Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reader's Diary #1107- Veronica Roth: Divergent

I often pointed out the lack of originality in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, but for all that, I enjoyed the books. I was not, however, able to get into Roth's Divergent at all. It never stopped feeling like a "jump on the dystopian YA bandwagon" book. Sorting the teenagers into factions based on personality traits? Hmmm, where have I seen that done before? A lead character that doesn't quite fit into any and has to decide for herself? I'd better put on my thinking HAT to see if I can SORT this all out. At least Divergent's Beatrice picks the least likeable faction of the lot: the Dauntless. Now we'd get to see what it would have been like had Harry chosen Slytherin.

The idea of sorting teens, I suppose, must speak somewhat to the intended demographic, as it plays on their fears of making the right choices for their future, picking courses that lead to particular careers, and so on. It also mimics, I guess, the cliquish atmosphere that can be high school. But that doesn't mean that hundreds haven't told such stories before and told it better. Roth's groupings, for one, were questionable. There were some I could barely tell apart (e.g. Abnegation, who are selfless, and the Amity, who are peace-loving) and others I thought were notably missing (e.g., where's the faction for those that value physical strength?). Such issues just brought more attention to the fact that Roth's overly simplified microcosm was ridiculous. I think when a dystopian book works you're supposed to sense— and fear— that this could plausibly come true. Roth's world would never happen. It's laughable.

And all of this is made even less enjoyable by a flat-toned, boring lead character who seems confused for the entire plot and speaks in short, choppy, factual sentences. Half the time it felt like it wasn't being told in the first person at all but the third; that's how detached the voice felt:
There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.
It's almost impossible not to read this book in that slow, mournful tone usually reserved for bad poetry readings.

I am definitely quitting the series here.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

This book does sound rather awful, although I would pay good money to have you read it slowly and mournfully at a poetry slam.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Just how much money are we talking about?

Kate said...

I read this book a few years ago and had the same reaction. The best dystopian fiction leads you to see how the created world might be plausible, but I saw no connection between the created world of this book and the real world. I also quit the series after the first book.