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2.0 out of 5 stars A Divergent Opinion, August 28, 2012
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This review is from: Divergent (Paperback)
I set out on this review carefully, and in hopes that people will not hate me too much for it. I did not love Divergent; in fact, I wavered between a rating of 2.5 and 3. Part of the problem, I suspect, is likely the hype. The fandom did such a good job of convincing me that this dystopia was flipping awesome that I bought it at full price without having read it, something I pretty much never do...for good reason, apparently. To my mind, Divergent does not deserve the crazy amounts of hype, and definitely is not one of the better dystopias I've read.

My problems, though, are much more widespread than just expectations set to high because of the blogosphere's immense love for this book. Let's just go in order as I experienced my big three issues, shall we? First off, there's the writing. I realized on the first page that Roth writes in the stereotypical YA style that I loathe: short sentences that are rarely compound, mostly simple words, and lots of dashes. The writing in Divergent is only marginally better than the writing in Twilight. I make this comparison not because it's common to compare every YA book to Twilight, but because that really is the book Roth's writing reminded me of.

Next up is the world-building. Maybe it's just me but this society does not make one lick of sense. You probably know, if you follow YA fiction at all, that this world is divided up into five factions based on a personality trait: Erudite (intelligence), Dauntless (bravery), Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (honesty), and Amity (kindness). Lol whut, right? How did this happen?
"`Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determines that it was the fault of human personality--of humankind's inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world's disarray.'"
Right. Because the obvious way to remove disarray and prevent people from fighting is to break them up into groups. They'll be separate but equal. In fact, each faction is responsible for a different aspect of making the society run. Abnegation, since they're so selfless, run the government and mete out resources. Amity farms. The Erudite think things and make technology. Candor run the judicial system. The Dauntless defend from any possible external threats. Am I the only one who thinks this is the worst idea ever? Who would ever have agreed to this plan?

Not only that, but a big part of being in a faction seems to be hatred of certain other factions. How is that healthy? To eliminate evil, we will separate into groups and resent one another. This is supposed to come off as a recent development, I think, but I really can't see how it could ever be any other way, since certain personality types just won't necessarily mesh well. If this were the real world, the Dauntless would probably have overthrown everyone as soon as they were unhappy with a governmental decision, since they're THE ONLY ONES WHO KNOW HOW TO FIGHT AND THEY HAVE ALL OF THE GUNS.

Oh, and I need to say a little bit more about those factions they developed. I've heard the factions in Divergent compared to the houses in Harry Potter, but that's not what I thought of as I read about them. I like to think of the factions as 'fratorities,' a word I made up to describe a gender neutral fraternity or sorority. At the age of 16, the kids of this world have to essentially rush a faction/fratority. Then they go through initiation, and if they don't pass they can be kicked out. Just like the fraternities and sororities on my college campus, each of these has a different mentality: the friendly ones, the partiers, the smart ones, the trustworthy ones, the ones that do community service for their job applications. Perhaps it was because we so few older individuals in the book, except for some parents, but there was a very childish, fratority feel to the whole thing.

The other nigh insurmountable issue with Divergent to my mind is Tris. At the best of times, I just could not believe that she's particularly special. At the worst, I wanted to throw her off the cliff more than Peter did. Since she was divergent, she was supposed to basically fit into each faction equally, but I just didn't see that. She did not strike me as especially brave, honest, kind, intelligent or selfless, despite all the attempts to prove her so. She struck me, in fact, as very average. This is fine and could have been a good thing, except that I was constantly told how unique and amazing she was. I feel like is she's divergent, than probably about half the population should be.

The other thing that really bothered me about her was her inability to be a good friend, and how incredibly mean she was. The perfect example of this is in her treatment of Al. On the very first night in Dauntless, she's in her cot, trying to sleep and resisting the urge to cry. Then she hears Al crying and thinks: "I should comfort him---I should want to comfort him, because I was raised that way. Instead I feel disgust. Someone who looks so strong shouldn't act so weak." Wow, really, bitch? It would be okay if he was an itty bitty girl like you, but big, masculine men aren't allowed to cry? This just makes me so incredibly angry. She later befriends Al, but always secretly thinks of him as a wussy baby. This is not okay.

However, you may notice that I went with a 3 rating, so I didn't hate it, even if I did flirt with a meh. Well, the 3 is because I think I will be reading the next book, because I would like to know what happens next. I do kind of like Four, and I hope he'll have more of a personality in the next book. I also liked Christina and Will and, assuming their both alive, might enjoy Insurgent more if they had a larger role.

To conclude, I think this book has been vastly over-rated. I recommend it in the same way I would recommend The Selection: with caution and to people looking for a fun, fluffy read. This one has more darkness and violence, but is ultimately satisfying to me in precisely the same unhealthy way.
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Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 15, 2013 7:30:19 AM PST
Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. My daughter wants to read this book because it was recommended to her by a friend. I'm not the kind of person to jump on (or mindlessly allow my children to) the latest fad bandwagon. That leads me to dismiss most of the rah-rah reviews here. I'd flipped through the book myself before coming here to see what others had to say. You've taken time to point out real considerations about character and content, much of which I know will wind up showing up in my child's life and the way she conducts herself in the interaction of relationships.

She might be able to maintain better balance later, but not for now. Thanks for the level-headed review. We'll look for something better than 'meh.'

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2013 8:31:08 AM PST
I can see why people enjoy it. There's a lot of action, but there's no real depth to it. I think the idea that recklessness (like jumping out of trains for no reason other than to look cool and daring) is bravery could be an unhealthy one, certainly.

Posted on Apr 6, 2013 8:41:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 6, 2013 8:44:44 AM PDT
Kristie says:
Your review says you went with a three rating, which I would agree with, if you are going to read the next book in the series, but you actually gave it two stars. Also, the fact that you don't know what happens with Will concerns me because that was a big deal in the book, so I'm wondering if you just skimmed the book or didn't finish it.

I'm in the same boat. On one level I didn't really like the book, the factions didn't make sense and the writing style was very unsophisticated to the point of being clumsy at times - even compared to many elementary children book series. On the other hand, I'm thinking of reading the second book. So I suppose my own rating warrants at least a two because it held my interest - I kept reading to the end - and a three if I do end up reading the next book in the series.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 6, 2013 9:13:06 AM PDT
Kristie says:
I have a 9th grader & 5th grader. I would not allow them to read the book due the the sexual content (beyond tentative kissing) in the book. Some things were: a joke about getting a piercing in a private body part, a physical attack which included groping through clothing, describing thoughts, actions and anxiety which the character (and therefore reader) believe are leading to a sexual encounter, and we don't know at what point - if at all - it will stop. If it didn't have these scenes, I would have let my my 9th grader read the book. The simplicity of the writing would allow an elementary school child to read the book, but for my child, the violence at the end of the book is too mature.

I have more details in my own review.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 22, 2013 12:43:21 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 22, 2013 1:18:15 PM PDT
ReadsALot says:
@Ruby As someone who deals with books professionally, and as a mom of 3 grown kids, I'm intrigued by your comments. My experience has been that rarely do 9th graders "let" their parent tell them what they can and can't read. Just curious about whether or not your child actually abides by your rules and/or tells you he/she does so. Also, I'm a little curious about why you find sexual ideation so troubling in a 9th grader. It's completely age appropriate and a book like this, that basically leaves EVERYTHING to the imagination is a great opportunity for discussion. Not judging, just curious. I raised my kids, it seems, very different and I'm intrigued by what drives you. By 9th grade, I'd long since "allowed" my kids to make their own decisions about what to read.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 22, 2013 1:58:15 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 22, 2013 1:59:34 PM PDT
Kristie says:
Hi NAParker, Well I am probably more conservative than a lot of parents; I have not allowed my 9th grader read Hunger Games either, based on the reviews that I read. I feel that kids are desensitized far too early to violence and sex. I just feel it's too early for my child to be exposed to the build-up of a possible sexual encounter and the teen boy/girl angst written into the book. My kid has enough real-life angst. :) Although the author did not go out of bounds for this age group, when I was reading it, I was like, ok, they're going to do it. So the build-up was just a bit too intense for what I'm comfortable with my 14 yr old reading just yet. I'd rather kids get there on their own, not try to live out a book. (Part of this comes from personal experience.)
As for allowing kids to read books, my kids aren't into reading (totally opposite of me!), and I think I would know something was up if they disappeared behind closed doors for long periods of time. But yes, they can certainly sneak a book, read it at school or whatever, but so far they just aren't that motivated to do so. And if they did, it wouldn't be the end of the world, I'd just talk to them about the content and why I didn't think they were ready to read the book.
To answer your curiosity directly, what drives me is my personal experience during my early teen years and my belief that kids are desensitized far too early.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2013 1:12:59 PM PDT
mrswynn says:
I agree. I am in my late 20s and have 3 children (5 years and younger) and while I really enjoyed this book, I would not allow my child to read it. I mean, clearly not at the age they are now, but I agree that a 14 year old may not need to either. You get very involved with the characters when you're reading a book, typically. You get emotional with them, even. When the main character of a book is having sexual experiences (even if they don't lead to sex) you're right in the middle of the emotions because you're reading what's going on in her head. I remember what I was like at 14 years old. I was starting to have questions about sexual things, etc, but a fictional book is not where we should let our children learn these things. It is for young adult, which I would think is much older than 14 :) kudos to you.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2013 1:27:58 PM PDT
ReadsALot says:
Your comments are very interesting. As a librarian, I respect your choices for your own children, but again, as a librarian, they seem to me a bit naïve. I have had kids younger than 14 ask for books about subjects that they most certainly would not ask their parents about....that's why they ask me for books! My own children are between 18 and mid-20s. I did not restrict their reading choices, but made myself available to them to discuss and answer their questions. It wasn't something I started doing when they approached adolescence...it was a life long process that began when they were born. They are all very well adjusted and honest with themselves and with me and my husband...sometimes giving us more information than we bargained for! I guess my question stemmed from the disconnect I see between what parents THINK their kids know and wonder about, and what the kids actually DO know and wonder about. I'm not comfortable placing restrictions on my own kids, and I appreciate your insight into how I might help the kids who come to the library instead of to their parents.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2013 6:29:10 PM PDT
Kristie says:
NAParker, it seems that you are painting broad strokes and drawing assumptions about our relationship with our children simply because we draw boundaries that are more conservative than the norm. It's a common misconception that parents that have stricter boundaries are naive, rigid and basically living in ignorance that kids are curious about everything, their hormones are raging, and all ranges of behavior/experiences will occur. I am neither naive nor ignorant, and therefore I too have an excellent relationship with my kids, even on the squirmiest subjects - things I never would have spoken to my parents about.

I think we as parents are greatly influenced by our own childhood experiences and shape our parenting manner accordingly. I am glad your parenting style worked for you, and I respect your personal choices of parenting. I personally believe all kids need boundaries/restrictions; I have seen the tragic consequences of a lack of boundaries. What the boundaries are for each child, is up to the the parents, and everyone parents their children differently. So far my parenting choices are working wonderfully, and being a mom is the most amazing experience that I think I will ever have!

My expectations of any librarian are to answer kids' inquiries directly and simply point them to the books that apply to their questions. If the questions are Internet-related, the common search engines and suggested search phrases would also be appropriate. (Our library does a good job of blocking inappropriate content.)

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2013 10:58:43 PM PDT
ReadsALot says:
Again, thanks for he reply. I am in no way judging your choices as a parent....I simply have made different choices, with what I believe are exceptionally wonderful results. You may be the authority on conservative parenting, but my relationship with library patrons tells me so very much more about what kids choose NOT to share with their parents. To be sure, it is a very complex issues, and neither one of us necessarily sees the complete picture. Thanks for taking the time to answer.
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