As the backcover blurb states, the book is set in a dystopian Chicago divided in five factions. Each faction is devoted to a particular virtue (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudition) and every year all sixteen-year-olds must decide which faction they want to join for the rest of their lives. It’s basically city-wide Harry Potter houses, plus a crapsack world out of The Hunger Games. I tried to judge the book on its own merits, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons when it contains so many popular YA elements.
Anyway, the kids are supposed to take a test beforehand and find out what their aptitude is, and the protagonist Tris finds out that she’s a
special snowflake Divergent because she tested into three factions. This is apparently a big no-no, so she’s given the friendly suggestion to shut up, pick a faction, and pretend this never happened. Tris decides that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life in Abnegation where she grew up, probably out of boredom because everyone dresses in grey and is a goody two-shoes and they don’t even eat chocolate because they consider it a luxury. So Tris joins Dauntless, who are a bunch of ruthless adrenaline junkies who like to jump on and off moving trains for shit and giggles, and most of the book is Tris trying to survive Dauntless initiation, which is a sort of boot camp with a dropout rate that would make the Capitol proud. Oh, and there’s a bit of plot at the end where we find out that the government is even more fucked up than previously thought.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book. It was an easy read, and fairly entertaining, especially since I somehow managed to remain completely unspoiled and had no idea what to expect. The problem is that so many things make absolutely no sense. When were the factions formed? Who thought that segregating people into groups who despised each other was a good idea? And why are they locked inside Chicago, what about the outside world is so terrible that they have to stay inside? Or what is trying to keep them locked inside? I had to suspend a lot of disbelief to get through the book. And don’t get me started on the villainous masterplan, which involved a convoluted city-wide plan that can be easily undone by a sixteen-year-old with a gun, and also the villains’ inability to just shoot the heroes instead of trying to restrain them or leaving them to die.
Another source of facepalms is Tris herself. For someone who tested into Erudition, she can be really dumb when the plot requires it. Just to name one that made me want to throw my book at her… there’s this guy, two years older than Tris, who is all ~mysterious~ and won’t tell her which faction he was originally from. And there’s this other guy who transferred out of Abnegation two years ago and is like the only other person before Tris who went from Abnegation to Dauntless, but who knows where he is now. I kept screaming at Tris to make the connection, but nope. She kept pestering Four about it, and then privately complaining that Four was being mean or evil or whatever, when it was clear as day that if anything Four was trying to help her. The mandatory romance also kind of skeeved me out because ew people in a position of power shouldn’t hit on the candidates they’re supposed to train or examine. For pity’s sake, can’t you just wait one month until she’s no longer your student?
I did like Tris and her recklessness, and I did like Four and Christina and Caleb and the other main characters. The setting had potential. I was ready to hate Divergent, like I do with most hyped books, but I enjoyed myself in spite of everything and I’ll keep reading. It’s just not a book I’d go out of my way to recommend, not when there are many other dystopias with better worldbuilding.