Book Review: Divergent a.k.a. “This Fuckin Shit Ain’t Logical”

Divergent_hq

3 stars seems to be my go-to rating for books that are dreadful from a writing perspective yet highly entertaining (of course, that entertainment is not always intentional). Divergent definitely delivered.

The hype machine’s been pushing this book pretty hard, and I figured I’d end up seeing the movie adaptation since it looks amusingly terribad, and I’m a sucker for amusingly terribad. But I wanted to check out the book first. It did not disappoint.

Let’s start with the (and I use this term very loosely) world building. I suspect that the primary thought process that went into it was completing the phrase, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Sure, it would be cool… if any of this stuff made sense! I’m going to try to explain this as briefly as I can, but to quote Harry S. Plinkett, it’s almost mind-boggling how complex the dumb is.

The story is set in future Chicago after some unspecified war or something, like most YA dystopias. We never see or hear of the outside world (spoiler: until book 2) because the city is apparently surrounded by a fence.

What

Yup. A fence. I guess phones, the Internet, TV, and all forms of mass communication have ceased to exist, because nobody in future!Chicago knows anything about the outside world. This is some Under the Dome realness but at least that sort of makes sense since it is, you know, a dome. I can’t believe that no one, at any point in the past, has ever tried to escape or gotten curious or anything.

So future!Chicago is divided into factions, each one based upon a single personality trait—think Hogwarts Houses: the Extreme Edition. I shall let the Trailer Park Boys demonstrate what each faction does:

Dauntless:

Amity:

Erudite:

Candor:

Abegation:

Oh, and by the way… the Abegation are the leaders. And judging by the way things are going, they are doing almost as bang-up of a job as these guys:

Yup, they just put all of the power into the hands of one faction. And everybody just goes along with it. Up until now, nobody has ever questioned any of this or rebelled against this “government” in any manner.

Finally, we have the factionless, who live in slums are are basically treated as outcasts. They do all the menial jobs like collecting trash and driving buses.

da fuq am I reading?

Now, I don’t know about future!Chicago, but I can tell you that driving a bus in Honolulu takes some balls of steel. That’s a Dauntless job for sure. Although knowing them, they’d probably try to re-create the jump scene in Speed and kill a bunch of people.

Furthermore, what is it with YA dystopians and caste systems? I get that they make for good drama and all, but given, you know, the entire history of the United States, does anyone really think we’d ever end up with a caste system? If you’re going to write something set in the theoretical future, it should at least make some modicum of sense with the present. Freaking Westeros is more grounded in reality than this society.

The story opens when our heroine, Beatrice, turns 16. According to the rules of this quote-unquote society, all 16-year-olds must choose a faction to which they will commit their lives. They all take a test, though I’m not sure why since they can choose whatever faction they want anyway. Oh wait—I know why! It’s so we find out early on that Beatrice (who was born into Abegation) can test into multiple factions, because people who define themselves by more than one trait are dangerous. No, really.

Beatrice is warned by her test proctor to hide her special snowflakehood, so she ends up choosing Dauntless. Upon joining her new faction, Beatrice renames herself “Tris.” She and the other initiates have to go through a training period which involves a lot of MMA-esque fighting and Jackass-like stunts. They also face simulations of their greatest fears.

In a development that should surprise absolutely no one, Tris has a hard time at first since she’s little and skinny and gets picked on by a clique of bullies. But she soon rises to the top rank of her initiate class because as a divergent, she can control her simulations. She also enters into a romance with one of their instructors, a dreamy guy whose nickname is Four (we find out his real name in the final act, and it’s as anticlimactic as you might imagine). Oh, and she gets a bunch of tattoos. Because I guess only brave people get tats. Or something. Very little of import happens in this section, aside from teen drama, and I found myself skimming some parts (especially all the detailed passages about capture-the-flag games and zip-lining). It’s basically an extended training montage like you’d see in a sports movie, minus the peppy music.

The plot finally kicks in for the book’s final act, with its climax centered around Tris’s initiation. I can’t describe what happens next in too much detail to avoid major spoilers, but there are some minor spoilers ahead, so this is your warning. Let’s just say the last act fits in nicely with the theme of ridiculosity running throughout this book. It’s  what you’d get if Michael Bay wrote YA lit—one extended fight scene after another. It all got quite mind-numbing after a while. My favorite part is an injured Tris performing these superhuman feats that must be read to be believed. Move over, Klingons. Give this bitch a bat’leth and throw her at the Romulans next time they act up.

Worf

Like most dystopians, we lose some characters along the way, but our author keeps the stakes sufficiently low by limiting the death toll to redshirts and a smattering of supporting characters too thinly-developed for their deaths to have much impact. In fact, few of the supporting characters amount to much more than standard YA tropes. As for the leads, I found myself hard-pressed to like them very much. Tris ranged from dull to irritating, and her lack of compassion for her peers made me wonder if she had mild sociopathic tendencies. Four is marginally more interesting, although he embodies pretty much every YA romantic lead trope. Handsome? Check. Mysterious? Check. Daddy issues? Check. Angst? Check. Jackass-y moments? Check. Though to be fair, I found the jackass-y moments easier to handle than usual since one of the central tenets of Dauntless seems to be acting like a jackass, anyway.

The prose itself is serviceable, although I found the book overly long and uneven in its pacing. Sections of the middle dragged on before leaping into a climax that was all action all the time. I’m also not fond of first-person present tense for these kinds of adventure plots since I find it too limiting. The Hunger Games really suffered from first-person present tense, so my hopes are not high for this series.

So that’s about it, basically. A lot of people seem to love these books, but personally, I can’t recommend this series to anyone other than diehard fans of the genre, or people looking for an entertaining read that can be enjoyed with one’s brain on idle. Divergent felt too much like dystopian-by-numbers and the premise was too goofy for my tastes. In terms of the structure and pacing, it could’ve benefitted from some extensive editing. Huge chunks from the middle could’ve been cut out without greatly affecting the narrative. Don’t believe the hype—these books were clearly meant to coast off the dystopian trend, and don’t bring anything to the genre that hasn’t been done before, and more effectively.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Divergent a.k.a. “This Fuckin Shit Ain’t Logical”

  1. So true buddy. I just saw thr movie and it was terrible! Made no sense whatsoever.

    With a teenage tattooed army, dumb actress, illogical concept, ridiculous plot…ugh. These guys are just making a big hype over it.

Comments are closed.