John Tippie

I first became aware of Divergent by Veronica Roth in 2012 when Insurgent, the second book in the series, took over the “Teen Bestsellers” section at Barnes&Noble. While I thought the premise of the series sounded interesting, it was being billed as the next Hunger Games, which I wasn’t entirely happy about. (I am ridiculously devoted to Suzanne Collins’ series.) However, when I saw it being promoted on my Nook a year or so later, I decided to go ahead and buy it. And with the first movie coming out next week, I thought it was high time I actually read it!

Now that I have, I must confess, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. While there were certainly times when I thought the book was moving way too fast, and there wasn’t enough plot development to make me really care about the characters, I also read it from start to finish in about two days so clearly something sucked me into the story. (Note: There may be spoilers past this point.) 

In retrospect, I think my two main problems with Divergent stem from the character of Tris herself, and her relationship with Four. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that Tris, like any other 16-year-old (or 28-year-old for that matter!), is desperately trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in. And I know that can be a confusing and emotionally trying process. But while I get all of that, I found Tris’s frequent internal debates over whether or not she belonged in the Abnegation or Dauntless faction a little exhausting. She also seemed to go from training class weakling to warrior badass very quickly, causing me a bit of whiplash as a reader.

Then there is Tris’s romance with Four. I understand how and why their relationship develops, and I’m willing to concede that being in that kind of tense, post-apocalyptic environment could speed things up a bit, but again, it just seemed to move unnaturally quickly to me. It was also far too angsty for my taste, with both Tris and Four playing the stereotypical roles of young, inexperienced ingénue and emotionally closed-off beefcake.

All of that said, what I did find interesting about Divergent were its similarities to the aforementioned Hunger Games. In both series, the main protagonist is a girl who, after various struggles and perceived/real weakness, turns out to be stronger than she or the other characters knew. Two female antagonists also make appearances, with each woman attempting to manipulate the existing system to their respective ends. While I’m not quite sure what that says about how we view women today, I do find it to be an interesting commonality.

In both books, it is also the male characters that have to be saved by the girls. While Katniss’s Peeta has been described as her “movie girlfriend,” and arguably needs a little more help than Four, both boys need to be rescued – I’m sure there’s a social commentary in there somewhere.

Ultimately, while I’m still a bit ambiguous about Divergent, I did find it to be a good read. And, since it – like many other series’ books – has an open-ended conclusion, I will definitely be reading Insurgent and Allegiant as well. For while I may not be totally invested in the characters, I still want to know what happens!

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