“Divergent” | Veronica Roth

My rating: 4/5
Read from July 09 to 11, 2012
Note: Review may contain minor to major spoilers.

In a future Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each named after a different virtue that its people must display their whole lives. These factions are: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intelligent. On one day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds are called upon to choose the faction they will devote the rest of their lives to.

I picked up Divergent because it was trending among bookworm friends and bloggers I follow. It wasn’t “everywhere” just yet, but it was being talked about in hushed voices. The entrancing book cover, along with the lack of synopsis on the back cover, got the best of my curiosity, so I finally got myself a copy.

Once I picked it up, it was painfully difficult for me to put down. It’s the kind of world and the kind of writing that transports you into its setting to experience the story for yourself. I finished it in two to three days, which is usually the mark for a book that I enjoyed very much. There was sufficient world-building, meaning I got a basic idea of the different factions, what they did, and what they meant to each other. The clichés were at least discreet; it’s dystopian literature without applying too much of a secretly-evil government as in The Hunger Games or in Matched.

Let’s get this straight. I liked Divergent very much. I also tried very, very hard to love it but, in an attempt to train my mind to review a book while reading it, I began to spot more flaws than I would have liked.

My first but least complaint is the first-person present-tense perspective. It was terribly confusing. It didn’t help that one of the characters is named Four, so that all the verbs became nouns in my eyes. “Four paces”, “Four jumps”, “Four laughs”. I had to read the sentence three more times before I realized what it was actually saying. Still, the worst effect that the present-tense narration had was to pull me out of concentration.

I was more bothered with the way Tris threw around the word “Divergent”, even when she didn’t know what it was yet. You don’t do that. You don’t call yourself a word you don’t know the meaning of just because someone told you that’s what you are. You are a schnook, Tris; how about that?

Sometimes I think Veronica Roth was simply making the mistake of thinking readers might  not get it, so she drove some of her ideas too hard. She brought alive Divergence by repetition rather than showing its implications and consequences, and by maybe introducing us to someone who was being actively Divergent. But no, it was like some secret disease that you just happened to get and you needed to keep a secret.

Even the factions were way too clear-cut to be acceptable at some points. I managed to love Erudite for my own even though they were essentially portrayed as the enemy. While they tried to paint Erudite as evil, the bigger picture was still that they valued learning, because that’s what they kept telling us. Jeanine Matthews just looks to me like an unfortunate occurrence. (Or is this just me and my bias for knowledge?)

I like the initiation for the mere reason that Tris and her brother’s choices came as a surprise to me. Caleb is an important figure because, aside from Tris, he was the first to really prove that people couldn’t and didn’t always love their faction devotedly. We encounter a lot of transfers in the book, but they carry a lot of their old faction’s habits with them forever. Sometimes you’d think people don’t take this whole faction thing very seriously. The nature-versus-nurture argument is a lot more difficult than we think, so I’m unhappy with the characters’ tendencies to be underdeveloped.

Four─don’t get me wrong; I am in love with Four, but he is actually very confusing and scary if you really think about it. We all see him as a handsome, broody young man with a dark secret and a romantic, sensitive side. But he is also a major know-it-all, and is publicly abusive because it’s totally for Tris’ own good. Huh. Be careful, schnook.

<spoiler: highlight to view>Oh, and one more thing─Four’s real name? I totally saw it coming. I’m a big fan of foreshadowing, but I think it loses its ingenuity when it’s hinted at so bluntly it becomes predictable. You know what super easy thing Roth could have done to keep it a surprise? She could have talked about Tobias without saying his name until later. Once she put a name on him, I knew he was going to haunt us later on.</spoiler>

Basically, there were way too many holes in the story and the world-building for me to thoroughly enjoy the book. There were too many things that didn’t make sense or weren’t explained well enough.

Why didn’t Tris keep a low profile like she was warned to? What do Candor and Amity do for the society anyway? Are Amity people really all that nice and friendly? What makes people choose to transfer, after sixteen years of forming a habit from your old life? Why would anyone transfer to Abnegation? If Christina could read body language, why couldn’t she tell that Tris had a secret the whole time? Why is Divergence so damn dangerous? Is there anyone truly matured in this place? What’s really wrong with Four?

There was a lot, some of which are a little too weird to talk about. So, what kept me going? The plot, and my indulgent side. The plot was very exciting even in spite of the weak spots. There was just always something happening, and you never know which of these was important to answer Tris’ questions and wishes. I simply had to know what would happen next.

The book wasn’t entirely made from meshed butter. It had its wonderful moments, good themes, and some quotable quotes. Like most dystopian literature, it teaches some humanistic values by comparing the society we have today to the society we might have in the future if we aren’t careful. That’s somewhat redeeming.

The book left me feeling whelmed, partially confused, and largely unsatisfied. Yes, I would encourage people to read it. Yes, I would watch and support and be excited for the film (scheduled for 2015). But no, I will not be adding this book to my list of favorites. I love it and dislike it so much that I need the next book just to respond both emotions.

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”


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