Ceilidh's Reviews > Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth
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did not like it

Veronica Roth started writing “Divergent” in college, and was quickly signed up by agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe . The book rose to success at an unusually enthusiastic pace, with a 200,000 copy first run by HarperCollins , and a huge online promotional campaign. The campaign is what interested me the most upon the book’s release. Part of the promotional campaign included a Facebook campaign where you could “discover your faction”, and to me this is a huge reason as to why the book was so successful, certainly selling more copies than similarly themed and promoted novels. A huge attraction of the novel’s concept is the idea of choice, of looking inside yourself and deciding which human traits you value the most, and having your entire life dictated by that choice. As I mentioned before, much of the appeal in teen dystopian novels these days lies in the inherent choices one must make, and the subsequent consequences of that decision. Unfortunately, “Divergent” fails on this front by falling into several major pitfalls of the genre.

The Chicago of the future depicted in “Divergent” is one divided into five factions, with the citizens of each faction devoting their lives to one specific virtue that they consider the most important: Amity (peace), Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence) and Dauntless (bravery). Upon turning 16, each citizen must take a series of tests to discover which faction they are most suited to, but are then given the freedom to choose whichever faction they wish to join later on. This confusion is one of the first big missteps of the novel. Why introduce mandatory tests to find a suitable faction if the citizens then have free will to decide differently?

Beatrice/Tris, our heroine, belongs to Abnegation, but decides to join Dauntless, after receiving inconclusive test results which identify her as Divergent, the name given to those who are shown to possess more than one of the allotted virtues. Once again, the red flags come up, revealing my biggest issue with the novel. The world building makes absolutely no sense. The concept of dystopian societies relies on the notion of a world that seems perfect but is shown to be extremely flawed and often dangerously problematic (an idea many writers and publishers can’t seem to wrap their heads around), but while the concept of a world run by a series of such virtues sounds interesting at first glance, I cannot think of an instance where this would work without someone calling it out. How can you divide humanity into one of five virtues? How on earth can you be brave and not honest, or intelligent and not peaceful? Why would possessing more than one of these virtues be dangerous, as Tris is told? I can understand brainwashing one’s citizens into wholeheartedly believing in this system but by offering choice surely that gives them agency to question it? Those who do not pass initiation are sent out into the outskirts to be faction-less, taking on the grunt jobs and living on hand-outs, and yet the possibility of a completely justifiable uprising is never mentioned. Even if the society of this world had been watertight in its depiction of an entirely subservient society, I can’t imagine those without factions not rebelling in some way. The way in which every character just accepts this, along with every other world-building hole, felt lazy.

How on earth is this system governed? It is mentioned that Abnegation are in charge of politics of the city because of their selflessness, which sounds divine in terms of contemporary politicians, but who decided this? How can one be selfless when it is one’s job to dictate to others how to rule their lives? We’re given no indication of how the rest of America outside of Chicago works, which constantly raised questions as to the function of local government versus the role of Washington and the Congress and Senate (granted, I’m a politics geek so I doubt most teenagers are stressing over this like I am). Tris also attends high school with other factions, which logically makes no sense since surely allowing such a system would only encourage rebellion. Each faction is assigned a different job to do but the idea that each position would only require one virtue is ridiculous and illogical. This complete lack of sense is present throughout the entire book and is impossible to overlook. I cannot invest in a novel that leaves me asking so many questions. The concept and its lack of thought reminded me of Lauren Oliver’s “Delirium”, set in a world where love is a disease. It sounds like an interesting concept until it’s thought about for longer than five seconds.

Upon leaving Abnegation, Tris is sent to the Dauntless camp to begin her training for initiation. The biggest chunk of the book is spent in what I find easiest to describe as an extended training montage. Since the Dauntless value bravery above all else, naturally their training process is like a big adventure camp, complete with punch-ups, tattoos and paintballing. These frivolous activities are supposed to be what proves, for the biggest part of the story anyway, who the truly brave are. The Dauntless spend a lot of time getting tattoos, dying their hair wild colours and generally dressing like Sex Pistols fans. The definition of bravery presented is questionable at best. The stakes, which make Dauntless seem more like a summer camp than a truly life-changing initiation, are set ridiculously low, except for the frequent punch-ups the trainees must go through. While this element of the world is questioned by Tris, she buys into it ultimately but I don’t – why is violence brave? Surely the braver thing would be to say no? This element is set up for a later pay-off into the evils of another faction but once again the mishandling of the world-building raises some questions. Who is monitoring the factions? Leaving them self-governed is just asking for trouble. There’s no authority present, which also means there’s no real villain or sense of threat. The closest the novel comes to having a villain is the opposing faction Erudite, because apparently valuing intelligence makes one instantly maniacal and ready to take over the world. There’s a less than subtle anti-intellectual tone throughout the book which seriously annoyed me. The inherent premise of the book is where the issue of this lies, but given that the supposedly heroic Dauntless are happily beating up each other, I fail to see them in a better light than those who value intellect. One of the tensions of the novel lies in Erudite’s slandering of Abnegation, yet one would expect Candor to be doing their job of being honest about the inherent flaws of the city’s governmental rule. Once again, too many questions.

The stakes are raised in the second stage of initiation when Tris and company must go through extremely life-like hallucinations of their worst fears to learn to overcome them (because the true definition of bravery is overcoming one’s fear being attacked by rabid birds). Given that not much of any true consequence happens throughout this large portion of the book, I was disappointed by the lack of real character development, both for Tris and the supporting cast. I genuinely forgot the names of several of the Dauntless trainees, who remain distinguishable only by their token roles – best friend, love interest, bully – while Tris veered between cold, dull and a bit of a hypocrite. She has a distinct lack of compassion that I found to be a complete turn-off due to the inconsistencies of her depiction. While Tris admits she is too selfish to stay in Abnegation, but this doesn’t explain her often cruel nature as well as her habit of passing judgement on everyone. Characters exist to serve purposes and not much else. Peter is a bully and not much else. Al is the nice boy having trouble fitting in until he suddenly turns bad then kills himself for a cheap emotional pay-off. Not one supporting character makes a lasting impression and all feel entirely disposable.

Of course, her emotions change quickly for the romantic interest, Four, who I am sorry but not at all surprised to say is a typical YA jerk. Then again, I can’t think of many YA romantic leads who managed to draw blood from their supposed true love. I tend to get very angry when the “I was only trying to protect you” card is played in any novel, but here it angered me more than usual since “trying to protect” Tris includes physically hurting her, demeaning and humiliating her in front of others and treating her like a child (although she is often immature and dim-witted). Of course, he also has a tortured past and is brooding but gentle and loving, ticking off so many clichés in one swoop. The fact that the supposedly strong Tris falls for this hook, line and sinker entirely contradicted her depiction as a “strong female character”. It does not help that Tris seems to pick up each part of her training with ease. I’m not sure knife throwing and using a gun (something Tris finds a lot of security in, and don’t even get me started on the pro-gun stuff) are something that just come naturally.

The moral element of the novel feels shoehorned in. Tris makes references to God and praying but we are given no sense of the role of religion in this society. While the factions suggest an inherently Christian foundation to the city’s new rule, there’s no depth to this, nor any real rules put in place. It’s difficult to imagine a society without religion, or something resembling a religious element, be it the “worship” of a leader or the following of a divine theistic being, and I think the world of the novel would be much more complex and interesting if this was explored in more depth, but the author can’t just add a few references to God and hope for the best, especially when most of what the societies do to rule their city contradicts the inherent teachings of God and Jesus.

In terms of general prose, pacing, etc, the novel is serviceable at best and plodding at worst. Clocking in at almost 500 pages, the story feels sluggish, poorly developed and more concerned with an extended action montage than any semblance of developing its poorly structured society and undeveloped characters. I have no issue with the novel’s less than original concept since strong execution can more than make up for that, but there are too many holes in this novel for me to ignore. One cannot shove the major plot developments into the final 50 pages after expecting the reader to trudge through such boredom for so long. And here’s my biggest issue beyond the basic structuring of the novel – this is a world where the essential message is those who value intelligence are all greedy, selfish, power-hungry schemers who are working to take over and destroy all that is good and selfless, and if those who are truly “brave” need to shoot them in the head to stop them, so be it. Dystopian fiction is inherently political, I have no problem with authors taking a specific slant, even if it’s one that directly contradicts my own politics, but the basic premise of “Divergent” is one that is flawed to the extreme, and one that any reader can pick apart within 10 minutes of the first page. Tris may express disagreement with the violence of Dauntless but she is only happy to use it herself, frequently, and it always works. The generalisation and complete misunderstanding of basic human thinking is mind-boggling. “Divergent” is weak in almost every way. Its world-building has more holes than Princes Street’s tram building project, weak characterisation, plodding pacing, predictable and tired romance and inherently fails in its objective. Needless to say I will not be reading the sequel.
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Reading Progress

May 2, 2012 – Started Reading
May 2, 2012 – Shelved
May 2, 2012 –
page 100
20.53% "Book one in the Orwell Project. Dystopian lit succeeds & fails on the basis of its world-building. Here, there are more holes than my socks and on top of the baffling nature of the factions, the training sessions seem more like a summer camp than anything of real weight or threat."
May 3, 2012 –
page 378
77.62% "The world-building & plot holes are so much more obvious when there's so little plot. I also hate Four. He's a jerk. I can't stand the "Was only trying to protect you" defence."
May 3, 2012 –
page 406
83.37% "Pace has picked up but too little too late. I understand wanting to set up one's universe for the series but not at the expense of everything else and not when it's done so poorly. I hate to point out the author's age when she wrote this but the juvenile nature of the prose is very evident."
May 5, 2012 –
page 436
89.53% "The anti-intellectual slant of this book is pissing me off."
May 5, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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Aly (Fantasy4eva) hehehe. soooo entertaining. hope you have fun with it! :D


Elizabeth Ugh, that was one of the things that pissed me off so bad. It's made to seem like all intellectuals are self-involved douchebags with a superiority complex. I hated how she portrayed Erudite. Well, I just hated the book all together.


Brandi Finally another person who wasn't bowled over by this!! Looking forward to your review.


Rachel I was thinking the same thing about Erudite- and don't get me started on the 'wearing glasses even if you don't need them because you look smarter' thing.


Caroline I felt exactly the same about how she described each faction dressed. A person dressed in black with a lot of tattoos means they're brave? It makes no sense


Marie Lopez Uumm u realize the book is fiction right?? Not the precursor to possible upcoming events or even an alternative way of life. Stop over analyzing a BOOK OF FICTION! Learn to use something most 3 year old use: imagination! U might enjoy things in life a bit more!


Rachel Literature is made to read and enjoy- but also analyze. We subconsciously apply the things we read whether it be non fiction or fiction, to our own lives. Analyzing literature is nothing new and has been around since humans could read printed word. It's how we understand what we read.


Ceilidh Marie wrote: "Uumm u realize the book is fiction right?? Not the precursor to possible upcoming events or even an alternative way of life. Stop over analyzing a BOOK OF FICTION! Learn to use something most 3 y..."

Oh bless. By the way, it's spelled "You", not "U".


Penny Just thought I'd chime in here even though Marie Lopez posted her comment in January.

Marie, ever hear of the saying "History repeats itself"? Turns out that's true and the thing every good dystopia needs is some sort of feasible basis, something that happened IN RECORDED HISTORY. That's the sort of crap that makes good dystopia worth reading because it makes it that much more believable and frightening.

Hunger Games works because similar things have happened throughout history. Ever hear of the Roman Colosseum? Or the entire Roman Empire? Yeah, that's Panem, basically. And the reality show aspect of it all? That's happening right now. Children being forced to fight to the death? Yeah, ever heard of child soldiers? That still happens. Government corruption? Totally a thing.

The thing about Divergent is it's not all that feasible.

Why did society break up into factions? Who decided all that? Why is it so wrong for someone to be Divergent? Factions aren't even feasible. I mean, sure, one could possibly try to relate the whole faction society to a caste system but it doesn't really work.
Even in the most racist of times people who weren't white were able to rise above their station/class if they excelled in a certain area. Maybe they weren't treated as equals in upperclass society but they were valued for their skill, not murdered immediately for exhibiting a unique talent for something other than manual labor.

Why are the majority of people in the Divergent society only able to exhibit certain personality traits or skills? Like how did that happen? No one is like that now. If this society some how became a reality tomorrow MOST, if not all, people would be considered "divergent". So how would our society become that society? It wouldn't happen unless people are bred like dogs to bring out specific attributes and characteristics. That could happen, I guess, seeing as eugenics is technically a real thing, but even then, I can't see society going to that much trouble in order to form factions. And anyway, it's 100x more likely that factions would be based on skin color--yes, even in the future! (racism still exists)--not personality traits.

Also, the government in divergent? Probably the dumbest, not-feasible aspect of the entire book. Why would anyone agree having the "selfless" faction run the government? If they're so meek and mild another faction would have/could have taken over so easily, without military force. But even then, why didn't every faction have some sort of representation within the government? It just doesn't work.

I could go on forever about how this book doesn't work but it doesn't matter because teen girls everywhere are squeeing over this book and they don't care how idiotic it is.


Laura I'm late to the party but I loved your review! I felt the exact same way about Four.


message 11: by David W. (last edited Oct 12, 2014 05:27AM) (new)

David W. My feelings exactly. Not that I wouldn't want to see oppressive regimes be destroyed, but a dystopia by definition still needs to *work*.

Love your review and your insight, @Ceilidh. I can't wait to see how you view the more classic dystopia literature like that of Solzhenitsyn and Orwell.


Julie Butler Every book is flawed in some way. Just like every person, and everything. No person draws a perfectly straight line freehanded, and no one writes a perfect novel. I understand where your coming from, but in my opinion your leading people in the wrong direction. You may have a lot of people that follow these accusations but who really cares? "A dystopian society is supposed to be flawed" you say. Well this one is. From the beginning! Choices they aren't supposed to actually make they choose and at the end...the attempted mass murder of innocent people! I think that your judgement may be clouded by your neediness to blame an author for every flaw that you see in a book. Some of the above things you listed aren't even actually true! Abnegation is not controlling how the people live! If you saw a part of the book that said something like that that no one else saw please point it out! I thought this book was terrific!


message 13: by Ceilidh (last edited Oct 11, 2014 02:58AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ceilidh It's spelled "You're", not "your".

And I don't appreciate strangers coming onto my reviews to lecture me on my opinion, when I've clearly stated my issues with the novel. If you like it, that's fine, more power to you, but I've no idea what you think you'll accomplish by trolling those who don't agree with you.


Julie Butler No one gives a flying crap!


message 15: by David W. (new)

David W. Then by that measurement we are all of us wasting our breath here! >:(


Ceilidh Julie wrote: "No one gives a flying crap!"

You clearly give so little a crap that you need to take time and effort on my space to tell everyone how little everyone gives a crap. Sound logic there.


Julie Butler Thanks for quoting my work....it makes since since I'm a better writer...


Ceilidh Julie wrote: "Thanks for quoting my work....it makes since since I'm a better writer..."

I assume you mean "It makes sense since I'm a better writer". You're sort of refuting your own points here. Please keep it up, it's highly entertaining.


message 19: by David W. (new)

David W. You know, @Ceilidh, I almost wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt for her previous spelling mistake (since I sometimes mistake your/you're as well, although I usually spot it after posting and fix it) but then "since" happened and I'm glad I didn't do that. *shaking my head*


Julie Butler You know I'm only 13 and YOU'RE like 50...so people already are giving me the "benefit of doubt" that humors you so so much. I'm not going to sit here and listen to you insult how I write, and I'm sure as heck not going to let you and "David" get in the way of my dream of becoming a writer. Is that amusing enough for you?


Julie Butler I'm sorry that you feel I'm trolling you, but I am just trying to make a point that I love this book. If you don't...fine. That's your opinion and I am not at all entitled to critique your opinion, but...I just really don't understand why you thought this book was so awful. It makes me feel as if the fact I thought it was a good book would make me a bad writer in the future. Writing is something I've wanted to do for a long time, since 4th grade when I found out I am 4 years more advanced at reading than anyone else in my grade to be exact. I couldn't help feel as if you were just kind of stomping on my dream I guess. That's all I have to say. Thank you.


Ceilidh First of all, I'm 24. I understand that at your age, everyone older than teen years probably seems like a geriatric, but please don't insult me or anyone else in such a manner in the future. It's beneath you.

Second, I have no intention of standing in the way of you becoming a writer. More power to you. Given your repeatedly rude comments towards myself, it felt only fair given that you repeatedly insulted my intelligence for me to point out your own failings. We all make mistakes, nobody spells correctly 100% of the time on this site, but some consistency would have been appreciated.

I'm glad you liked this book. I didn't. There was no need for you to come here or onto any other negative review of the book, except perhaps the reviews of your friends, and start this.

I hope you do well in the future and work at your writing.


Julie Butler Thank you for wishing me luck and I'm sorry.


message 24: by David W. (new)

David W. I'm sorry too for implying that you can't spell well.


Julie Butler Already forgotten...it is a commonly misplaced word but I should have known better...@david


message 26: by David W. (new)

David W. Thanks. We should embrace the fact that GR allows you to edit comments even long after someone else has replied, unlike other places like livejournal.


Kathleen Johnson I'm 14 and I just never really liked this book. And I don't think the reviewer was being biased, they had some really good points. The world-building was pretty bad in this book in my (and their) opinion ; none of it seemed plausible to me. I know some people like to read books that are light and fluffy and don't need to be all that fleshed out, but this is a dystopian YA novel. If you write a book like that, you're going to have to make it so that the reader can put themselves in the world you've created. And because Veronica Roth's society was based on Chicago, it would have been more realistic and interesting if she could have come up with better history for how her society came to be.

I also caught the anti-intellect tones while reading, and I think that's what put me off. Being brave doesn't mean you have to jump off of moving trains, just like being smart doesn't mean you're evil. It seemed too black and white for it to be real.


message 28: by Lina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lina this i such a good book!!!!


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