doing more productive things this weekend.

In some ways, Divergent is very comparable to The Hunger Games. There is a dystopian society, threatening rebellion; there is a young woman, kicking some ass; and, of course, there is a love triangle. Beatrice is sixteen years old and lives in a post-war world that has split itself into five separate factions. These factions include: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. Beatrice grew up in Abnegation but is now of the age where she must choose where she will live for her adult life. And if she doesn't make it through the initiation process for her chosen faction, she will be stuck homeless between factions.

Roth creates a pretty exciting story that follows Beatrice into her new faction and her struggles there. A number of things about Beatrice I could relate to personally or reminded me of our world. In the beginning of the book, the separate factions felt very much like high school cliques. In addition, most everyone can understand the yearning to belong, the feeling that you don't, and the urge to find the right path in life. I also appreciated that even though Beatrice is small and a girl, she is one of the toughest characters in the story. Apparently the second book comes out in May, and I will definitely be picking it up to see what happens next.

However, even though it was an easy and exciting read, I still had some problems with the story. I guess I'm kind of picky about consistency and realism in whatever world an author creates. I find it difficult to believe that a world would set itself up in factions, although I can overlook it since it was an intriguing idea. Where I had more problems was what seemed to me a lack of consistency with the characters, a lack of consequences for some of the action, and what sometimes felt like a manipulated plot in order to hit some specific dramatic points.


1) I don't believe that Al would have turned on Tris and teamed up with his enemy to attack her--even if he thought it was just to scare her. Al was the only one that was uncomfortable with beating people up in the first stage of initiation, and he was strong enough to ignore the wishes of his trainers and deliberately lose fights--even though it hurt his standings. Al is the last person who would deliberately torment anyone, whether he was rejected or not. How he hooked up with Peter is not explained. Although it is nicely dramatic that Tris's friend betrays her and Four has to come save her, I didn't buy it.

2) Although I appreciate how tough Tris and the other women in Dauntless are, the violence did get to me at points. Specifically, sometimes it felt unnecessary and glorified. In addition, I don't like it when there aren't any consequences for violence. These kids were beating each other until they were unconscious. They were kicking each other in the head. That is not something that you can shake off in a day with a couple of bruises. That's the kind of thing that can cause brain damage or kill someone. And I don't understand how Peter got away with stabbing someone in the eye! I know the Dauntless are supposed to be tough and fearless but anarchy is not part of an effective and disciplined army. Peter took out the best initiate Dauntless had and no one cares enough to look into it?

3) And that brings me to another issue. The fact that almost half of the initiates were cut and forced to become factionless certainly added some tension to Tris's journey through Dauntless's initiation process. However, why wouldn't Dauntless want all the good initiates they could get? I understand them kicking people out who could not hold to their standards but arbitrarily kicking everyone in the bottom half out? What if they had a really good group of initiates one year? Also, it is inevitable that word would get around and fewer people would start choosing Dauntless because they would know they had a 50% chance of becoming factionless at sixteen years old. They could choose Amity, which would be less exciting, but at least they wouldn't be homeless and alone for the rest of their life. Roth describes the final initiation as a great, drunken celebration, but where are the initiates who have been kicked out of their homes? Where are the families of the initiates who are being torn from their children? That would have to be heart wrenching, but we hear nothing of it.

4) Finally, there is the love story between Tris and Tobias. I like Tobias and thought he was an interesting character, helping and supporting Tris without treating her like a weakling. I did feel the book focused too much on the relationship between Tris and Tobias and somewhat ignored all of her other relationships. Although the book says that Tris cares about her family and friends, she doesn't really seem to show it. For instance, at the end of the book, Tris and Caleb have just lost both of their parents to unimaginable violence in one day. Tris even speaks earlier of her strong relationship with Caleb and how he is in all of her memories. He is the only one that can really understand the loss of their parents. Yet Tris doesn't even talk to Caleb. Instead she sits across from him in the train and makes out with her new boyfriend. I can see how audiences might like a final scene between the two love birds, but this felt out of place. Also, why did Tris have to shoot Will in the head when she managed to shoot everyone else who was threatening her in the arm?

5) Finally, Tobias tells Tris that she can't manipulate the simulations or people will find out she's divergent and kill her. He goes so far as to erase the simulation that she manipulated in front of him. But at the end of her initiation she goes in and manipulates all of her fears with all the bigwigs watching and they are nothing but pleased at how well she does. It didn't make any sense.

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