This is just a SPOILER WARNING: since this book has been out for a very long time (along with a movie), I’m not going to try to hide my spoilers during this review. If you haven’t read or seen Divergent, I recommend clicking away from this review! Read at your own peril.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I prefer third person narration to first person. Especially with YA, first person just feels overused and underdeveloped in most cases. However, I didn’t entirely hate reading Tris’s point of view in Divergent. I think it could have EASILY been told in close third person and given even more detail to the world, but that’s just a personal opinion. The writing was sharp and I enjoyed reading it, even if I wasn’t one hundred percent invested in the storyline since I know everything that happens in the other books, I didn’t have the sense of excitement that people probably had when this was first published years ago. Even so, it was interesting to me to get Tris’s inside thoughts since I watched the movie first and we weren’t able to get that (obviously) from a movie media narrative.
For a YA novel, the writing was a little better than average I think, and I wish I had the desire to keep reading the other two books in the series but I don’t plan on it. The world building, like in most YA books, was a little lacking because…well, that just tends to happen in YA books I’ve noticed. This is a generalization and there are exceptions to the rule, but most modern YA books I’ve read and heard of sort of briefly brush over the world they’re in and focus more on characters/romance. I think Roth attempted to balance the two out here, but wasn’t entirely successful. (Maybe this changes in the other books, but like I said, not gonna be reading those!) This was the main reason why I gave the book four out of five stars.
The plot was sort like the typical “one girl/boy who is different and changes the world” but somehow Roth pulls it away from the usual trope. Tris isn’t the first or only Divergent character; that means that she isn’t a lone special character. YAY! Tris also didn’t go out of her way to start a revolution, like most heroines you meet in YA these days. The revolution/change in society happened around her, she just happened to be part of it on the outskirts and then in the middle merely for her connection to Tobias. I really liked that the plot wasn’t entirely Hunger Games-esque where Tris had all these big plans and she was the best at everything. Realistically, she’s a small girl so she lost a lot of the fights, which was more realistic than someone without training suddenly being magnificent in battle.
I generally was cringe-y about the world where people are separated by their “dominant traits” since, as is a main plot point in this book, humans are complex and they cannot be divided so evenly and cleanly. It’s a common trope in dystopian novels for people to be separated for some dominant reason or another, and every time I just think of how terrible that really would be and it reminds me that a society like that would break and fall apart relatively quickly; like in these YA dystopians. Otherwise, the plot was layered well enough where it intrigued me even though I knew all of the answers as I read it. There were a few subplots, just enough to keep the story from becoming stoic, though I felt like the first state of Dauntless (the fighting stage) dragged along really slowly and I was skimming half of the chapters just to get to the next part.
I was surprised about how much of a self-righteous bitch Tris was. There, I said it. Her inner thoughts about weakness was a slap in the face from what I expected. I did empathize with her a little bit, but at the same time I never really liked her as a character because of her almost instant flip from Abnegation to Dauntless “thinking”. The amount of times the words “weak”, “pathetic”, “pitiful” came about was truly a surprise to me just because I wasn’t expecting someone who, yes, was Divergent but grew up in a selfless faction, to turn to quickly on those around her. So I couldn’t really relate to her very much, and I kept my distance from her. Thinking back I should probably take into account that she’s a sixteen year old girl who’s just been let lose from tight reigns she’s been under her whole life and is hormonal and such, but I’m used to a more mature level of narrator when I read books I suppose.
Four/Tobias was a little underdeveloped (again, I’m sure this is because a, he’s only seen/told through Tris’s PoV, and b, he gets his own thoughts in book 3) for me, as were all of the other characters in the book. His history was sad and I felt like I related to him more than Tris even though he was only a shadow of a character through most of the book.
The other characters-Al, Christina, Will, Peter, etc-were only slightly less developed than Tobias in my eyes, with their personalities (well except for Peter and his crew) changing on a flip of a coin. Like I get that teenagers are rash and make dumb choices and stuff, but people don’t just…change like that. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.
One thing I did enjoy thoroughly was the Tris/Tobias relationship. Unlike most YA books where it’s instalove and sloppy and angry and just a general dramatic mess, their romance was quiet and slowly built and it felt realistic for a sixteen and eighteen year old who came from a world where intimate touch and selfishness was forbidden. Of all the things I thought I would love the best in Divergent, it was not the romance, yet here we are with it being my number one favorite thing about it.
It was a good book, honestly! I’m glad I read it once the hype died down and I’m not even sad I watched the movie first. I read it for pure enjoyment and I got exactly that out of it. I was surprised with a few of the turns in it (Tris’s thoughts mostly, the few differences between film and text as well) and yet I enjoyed it enough to give it four stars. I got the book from the library since I don’t feel comfortable supporting Veronica Roth due to recent events that’s been swirling around the bookish community, but I have no qualms in reading her older stuff.