Reviewed in the United States on May 2, 2015
Lessons I learned from Divergent:
1) Never tell a tightly plotted, smoothly paced story in 200-250 pages when you can deliver weirdly erratic pacing, meandering plot threads that go absolutely nowhere, 'twists' that even someone as generally clueless about these things as I am can see unfolding several hundred pages in advance, and an embarrassing amount of repetition for 485 pages instead!
2) In the very near future, human beings will somehow possess just ONE salient personality trait and value. No one is, say, both honest ("Candor") AND brave ("Dauntless") in roughly equal amounts or someone who values both harmony/peace (Amity) AND selfless generosity (Abnegation). I mean, I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but...REALLY?! Tris shows a tendency towards (*gasp*) more than one personality trait, which of course makes her radically different from almost anyone else on the planet. Totally relatable and realistic premise, no?!
3) Put down those books and suppress that pesky intellectual curiosity, kids----the Erudite faction, defined by its eeeevil love of learning, is depicted almost uniformly as villainous. Even 'worse', they wear glasses and are sometimes a bit overweight! Like, they're totally uncool nerds... can you imagine anything more horrible?! ;) (Seriously, I'm not one who needs or even wants my fiction to teach helpful lessons, but as so many other reviewers have noted, there's a blatant bias against intelligence, education, knowledge, etc. and those who pursue those things throughout this book that even I found both odd and mildly alarming)
4) Meanwhile, being "brave" (and therefore part of our alleged heroine's chosen faction, Dauntless) means..wait for it...dressing in black, acquiring tattoos and piercings, engaging in behavior highly likely to get you and/or innocent people killed, beating the crap out of each other for the fun of it and just generally devolving into vicious, narcissistic sociopaths. How totes cool and edgy, amIright?! (Kudos to the reviewer who noted that this book often plays out like the 400+ page wish fulfillment fantasy of a straitlaced writer who always harbored not-so-secret fantasies of being 'goth' and 'emo' and somehow never grew out of thinking that things like tattoos, head shaving, and jumping onto moving trains is the total ultimate in "cool.")
5) Most people, including our so-called heroine (more about her in a minute!), would do absolutely anything to avoid becoming...drum roll...factionless. At first I thought this was because the 'factionless' are without families, home and communities, not contributing to society. Only we immediately learn that they're, like, arguably the only people in this book who DO contribute to society in meaningful ways! The factionless, you see, don't spend their days in tattoo parlors and hurling knives at one another like those super cool Dauntless do---they have to, like, WORK for a living! They have actual jobs!!! No wonder Tris and her pals would rather die---literally die, I tell you---than meet with such dire consequences. (Also, if such a relatively large percentage of this poorly constructed fictional world is 'factionless', can't they ever hang out with EACH OTHER for a sense of connectivity and maybe even unite against these d-bag factions?! After all, unlike most people in this novel, the factionless have actual real world skills and work ethics, so it seems they could really accomplish something here. But, alas, the writer doesn't care to elaborate much on the factionless anyway---they're not nearly cool enough for our main character)
6) You know that "Tris" and "Four" (I'm still cringing at those quasi-cool names...don't even get me started!) have SUCH an epic romance because, um, he throws a knife at her ear deliberately and growls rather like a predator about wanting to "make her feel fear" since that makes her truly alive. They anger and misunderstand each other a lot, too, so you know it's total love.
"Four", so nicknamed because he has a mere four fears like the super manly man that he is, is wooden and generic and pretty much like every other 'brooding badass' written about in the past 15 years, albeit with more tattoos and a stupider name. Meanwhile, Tris is all "I'm not that special! Really! Oh, except that I was ranked FIRST in my class, I'm the only one of the Dauntless initiates who's totally 'in' with the existing Dauntless members, I'm the only one tough and independent and 'divergent' (eye roll) enough to manipulate the virtual reality simulations that this stupid and pointless training gives us nonstop, evil people perceive little ole' me as a super powerful threat, I'm immediately singled out by our hot trainer who won't so much as mutter a civil hello to anyone else but totally loves me and tries to give me special help along the way, and I'm the target of deep envy among my fellow initiates because they're not as naturally tough and brave and cool as I am...nope, not a special Mary Sue AT ALL!"
7) This book also taught me that kindness is SO not an admirable quality. Thanks, Veronica Roth! Tris concedes readily that Four is "not very kind," but, hey, THAT'S not an important thing to look for in another human being, right?! After all, it's so much more important that he's a taciturn brooder who has good muscle tone! (Another guy, Al, of course develops an immediate crush on our heroine, but she knows right away that she could never like him because he's emotional and sensitive.) Then again, Tris herself is not very kind. As others have noted in so many other reviews, she's weirdly lacking in empathy, feeling outright contempt and derision for anyone she deems 'weak' but not immune to throwing HERSELF a pity party now and then anyway.
The thing is, I LOVE flawed heroines, so Tris' gradual journey towards becoming a better person could have been really compelling for me. The problem is that the author defines "better" radically differently than I do. She makes it abundantly clear that Tris becoming more of a narcissistic, aggressively violent thrill seeker who pretty much cares only for her boyfriend and is mostly self-superior and indifferent to everyone else shows that she's 'come into her own' and thinks the way the borderline sociopathic Dauntless beat the crap out of themselves and each other should be equated with 'learning how to really be ALIVE' and all that nonsense. It's ridiculous at best and really dangerous at worst.
I'm ALL for learning to be more independent, self-sufficient, etc, but bear in mind that that's not what this book says or probably even intends to say---instead, the author continually confuses being a callous, selfish, scarily angry, vindictive jerk with being autonomous and brave and confuses human decency, sympathy and the capacity for forgiveness with weakness.
8) The Amazon reviews of this book, both positive and negative, tend to be better written and more insightful than the book itself :)