Today we’re going to talk about the book that tried super hard to be The Hunger Games.
Each week on my YouTube channel, I review books. I alternate between the number one best selling ebook on Amazon, and an independent title of my own choosing. For my first review, I did a bestseller, and the number one book in the Kindle store was Divergent, by Veronica Roth.
Spoiler alert in advance.
Divergent is a dystopian Young Adult novel about a futuristic society divided into five factions. It follows the story of Beatrice, a young girl in the Abnegation faction who’s spent her whole life suppressing all ego.
At the age of sixteen, Beatrice must decide whether to remain in her faction or join another. She elects to abandon her family and joins the Dauntless faction, the warrior caste of society who prize bravery above all else.
Divergent felt like it was trying to be The Hunger Games, so it’s very difficult to review without that comparison. The factions in Divergent sound like the Districts in Hunger Games. They’re communities that have different functions and live separately, but seem to know all about each other somehow.
However, Divergent fails to capture the sense of crushing reality in the Hunger Games universe. While the society of Panem seems almost inevitable, the society in Divergent came off as laughably implausible. No one predicted any problems with forcing angsty sixteen-year-olds to choose a path in life and force them to stick to it no matter what? These people still aren’t sure how to talk to the opposite sex.
In terms of functionality, letting the kids choose doesn’t seem like a good long-term idea. What if not enough people choose Abnegation? That’s really going to suck when you suddenly don’t have any doctors. Also, this entire society is predicated on the belief that everyone has only ONE dominant personality trait. And that that will never change over time or even on a temporary one-day basis. If someone dares to be brave AND selfless? DIVERGENT!
Dauntless initiates must have regular hunting trips chasing schizophrenic people through the streets and gunning them down.
As far as the protagonists, in Hunger Games, Katniss’ stoicism and abrupt nature are well-explained, and she has a driving purpose throughout the story to return to her family,
Beatrice seems listless. She wants to join the Dauntless faction because of … reasons, I guess, because she saw them jumping off of trains or something — the point is it’s not very well explained.
Once Beatrice is within the Dauntless faction, she discovers that anyone who doesn’t pass their version of boot camp is kicked out and declared factionless. While this is supposed to raise the stakes, it actually just made me hate her a little.
“You mean if I fail, I no longer get to be among the elite ruling class of society? I’d rather die!”
Soon the book dissolves into kids beating the everliving crap out of each other for pages and pages. The violence comes across as gratuitous, leaving nothing to the imagination.
The teenage characters had an annoying habit of erupting with lines of philosophy that didn’t fit with their general dialogue. I’ve never heard a sixteen-year-old girl, told she’s fat by someone in high school, respond with, “I despise what you say and yet I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
What was supposed to be witty banter between the characters came off flat and unfunny. So, realism points I guess, because I’ve met very few teenagers who were as funny as they thought they were.
Beatrice’s romance was annoying. For some reason she doesn’t recognize her obsession with Four, and yes his name is Four. She’s staring at him all the time but she doesn’t know why. She keeps thinking of him and doesn’t know why.
Really? You don’t know why? It’s not because your teenage hormones are telling you to mash your face parts into his face parts?
How did you learn to be good in Abnegation without learning what bad behavior was and how to avoid it?
Once the romance actually begins, it completely occludes everything else. Yes, she’s fighting a civil war and trying to save her family’s lives, but what’s REALLY important is that Four is safe.
Near the end, Beatrice’s mother turns out to have been Dauntless in her youth and tries to rescue Beatrice. She immediately gets herself killed so Beatrice can run away, which seems like a loving sacrifice. The problem is that she died, like, ten feet away from Beatrice, and could have totally just run with her, and less than ten seconds later, Beatrice is running down the street with her mother’s killers on her heels. So the sacrifice turns out to have been completely pointless.
In terms of writing style and story construction, I often found Divergent lacking. Too many characters were thrown at us too quickly, making it difficult to track who was who. I found many typos or examples of poor sentence construction — something that’s annoying in any book, but particularly in a traditionally published bestseller.
There’s numerous references in the book like, “I walked by a building that was once called the Sears Tower, but was now called the Hub.” Has anyone EVER thought that to themselves? If we wouldn’t do that today, I find it difficult to believe in a world where the government suppresses all historical knowledge.
In general, however, Roth knows how to describe a scene. Every place she described came to life in my imagination. There were several action sequences that had me smiling and quite literally breathless. Divergent therefore has moments of thrill and excitement that take us out of the doldrums the rest of the story tends to plunge us into.
I give Divergent 3.5 stars out of five.
While it has some great action scenes and is fairly well-written, the character motivation, plot and world-building left me less than satisfied. I saw it as a fairly typical dystopian novel with little appeal beyond fans of that genre. So if you’re into that kind of thing, Divergent is the book for you.
If you want to read this book, you can purchase the Kindle edition by clicking on the picture, which will take you to the Amazon bookstore through an affiliate link that helps fund the show.
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