Thursday 23 October 2014

#CBR6 Book 109: "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

Page count: 489 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Beatrice Prior is about to turn sixteen. This is the day when she has to choose which of the five factions in society she wants to belong to for the rest of her life. Beatrice and her brother have been raised in Abnegation, the self sacrificing and selfless people in society. The other four factions are Erudite (the intellectual, who all seem kind of snobby), Amity (the peaceful and apparently the ones who grow all the food), Candor (the honest, they cannot actually lie) and Dauntless (the brave - to the point of stupidity). After taking an aptitude test, each teenager will be told what faction they are best suited for. If they don't make it through the initiation of their chosen faction, they become part of the Factionless, who live on the streets and do the absolutely worst jobs in society to get food.  Beatrice's test results are inconclusive, and she displays strong traits of three different factions. This apparently makes her Divergent and she is told never to reveal her results to anyone. When she has to make her choice, Beatrice chooses Dauntless and is shocked to discover that her brother, who has always seemed like he embodies all the values of Abnegation, chooses Erudite.

The Dauntless all dress in black, tend to have piercings and tattoos and don't travel through the city (a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago) in any normal way. Nope, they jump onto and off moving trains. Three Dauntless initiates die before they even make it to the Dauntless compound. Beatrice decides to reinvent herself and calls herself Tris. On the plus side, Dauntless initiates are allowed to eat exciting food, use mirrors  and wear clothes that aren't just shapeless grey sacks. On the minus side, only a select few will make it through the initiation tests. The rest will either die or become Factionless. There's physical and mental ordeals, and the initiates have to learn how to use firearms, knives and to beat the crap out of each other. They get injected with a strange serum and have to face their fears in a trancelike state. Apparently, Tris' Divergent state makes her realise that she's hallucinating, and she beats the tests really quickly. This worries Four, her hunky, yet brooding trainer, and he is worried that someone is going to figure out that Tris isn't just any old recruit.

As Tris, despite being pretty small and timid to begin with, seems to do really well in the initiation tests, it becomes clear that civil unrest is starting to erupt outside the compound. The Erudite leaders are claiming that the Abnegation leaders are corrupt and hoarding resources, depriving the other factions. There's clearly bad things afoot, but Tris is more concerned with her growing attraction to Four.

Divergent is the debut novel of Veronica Roth, who was only 23 when it was published. It's yet another dystopian YA novel, set in a post-apocalyptic future and while the author may claim what she's done is wholly different from The Hunger Games, it really isn't and it suffers in comparison. I tried to suspend my disbelief and not be overly critical, but I just don't see how the society established in this book would work. A society where pretty much every sixteen-year-old only manifests one dominant character trait, to the point where those who don't are super rare and seen as something threatening and abhorrent seems very odd to me. I struggle to see how the Dauntless ever manage to recruit enough members, since pretty much everything they do seems to involve death-defying feats, that frequently lead to their members dying. Hamburgers and rad tattoos don't make up for the fact that you might die every time you tried to go into the city proper, because you have to hurl yourself onto and off a moving train.

Tris is more likable than Katniss, actually, but at least Katniss had some real personality. Tris is mainly worried all the time, not all that nice to her new friends, and obsessed with Four (whose identity is obvious to anyone who's been even vaguely paying attention). I know the book is aimed at teenagers and the thirteen-year-olds I currently teach seem to adore the series, but it makes me sad, because it's just not all that good. It went unexpectedly violent in the final act, guess I shouldn't be surprised, having read Mockingjay. Having heard mainly negative things about the second, and especially the third book in the series, I suspect I will resort to Wikipedia summaries to find out how the series end. I'm not going to read the books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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