Divergent Book Review

Posted June 2, 2014 by Chad Waller in Nerdy Bits

SPOILER WARNING! Because this book is completely terrible and not worth your time, I have no qualms about spoiling the end to it.

Three red flags went up before I even started reading Divergent: One, It’s a young adult novel; Two, It’s written in the first-person present; Three, It’s set in a dystopia.

It seems like this combination is the recipe for absolute bottom-of-the-barrel writing and fiction, and Divergent is nothing but bottom-of-the-barrel writing and fiction. At least Veronica Roth followed the recipe correctly.

Here’s our plot: We are in a fenced-in, futuristic city that Wikipedia says is Chicago. War has ruined the outside world and Future-Chicago seems to be all that’s left. In an effort to keep what’s left of society functioning, peaceful, and war free, the citizenship has been divided up into five factions based on personality. Each faction is given a specific set of jobs tempered around their core personality type, and no one will ever get jealous or feel like life is unfair.

These personalities all have funny names, but for the sake of me not caring, let’s just call them Braveheart, Happyfeats, Smartypants, Hippies, and Applejack.

Unsurprisingly, the factions don’t like each other!

Here’s the thing about dystopias: If the world doesn’t make sense then the whole novel falls apart. The point of a dystopian setting is to create something that the characters think is a utopia but really isn’t, and then to deconstruct the setting created. The hero comes to some realization that the world around him/her is broken and either tries to fix it or tries to leave. In this case, Veronica Roth created a world she can [too] easily deconstruct to the point where it isn’t ever once believable.

Let’s look at the movie Equilibrium as an example done well. In this dystopian future, someone developed a serum that turns off emotion to prevent any and all altercations. People walk around as robots, destroy art and items with sentimental value, and society runs like a well-oiled machine. It’s clearly not the utopia the characters think it is, but as a society and an outcome, I’m able to suspend by feelings of disbelief and watch it without questioning everything.

Breaking a large group of people into primary personality types is absolutely daft and so unbelievable that even when the novel is doing something right, it’s all overshadowed by how absurd the setting and premise are.

The whole thing is just…well, stupid.

Our main character is named Tris, and unlike most people around her, she’s a teenager who doesn’t fit in or conform with any one faction. This makes her divergent! Yup, that’s our jumping off point.

Divergent is disgusting when you get right down to it. It’s a hollow shell of a bad book that knows its primary audience and panders to them so harshly it comes off as condescending. The world is set up like some kind of high school—and much of the book takes place in the Braveheart school setting—and of course the main characters don’t fit in or have troubles fitting into their surroundings. “Society doesn’t get me, but that’s because I’m different; I’m divergent” is the core of the book. As subtext, it could (maybe) work if it weren’t in a novel that’s trying too hard to appeal to a market and jump on The Hunger Games bandwagon.

I look at Twilight and go, “That book is bad, but at least Stephanie Meyer had her heart in it.” She tried. The same can be said for Collins’ The Hunger Games which, while I didn’t like it, I respect for including real subtext, literary devices, and creating a world that was at least interesting.

Divergent just reads like a flavor-of-the-month affair, aiming for an audience that will eat up anything with “YOUNG ADULT” and “DYSTOPIA” written in big letters on the cover. It doesn’t care about being a good book; it only wants to be a successful book.

It. Is. Disgusting.

The book is also horribly childish in almost all respects. The Bravehearts are first seen jumping off of trains so they can get to school because brave people like to jump off trains and aren’t afraid of getting hurt! They run down the stairs instead of taking the elevator, and boy it would sure be bad if they tripped!

They also dress like stereotypical Goths, wearing mostly black and having all kinds of tattoos and piercings. Why that constitutes bravery is never explained. When Tris joins the faction, she makes a big deal about going against what her parents would want and getting a tattoo and dressing in clothing that she wouldn’t normally wear.

Oh look, teenage rebellion makes its way into this book too! Better check that off the “pander to a crowd I feel like I’m above” list.

Changing factions is also a big deal because factions aren’t allowed to talk with each other, and even though computers exist, cell phones apparently do not. Future-Chicago also lacks a mail system. This forced excommunication is nothing more than a stupid rule, one which no one likes yet subsequently never questions.

Divergent’s primary setting is the Braveheart school, but since there’s no charm or anything really redeemable here, it doesn’t work. Harry Potter this is not. The Braveheart school is also just as daft as everything else, and the early lessons are all about learning how to fight and throw knives and other stereotypical nonsense.

And of course the leader of the school is super evil and barbaric just because. And of course there’s the trio of friends Tris becomes a part of and then the trio of evil bullies who have no character development to them other than, “we are mean…just because!” Trying to come up with something interesting is simply too much work for Divergent to bother with.

After the first chunk of physical-training tests, the characters are medicated and forced to face their fears because Bravehearts need to be able to face their fears. They are Bravehearts after all. It’s their shtick, and what the last half of the novel spends its time stressing over.

This book is stupid.

Tris as a character isn’t much to write home about. She has more personality to her than Bella Swan, but she’s nothing real special either. She actually leans on the stupid side at times, but that comes off as more annoying than an actual character personality trait.

Her Divergence, for example, means she can alter the mind simulations to get over her fears easier. This is found out by Four—the obvious love interest that shows up early on (and you know he’s the love interest because of how much detail is spent on his eye color)—who tells Tris to keep her abilities hidden. Being Divergent is apt to get her murdered.

Good advice! So on the final test she does nothing but alter the simulations while the leaders of the Braveheart faction—the people apt to try and murder her—watch. The real problem is this isn’t a problem: Tris is congratulated for getting first place and having fewer fears than her colleagues and peers, and then the book moves onto the next plot segment.

This book is stupid.

The actual writing in Divergent also leaves much to be desired. It reads like most Young Adult novels where details are sparse and most information is told to the reader instead of shown. This style infuriates me to no end, but I suppose it’s just a genre convention at this point. Some passages read clumsily, either because they consist of nothing but short, choppy sentences or because nouns are repeated over and over. Now and then good writing creeps through, but it’s a rare occurrence.

The climax is actually alright, though there’s some daft mind control going on that sort of ruins it all. There’s also a Deus Ex Machina near the end because Tris gets captured and someone has to save her. The book also ends on a monster cliffhanger, though at this point, I have no interest in reading the other two.

Divergent is a bad book; but worst of all, it’s a soulless book. It panders and preaches to a specific audience in hopes of a quick buck, and it doesn’t try to do anything new with the genre it’s working in. It exists to make money. The concepts feel like they were thought up by a ten-year old who then asked an adult to write a book about them, and the execution means that that ten year old should ask for his/her money back.

This book is atrocious.

About the Author

Chad Waller

Chad Waller is the cofounder of Dual Wield Software, a two-man video game company that just published The Land of Glass on Steam. You should check it out! You can follow him on Twitter @DualWieldSoft and find his company page on Facebook with a quick search.