Jennifer's Reviews > Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth
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's review
Sep 11, 2013

it was ok
bookshelves: ya, sci-fi
Read from December 14, 2011 to January 05, 2012

I wish that I had written a review of this shortly after finishing it, because now I can't quite remember in detail why I didn't like it so much. Then I would have more ammunition for getting reamed by the Goodreads community that voted it one of the best books of 2011. I suppose that first thing's first: this book is not The Hunger Games. Part of the reason I disliked it is probably due to unfair comparisons, but this book was published after The Hunger Games, and those are the expectations that it has to deal with.

I didn't particularly like the writing style of this book. I thought that the writing seemed like it was written at an unnecessarily low reading level for its target audience, and it made me wonder if Veronica Roth only published this as a YA book because it would camouflage the simplistic writing, bash-you-over the head "characterization" and obvious "growth moments." I didn't find the world particularly creative, and this, in conjunction with the mediocre writing reminded me of stories that my nerdy friends and I wrote in junior high while being anti-social or playing tabletop.

I did, however, think Roth's basic idea for her utopia, that four groups attribute evil in the world to four negative character traits, greed, cowardice, dishonesty and ignorance, created a society in which four factions prized and pursued the traits that are the "cures" to those negative human urges. Once again, my dislike was once again magnified because I think that Veronica Roth could've written a really good novel, but instead, it was mediocre.

An example of the writing being insufficient for the weighty material and great idea was that I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief and just be carried along by the excitement of the story. I just got irritated that the beginning of the novel glorifies the stupid, reckless behavior as exemplified by Dauntless. Although it's later hinted that the original philosophies/charters of the faction founders have been corrupted, i.e. from Four telling Tris that the original charter/philosophy of Dauntless was to recognize "every day acts of bravery" and that sometimes being brave and self-less are sometimes the same thing, it just seemed like Roth was reigning the story back in to have a "moral" while still using Tris's Dauntless initiation to give the story more action to appeal to today's ADD YA readers.

The other thing that bothered me about Tris's determination to be Dauntless was that, in addition to providing action as reader candy, Tris learning how to elbow people into submission and shoot a gun were used as a cheap way to establish her as a "strong female character" and sell this as a good book for girls. Tris is supposed to be a strong female character and, in many ways, she is. Tris does, physically kick butt, but her self-esteem totally sucks, and Tris's relationship with Four highlights this.

Perhaps it's Tris's relationship with Four that annoyed me more than Tris's lack of self-esteem, and the reason why I don't think that Tris is necessarily a particularly good role model for young girls. Tris repeatedly thinks, and then even says to Four/Tobias that she isn't pretty and is kind of lame, so she has no idea why he even likes her. It wasn't so much that Tris felt this way so much as the fact that Roth beats us over the head with this (didn't the creative writing teachers at Northwestern ever emphasize that authors should show not tell?) and it takes a guy liking Tris for her to get over her insecurities to realize her self-worth. Although many girls (including myself) have felt/feel this way, and attention from guys does help, I don't think that this is a particularly positive message for girls, particularly due to the fact that self-esteem gained by attention from a guy (even if he's a good guy, like Four supposedly is, more about the "supposedly" a little later) is usually transient; the only way to attain lasting self-esteem is knowing it deep inside yourself (even though sounds super cheesy).

As far as Four/Tobias being a "supposedly" good guy, I feel like, in some ways, that there are two different boyfriends and relationships in this novel. It's the beginning that bothers me. Tris has a crush on Four, who of course, happens to be older and an authority figure, and he actually treats her pretty badly. He ignores her, is emotionally aloof, harshly makes fun of her, etc. Although this goes with the plot, as Four trying to protect her without drawing attention to his favoritism, I'm a bit squeamish about this because it reminds it's the classic romance novel story of average girl with nothing particularly going for her somehow snags the guy that no one would ever pin down (except in this case it's not a playboy or cowboy), and him treating her badly was really because he couldn't express his LOVE. It also reminds me of Twilight and how Bella is also a girl with nothing in particular to recommend her, but snags Edward, who's a total creeper. It made me want to scream to all ya girls, "No, if a guy is treating you badly, he's not doing it because he loves you; he's doing it because he's a jerk. Stay away."

To be fair, I will say that I like Tris, and her relationship with Four, much better at the end of the novel than at the beginning, which is, perhaps, the point, since she is supposed to have grown leaps and bounds as a person through her difficult experiences. At the end of the novel, Tris is forced to acknowledge her own abilities, worth and strength, both internal and external, and her relationship with Tobias is give-and-take; they help each other rather through life-and-death situations as well as emotional turmoil rather than Four merely taking Tris under his wing.

I suppose that the fantasy fulfillment of bland girl conquers a male typically thought of as unattainable probably shouldn't be as much of a reason for me to dislike Divergent as much as I do, since this is basically one of the flaws that most romances and romantic comedies have, and most of us still enjoy them. I suppose that I just have higher standards for books because books, unlike TV, movies and music videos, were always the place that I went to for escape from crazy mainstream society ideas about roles that girls should fulfill. Furthermore, at least for me, the experience of being disappointed by a book (finding a book mediocre when you expected it to be great), in this case both because of so much praise and a great concept, is far worse than reading an equivalently mediocre book but expecting it to be so.


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Reading Progress

05/27 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Katie Bruce Does it help to know that Veronica Roth is a little tiny baby writer? She's, like, 23 or something. I have hopes her writing will improve with age. I also read an interview with her somewhere where she was saying her original draft of this book was told from Tobias' point of view, but for some reason at some point she changed it to Tris. Once I read that, a lot of the "off-ness" of this book seemed to make more sense. Tobias just comes off as a much more developed character and I almost wish she would have stuck with him as the narrator.

Jennifer Yeah, it helps a little bit to have read that Veronica Roth is a "baby writer," but then at the same time, it annoys me that there wasn't better quality control on her publisher/editor's end. On the other hand, they might not have cared as long as they thought that the end result would be profitable, and I would assume that it has been, considering its popularity. On a side note, it seemed like the type of book that Scholastic would publish, appealing but oftentimes lacking in depth when it's a children's book that tries to address serious topics. Then again, The Hunger Games was published by Scholastic.

I think that it would definitely be interesting to read it from Tobias's point of view, and I wonder if she just changed it because they thought that it would be more marketable to girls. I can't help but think that it might have been in an effort to tap the same market as The Hunger Games. It would make me sad if Veronica Roth had to compromise her vision due to business concerns, but it wouldn't be surprising.

If I'm going to be honest with myself, reading Veronica Roth's biographical blurb and seeing her picture probably negatively impacted my opinion of the novel because of unfair personal bias. I did see that she said that she wrote it while she was in college, and part of me was probably at least a little bit jealous that someone younger than us could presumably be so successful. I would've been jealous in any case, but then it was probably made worse by the fact that I read the novel and found it lacking. The other really bitchy girl part of me also saw Veronica Roth's picture and thought that she wasn't bad looking, but she wasn't particularly good-looking either, so in my mind I subconsciously assumed that she incorporated all of her own feelings of not being extraordinary into the character of Tris.

(Hopefully Veronica Roth doesn't read these comments! So embarrassing, but I actually feel a little bit better for admitting my stereotypical girl nastiness.)

I do hope that her writing improves with age, and I would like to find out what happens in the subsequent volume, but I'm afraid that I'll want to bash my head in again after reading it because it will still have been too soon for much improvement, and it's unlikely that the editor/publisher will become more stringent since the sequel will sell perfectly fine.

Kamillah I'm actually en route to pick up this book from the library now to check it out. One of my former Columbia colleagues/friend recommended it so I want to check it out.

I don't dislike Bella all that much. And Jacob is the creepy, arrogant one.

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