Monday, March 30, 2015

Series Review: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

*Note: from now on, I will be reviewing books in a series individually, but if I feel the need to delve into spoilers, I will do a series review. Therefore, individual reviews will spoiler-free, but series reviews will be SPOILER-LADEN. If you'd rather avoid spoilers,  please refer to the individual reviews I will place at the top of the post. You have been warned!*


Series title: Divergent
Book titles: 
1. Divergent 
2. Insurgent (Review HERE.)
3. Allegiant (Review HERE.)
Author: Veronica Roth

Summary (Divergent): 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. 

Why I read it: I read Divergent way back when it was first published. I thought it sounded so intriguing and cool and I loved it. So right before Allegiant came out, I tried to read Insurgent, but it had been so long since I'd read Divergent that I couldn't remember any of it. So I put it down. Then I bought Allegiant when it released, and they sat on my shelf forever. I was spoiled for part of the ending. So I lost a bit of interest. But the film adaptation of Divergent came out last spring and I absolutely loved the movie, and it refreshed me on most of the points of the book I had forgotten. So I was ready to finish the trilogy. I just didn't get around to it for a while. Since the film Insurgent was coming out this spring, I decided to read books 2 and 3 before I saw the movie, to be fully prepared. (Whew, that was long!)

Thoughts: As you know if you've read my Allegiant review, I came to be very disappointed with this series. 

But let's start with Divergent. It's been a long time since I've read it; almost four years. So I've definitely lost a lot of the finer details about the book; hence the need to watch the movie to refresh my memory. So right now, I can't comment a lot on the writing of the book, or specific events. What I can talk about is the general plot. 

Back then, I thought it was highly inventive and extremely engaging. I loved the characters. I loved Tris for taking everything in her life in stride and for fighting what she wanted and who she loved. I think she develops fantastically over the course of the first book, and her slow-burn romance with Four is just what I love. Speaking of Four, I adored him in Divergent. He was my kind of male lead; a bad boy with a heart of gold and a sensitive side. I loved the side characters, I loved the idea of the faction system, and I was just so excited for the future of the series. 

I still feel that way. If I could go back, knowing what I know now about the rest of the series, I would still read and love that book. That's what made reading Insurgent and Allegiant so hard. 

Going into Insurgent, I'd already been spoiled for the end of the series. I knew that Tris was going to die. So it began a bittersweet read for me. It started out strong...ish. Then it all started to go downhill. 

Tris experiences some severe emotional trauma, which affects her character severely. After killing Will in self-defense at the end of Divergent, the guilt of his death weighs heavily on her shoulders and she can't stand to hold a gun anymore. All of which I can a point. The problem is that under the pressure of all these emotions, Tris doesn't even resemble the same girl we'd come to know and love in the first book. And I had a really hard time being in her head for 500+ pages. There were moments where the old Tris peeked out--when she stabbed Eric, for example--but those moments were few and far between. And because of this, she ends up making several very poor decisions throughout the book.

This also affected her relationship with Four/Tobias. She's constantly upset that he doesn't trust her enough to tell her things, but she spends the majority of this book not telling him things, too. I suppose that all of this just serves to isolate Tris further so that when she decides to go to Erudite and basically sacrifice herself for everyone else, it makes complete sense. But still, some of it felt like unnecessary relationship drama. 

I did still love Tobias. As I've said before, I appreciate the fact that Tobias strives to be more like all five factions, though he's not great at being like Amity. Tris, on the other hand, still takes her aptitude test to justify her personality. Since she didn't have an aptitude for Amity or Candor, she doesn't even think about trying to be kinder or more honest. If it's not in your nature, don't worry about it. 

Speaking of Candor, I'm still upset that we never got more information about them. Throughout the trilogy, we learned quite a bit about every other faction other than Candor. In the second book, we're introduced to their leader, Jack Kang, and he plays a rather large part in moving the plot forward in the middle of the book, but after Dauntless has moved on from the Merciless Mart, we never hear about Jack Kang again. Ever. What happened to him after the events of Allegiant? I wish we knew. 

This is something that actually happens often. Characters are introduced, then once they've outstayed their welcome and usefulness, they're relegated to the background and never mentioned again, or at least only mentioned in passing for continuity's sake. Zoe, a character in the third book, makes quite an impression at the beginning, being the group's almost tour guide to their new location, but she fades away in the second half of the book, and I don't think we ever found out her fate. 

OR, they're killed to make room for new characters. Tori, one of my favorite nuanced characters, is unceremoniously killed near the beginning of Allegiant. She is never really mourned. It turns out that her brother George, whom she had thought was dead, is alive and well outside the wall. After having a moment of grief about his sister, George is only granted one or two more scenes in the book. Minor Dauntless characters, friends of Tobias and Tris, are killed or maimed often. Christina and Zeke may be the only two Dauntless friends who end the series in one piece. 

Having said that, there are some characters whose arcs I really enjoyed. Cara and Peter especially come to mind. Both characters develop and change throughout the series, especially in the third book. I also love Christina from beginning to end. She's a loyal friend, and she is often so funny, which is something the books really needed: humor.

On the other hand, let's talk about the character I can't stand: CALEB. It turns out that Caleb, while masquerading as an ally to Tris and the Dauntless, has never left Erudite in the first place. He's been helping Jeanine the whole time and has betrayed Tris. Which means that he had betrayed his parents, as well, and ended up playing a part in their murders. Does he even regret that? Roth attempts to explain this in Allegiant, but I'll touch on that later. 

Insurgent's plot can be divided into two parts: the aimless wandering, and Tris's mission to find out the secret of society that Abnegation has kept hidden all this time, and that Jeanine now has in Erudite headquarters. Because this is only brought up a few times until the end, when Tris teams with Marcus to retrieve that information, the majority of the book feels pointless. Not only is there not much plot happening, but our core group of characters is constantly moving from place to place, which makes the book feel like a series of episodes, rather than one large story. Especially since the moves are almost never spurred by their own decisions, but by the decisions of the "adults" around them. 

All of which brings me to the end of Insurgent. Tris manages to get to Jeanine's office where the information is held, but so does Tori. And before Tris can force Jeanine to release the info, Tori kills her, fulfilling her personal mission of revenge for her Divergent brother's murder. Which also factors into Evelyn's plan to overthrow Jeanine and destroy the faction system entirely. But Tobias forces Caleb to release the information anyway, and it ends up being a video of a woman named Amanda Ritter. 

Amanda tells us that their faction-based society was created specifically because the world had become corrupt, and Chicago was designed to eventually help society at large recover. When the number of Divergents in the community have increased (SIDENOTE: what constitutes an increase? 10%? Half? A majority?), Amity is to open the fences permanently and the Divergents should emerge to help the outside world. She says that she is joining this community, voluntarily giving up her memories, and taking on the name Edith Prior. 

Yes. Edith Prior, an ancestor of Beatrice and Caleb Prior. Once again, reestablishing Tris as the very most special butterfly in a series about special butterflies. 

Which of course, leads us into Allegiant, AKA when everything really goes to hell. 

First, though, let me just point out that from the beginning of the book, Tris already feels more like herself than she did in all of Insurgent, which was great. It felt good to have strong, clear-headed Tris back. 

Our group leaves the city and finds themselves at the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, or what used to be O'Hare airport.

It turns out that the entire faction system is based on genetic damage and the mission to correct that damage. So rather than your faction being determined by your true personality, it's based on your genetics. Which created a whole host of new problems in my head. 

Society wanted to correct undesirable personality traits that could be linked to certain genes. But instead of correcting genes, the genes were damaged instead. When society wanted to eliminate low intelligence, for example, it also resulted in eliminating compassion. Or eliminating aggression also took away motivation. Which plays directly into the factions. And I won't even get into the Purity War. 

Chicago is one of many experiments designed by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, a government branch dedicated to reversing the genetic damage and achieving genetic purity once more. People were chosen (or volunteered) to take part in the experiment and they're genes were altered so those genes would be healed in the generations to come. We're also told that Divergent is the word that was chosen to describe genetically pure people, or those whose genes have healed. But Chicago was the first to have the faction system. The Bureau hoped that an environmental aspect would aide in the behavioral modification along with the genes. 

The whole concept and process is so complicated that I could read a paragraph of explanation two or three times and still not entirely understand how something worked. Which was definitely annoying. But one question: if the Bureau believes that the originally altered genes resulted in damaged ones simply from genetic manipulation, why do they believe that genetic manipulation alone is not enough to fix the damaged genes? Mostly, I just really loathe the genetic damage/purity explanation. 

Let's talk about the fact that Tobias ISN'T EVEN DIVERGENT. The one thing that really bonded Tris and Tobias together in the first book, and we find out it isn't even true? Tobias simply has the gene that gives him the ability to resist the simulation serum. That was a low blow. How does that even work? How would your genes make you immune to one serum, but not the rest? How can the Bureau determine what percentage of the Chicago population is actually Divergent if it's possible to appear Divergent without actually being so? It just felt like a poor plot device to give Tobias a reason to fight against the Bureau while causing drama between him and Tris again. Because he is "damaged" and he believes it, while Tris tries to convince him that he is still the same strong person he's always been. 

Also, if your factions are based on your genetics, how is it EVER possible to change factions? Or at least, how is it possible to receive a different faction from your aptitude test? We know that it's more rare for people to transfer out of certain factions than others, but how many of those transfers actually received their new faction from their aptitude test? I would assume that most transfers aren't like Tris or her parents, simply picking a new faction to escape their current one. Because most of the population has been raised with a specific belief system, the belief being that the faction system is doing good and that the aptitude test is designed to help them realize their true selves. Especially in past generations, when there weren't as many Divergents who received more than one result in their test. One would think there would have been fewer and fewer transfers as you look into the history of the city.  

BUT, when Caleb and Tris are discussing Edith Prior and the beginning of the experiment, they are discussing their ancestors. And Tris realizes that Edith, despite her name, didn't go into Abnegation, but Erudite instead. Which makes sense because Tris's father was originally Erudite and Caleb is Erudite, so it makes sense that their ancestors would have been Erudite as well. 

What doesn't make sense is the next thing that Caleb says. He tells Tris that while Edith entered Erudite, her brother was also part of the experiment and entered Candor, and he is the ancestor who carried on the Prior name. And since Tris and Caleb are Priors, that makes the brother, not Edith, their direction ancestor. 

Tris has told us that in their society, last names aren't usually a big deal. When two people get married, they take one name. She never clarifies that they take the man's last name, so it's assumed that it doesn't matter whose name they take, as long as they have the same one. So why would Roth choose to give Edith an unnamed brother, just in the interest of carrying on the family name? Even more confusing, how? How is it possible that their direct ancestor was Candor, but no one in their recent history has been Candor? Especially Tris, who is the "super-Divergent" and the most genetically pure person they've ever seen in the experiment and has aptitudes for three of the five factions, but Candor is not one of them. 

Speaking of ancestors and history, why did Caleb have to find all of this information in books? There is a specific room in the complex that has the family histories of everyone in Chicago on plaques on the wall. Why couldn't they just look there? I really would have loved more information about that room, or at least for it to have played more into the plot. 

(SIDENOTE: how complicated would that have to be? How many generations have there been since the beginning of the experiment? How small are these plaques? Are they even close to running out of room on the walls? How do they deal with the different families inter-marrying? How many people are there in Chicago? Why, with all this technology they have, did they make a room of plaques for all the family histories?)

For most of the book, a lot of revelations are made and plans are hatched, but not a lot happens. But so much is discussed that I can't even go over it all here, so I'm going to skip to the end. The part that everyone has been spoiled for. 

Here's the deal: I don't entirely mind that Tris died. It feels true to her character arc. I don't even mind that she died to save Caleb. Even if he betrayed her in the biggest way possible, he's still her brother, and she has so much selflessness in her that it makes sense she wouldn't want him to do it. Especially since she knows he's only doing it to lessen his guilt, and not because he loves her. What I do mind is the way she died. 

What I do mind is that she decided to go for it because she just knew that she could defeat the death serum because she is the "super special" one who can resist all the serums like no one else before. 

The death serum is so weird. In vapor form, it just sinks into your skin and kills you instantly? I know this is the future but that doesn't even try to make sense. And she thinks that just because she can resist the serum that makes you tell the truth, she can resist a serum designed to just shut her down? Fine. Whatever. Twisted logic, Tris be thy name. I can deal with that. 

(SIDENOTE: Why do they release the death serum if someone tries to break into the weapons room? They have all these serums at their disposal and they choose the death serum? Why couldn't they just release the memory serum so whoever it was would forget what they were doing there in the first place? That would make so much more sense.)

But what really bugs me is the fact that she DOES IT. She resists the death serum. She MAKES IT. She gets into the room. Against ALL odds, she survives. And then David is there. And of course, he is just straight up villain at this point and decides to shoot her. Even though she is the most genetically pure person they have, and their entire goal is genetic purity. And she just dies. Not even knowing where she was shot. But not before she deploys the memory serum within the complex!

(SIDENOTE: Didn't they talk about how they had to do this before they loaded up the planes with the memory serum so they would have access to it? So they had to do it within 48 hours. But then suddenly, that whole concept is thrown by the wayside and they are executing their plan the same night that the city was going to be how did the memory serum weapons work? Did she just have to key in the location? Was there memory serum on the planes and in the complex still? Confusion.) 

In my humble opinion, it would have made more sense for her to die from the death serum. She was so arrogant and prideful to think that she could resist whatever serum she wanted just because she had a higher resistance than others. That pride seems very Erudite, which she also had an aptitude for, so it made sense!

In general, I still have questions. 

We find out that Tris and Caleb's mom and dad met in school when she helped him study for psychology, and they fell in love, so they decided to choose Abnegation together. If children from all five factions go to school together, how does Tris not know anyone her age? How do the Amity children get to school? Why would children need to learn something like psychology in school if they're not in Erudite? 

If Abnegation is supposed to be the selfless faction, why are they the only faction in which families get their own houses? 

We're told that Abnegation has the lowest number of failed initiates of any faction. How do you fail Abnegation initiation?!

What does Candor's initiation really look like? 

What do weddings look like in this society? 

Where do they get the gas to run all of these trucks and cars? 

Why did Uriah and Tori have to die? 

I am just very disappointed by this series now. Divergent still holds a place in my heart, but it will never be the same. There are just too many questions and plot holes and inconsistencies. But I will admit, I will probably give Veronica Roth another shot, because I really do like her writing style. I just can't deal with this series anymore. 

Tell me: what are YOUR thoughts on this complete trilogy? Did you have some of the same questions I had? Do you disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. I really want to read it now just to learn more about this ridiculous room of plaques

    Also, I need you to do this for all the Mortal Instruments books STAT!!!