Blurb: In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
I really don’t understand why this book is so popular and widely praised.
Well, I guess I do. This book is fast-paced, filled with action, has a romance, has a vision of the world after ours, and has an inkling of revolution or rebellion; the generic recipe of nowadays YA dystopians. But that is precisely the problem. Despite many people claiming it to be, this book is not a dystopian; it is a confusing mess with romance, ‘dystopian’, and action elements in disguise.
Again: This is not a dystopian. This book does not offer any social or political commentary about our world today. This book does not arouse any sort of consciousness or awareness of injustice and inequality; it does not warn us of anything (except that one day the bravest of us may jump off trains and onto tall buildings). The premise is inane – that some elusive, unspecific, but probably important group of people decided that conflict arose not because of ‘political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism’, but differences in personality.
Many others have asked this before, but I’ll ask it again: how? At what point did humans institutionalize this? At what point could this be institutionalized? How was this sanctioned? How did people accept this and allow this to happen? How did people with already conflicting political ideologies, religious beliefs, race and nationalist ideas agree on being sorted by their personalities?
(“CW, just accept this premise as FACT!” No can do, I do not turn off my Sociology brain ever.)
Understandably there are some books that necessitate some suspension of disbelief, but there should be some semblance of truth underneath the fantastical and implausible. In other words, there should be a point. The Handmaid’s Tale was written with an implausible premise, but it was written that way to delve into the consciousness of the everywoman in such extreme circumstances to gauge her condition, or to make a symptom of a malignant society so flagrant that it provokes analysis of our own.
But… personalities. It is facile and thoughtless, not because it uses personalities as a medium of segregation, but because personalities as a point of difference in society ultimately means nothing. So everyone is different! The Earth is also round. When you are writing a piece of fiction that is speculating the future of the world – especially if you want to call it a dystopian – authors should be able to answer the simple question of ‘so what’s the point?’ when we readers are trying to gauge the purpose or reason behind their hypothetical worlds.
Divergent fails this test. It has no worthwhile social or political commentary. It offers nothing insightful or meaningful, and dystopians ought to have such analysis and discussion. Dystopia is an important genre and an important concept – it is a landscape where broken values, dark dreams and nightmares come true. Dystopia is a lens into a possible future, a forewarning and call for action, lest we allow these dystopian landscapes to be realized.
But here we are, with Divergent and other ‘YA dystopian’ that have reduced this once-great and respectable genre to these points-to-tick-off-the-list: ‘fast-paced’, ‘action-packed’, ‘kickass characters’, and ‘romance’. It is ironic that in 1932, Huxley wrote Brave New World and warned that one day people would become distracted with shallow entertainment and irrelevant information, which would overthrow our desire for deep knowledge and awareness of the world and its problems.
But if we were to follow the aforementioned criteria, Divergent does tick off all the boxes – the pacing was fast, there was a lot of action (of the physical, punchy-punchy kind; plot-wise, not so much), a female character that is, for all intents and purposes, an ‘ordinary’ girl (who is, not-really-a-spoiler, actually not ordinary at all), and a nonsensical, underdeveloped romance with contrived chemistry. The book truly starts at Chapter 33, so if you do not care for senseless training regimes that make little sense wherein Tris gets beat up repeatedly, you could skip chapters 9 to 33, and you would not have missed much.
Perhaps one of the very few merits of this book is that Divergent explores the identity through the lens of Tris, the book’s protagonist. This negotiation of our identities, and how it may converge from our parent’s expectations of us, is a rite of passage for all those growing up. I related to Tris’s anxieties as she struggled to choose between what was expected of her and what her parents expected of her, or to choose what was truest for her.
The fact is, regardless of whether things are explained in subsequent books, Divergent didn’t give me enough to go from. There was nothing really compelling or interesting about the narrative or the fictional world that Roth created. (I acknowledge that I have high standards when it comes to dystopians.) Another merit of this book: Divergent was a surprisingly easy and, at times, fun (the guilty pleasure kind) read. So, who knows, maybe I will pick up Insurgent in the future so I can say I finished the Divergent trilogy – just for kicks.
Book Name: Divergent
Book Series: Divergent #1
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers