It did not take me long to realize that Divergent, by Veronica Roth, was probably not the book for me. I am naturally a critical person, though I can happily and willingly suspend my disbelief for a variety of sci-fi and fantasy premises. But I could really and truly not buy into the faction system in Divergent, and that–among other issues–prevented me from losing myself in the novel and enjoying it to the fullest.
First, here is the summary from GoodReads:
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, 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.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.
Sounds cool, right? Yeah. But then you learn more about the factions system, and you realize there is just no way this could possibly work. And I guess that’s the point, as the reader comes to understand all is not well in future Chicago, with inter-faction tension boiling. But what did they think was going to happen if you arbitrarily divide people up and then focus on cultivating a single trait to the exclusion of all others? Who proposed this, and how the heck did they get everyone else to go along with a system so doomed to fail? How are these artificial divisions any better than divisions along race, political affiliation, gender, etc.? What about traits that don’t have their own factions, like loyalty? How can someone be honest without being brave, or be selfless without being peaceful? It was never adequately explained and it was a real thorn in my side. The world-building failed to convince me, and so I approached everything that followed feeling off-balance and a little cranky. Again, I love creative sci-fi premises, but I need to see that the work has been put into making the world seem logical. When compared to the world-building of A Song of Ice and Fire or Ender’s Game or, yes, The Hunger Games, the setting and atmosphere in Divergent feels very juvenile.