Divergent

Two posts in one day?  Really?  Well, technically yes, but considering one of the posts was after midnight last night, I don’t really count it as being two posts in one day.  It also helps that the last two books I read were YA, which tend to be quicker reads.  So this post is for Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book seems to be the heir apparent to The Hunger Games as that YA series that is going to explode.  I can understand why a lot of people seem to think so, but I don’t quite agree with them.  On with the review.

Book Stats

487 pages (I have the paperback edition with a lot of bonus material.  the 487 pages is just the story, not any of the bonus stuff.)

Science Fiction (I should probably start a YA tag, or perhaps a Dystopian, but for now it’s simply listed as SciFi.)

First book in a trilogy

Characters

The main character of this book is Beatrice Prior a 16 year old girl who is about to choose the faction that she will live in for the rest of her life.  Maybe it’s because I’ve read several YA Dystopias over the past couple of years, but there was really nothing about her that really stood out to me.  Like most teens, she is a bit uncertain about nearly everything in her life, and this is multiplied by the fact that she chooses to go away from the faction that her family is from and chooses a new one (more on the factions in a bit).  There’s also the fairly standard cast of supporting characters: her friends, the love interest, the calm teacher, the strict teacher, the bully, etc.  They’re all pretty well written, but nothing you haven’t seen before in fiction.

Setting

The world’s population has been greatly reduced, although we’re never told why.  As a result the society that we’re all familiar with has been completely dissolved and the surviving people have been separated into 5 factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite.  Each person lives with their family until they’re 16 years old, at which point they choose which faction they’re going to live in for the rest of their life.  Each faction represents a specific virtue and serves a specific task in the society at large.

Plot

Beatrice is a 16 year old girl who has been raised in the Abnegation faction with her family.  Being 16, it’s time for her and everyone else who is 16 (including her brother) to choose a faction that they’re going to live in.  During the test to help them decide which faction they should choose, Beatrice gets a very odd result and finds out that she is Divergent (this is about 40 pages into a 500 page book, it’s also the basic premise of the book and not really a spoiler).  While she isn’t told exactly why, she finds out that being divergent is incredibly dangerous and she should hide the fact that she is from everyone.  So she does what she can to hide her divergence while trying to succeed in her new faction.

Enjoyment

I can understand why a lot of people like this book, and why it’s selling so well.  Unfortunately, I was troubled with it.  Everything in the book to me seemed forced.  The world that the book is set in itself seems forced to me.  In a vacuum I can understand how the five factions would work together, but I can’t begin to imagine how they got there.  In the book it briefly mentions the old government falling apart, and separate groups emerging to try to fill the gap, each with their own idea of how to fix the problems.  I’m ok there, but how do they then start working together?  It just doesn’t work for me.

My biggest problem with the book comes from me studying psychology.  (This will be a nerdy section, I’m warning you now.)  The basic premise is that the five groups sort themselves based upon their underlying personality traits, Abnegation being overwhelmingly selfless, Dauntless being thrill seekers, Erudite being the most studious and intelligent, Candor seeking truth, and Amity being the most peaceful.  When people who are in Dauntless have children, their children will overwhelming take after them, and be thrill seeking as well.  While they are genetically inclined towards this lifestyle (nature), they are also pushed into this lifestyle by imitating the adults around them (nurture).  What you would end up with after a relatively short time – probably within 4 or 5 generations – would be 5 very distinct populations of people.  With the 5 populations this distinct, you would almost never have a child raised in one population transfer to another when they became 16.  This isn’t a problem until you consider that the main character is Divergent.  She isn’t a perfect fit, her personality is such that she could choose from 3 of the 5 factions and would be capable of fitting into any of them.

For her to be rare enough to cause problems, this world would have had to have the factions for at least the 4 or 5 generations I mentioned above.  But they haven’t been there that long, it isn’t directly stated but it’s heavily implied late in the book that one of the factions was actually created within the past 2 generations.  If she is going to cause a problem by being a rare Divergent, the number of transfers is going to be incredibly low.  The book never mentions the exact number of transfers versus incumbents for each faction, but it does tell us for one faction, they have 10 incumbent initiates and 9 transfer initiates.  If we expand that to assume similar numbers for the other factions, then out of 100 children reaching the age of 16 in any given year, half of them transfer out of their birth faction into another faction.  Because of this nearly all of the children of this generation, as well as most of the adults, should function essentially as Divergents.  If you’ve read the book, there is a major plot point at the end that falls apart if you look at the world this way.

Another big complaint involved the way that the world was governed.  Of the five factions, only one actually voted on issues involving all five of the factions.  Each individual faction can give their opinions on any issue that is raised, but they aren’t allowed to vote.  This could possibly work if the faction in charge was the faction with the military power, but they aren’t.  The voting faction is hated by the military faction.  If the faction with the military strength is the only one voting, the world would quickly fall into a dictatorship similar to The Hunger Games, with one faction having control and every other faction being subservient.  It would make much more sense for the world as a whole if each of the five factions sent a number of representatives to vote, if they each sent 3 reps to vote, that would be 15 people, which would prevent a tie from occurring.  It would also prevent any one faction from acquiring too much power because the other factions could block them.  Unfortunately, setting it up that way destroys the rebellion that will end up serving as the overarching plot for the trilogy.

I read Partials yesterday, and I praised it highly because everything made sense.  Dan Wells thought about how the world would be changed, and he made sure that everything was logical and fit within the reality he created.  In this book it seems as though Veronica Roth started with an interesting world idea, and then told the story, changing the world where it was convenient for the story she is trying to tell.  My experience is going to be different from that of other readers, but the core of how we understand a book is based upon our knowledge of how people behave.  And when the basic premise of the world goes against what I know about human psychology and the development of personalities, it’s going to fall apart and ruin the book for me.

Overall Grade

Too many aspects of the story felt forced to me, and the worldbuilding falls apart if you look at it too closely.  I’m glad I waited for the paperback version, and I don’t see myself picking up the sequels to the book.

5/10

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7 Comments

  1. hannahrose42

     /  March 3, 2012

    Excellent review. You put into words the vague suggestions I was getting from others about this book. I had considered reading it, but with all the other books I bought recently, I’m probably never going to get to this one. I can see where you’re coming from with the factions being recently constructed… if you get to pick your own faction, I don’t really see how being able to fit into more than one is a problem. It sounds like there are some serious flaws in the government aspect of the book, which is understandable in a dystopian society, but really should be well thought out if you’re hoping to show that it actually could come to fruition.

    Reply
    • I don’t think I’d be too worried about missing this book, there are plenty of other good ones out there.

      Reply
  2. Wow you got around to reading that quickly, ta. 🙂
    Hmmm, the book sounds quite dissapointing then. I was concerned about it from the first moment I saw it because of it tapping into the Dystopian craze. I’m automatically wary of any book that does this, but I’d heard quite a few positive reviews on it so I though maybe, just maybe it might be good. However, from what you’ve described above it sound like all my concerns were right. From a Psychology perspective (I’m hoping to study Psychology at Uni) it does sound completely wrong, and even if I liked the characters in the book, I think I would find this aspect increasingly frustrating.
    Thanks for the heads up, I think I’ll be passing on this book…

    Reply
    • The story in itself was good enough to be an interesting read. But the whole time I read the book I was bothered by the fact that the world just doesn’t work the way it was constructed in this book.

      Reply
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