Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

In 2011, Divergent by Veronica Roth was published on the heels of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. What followed those two series was a stack of other dystopian-esque stories that took over the YA shelves of bookstores and libraries. It also made me swear off dystopians for a number of years because while I loved The Hunger Games, the books that followed often times fell flat or just kept falling. For me, Divergent was this way.


I remember reading it when it was first released and enjoyed it. I even gave it a generous 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I remember discussing it with friends where we highlighted what we liked (the characters and basic idea) and disliked (the high levels of violence). I remember being excited to read the second book, Insurgent. But I don't remember reading it. I know I did read it; I gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. But I couldn't tell you one thing--significant or not--that occurred in that book.

Thus I never read Allegiant. I never saw the movies in theaters. I never cared.

As the years passed and I read other books and went to college and learned what makes a good story, the more and more I heard about Divergent and Tris and Veronica Roth, the more I started to loathe the whole series. I've heard every argument under the sun about why it's good ("Tris is such a strong role model for girls!") and why it's bad ("It's just a carbon copy of Hunger Games.") And I came to the conclusion that despite how much I started hating it, I really needed to re-read and finish the trilogy in order to make a decision for myself.

So five years since Divergent's release, I gave the series another chance. This time, though, I listened to the audiobook version, and now I have formed my own personal opinions of the three books.

Divergent--

When I finished Divergent, I completely understood why people hyped up this book. I could see the good and the bad weighed against one another, and for this title, I could see how people could ignore the bad to focus on the good. The concept is interesting with the factions. Tris is decent because she's supposedly a strong, female character. This book contains action and danger and making huge choices, which apparently are all relateable to sixteen year-olds. (Hey, I was sixteen when I first read this book.)

But the one thing I kept thinking as I listened was this: there are so many better books out there.

In the past five years since I first read Divergent, I've learned a lot about books and story-telling and writing. I've learned there are things called multiple drafts where an author needs to pick apart every inch of his/her writing to make sure it is sound and can't be easily disputed. (I found a lot of flaws within Divergent. A lot of flaws within the world building, the characters and their development, in the concept of the factions, and in the details of Dauntless' society. Many of these flaws could have been avoided if there had been given care to multiple drafts and editing.) Word choice and sentence structure and details are all vital to whether a story lives and breathes. (The repetitive nature of the word choice and sentences was unnerving.) I've also learned there is more to a story than smoking hot boys, badass girls, and dystopian futuristic societies. (I'm wholly convinced that Divergent is not a dystopian. Not truly. It's just a futuristice setting.) I've learned there is more to story-writing than just trying to throw together a half-baked idea in order to be "special" or different than the other ten bajillion YA dystopians being released.

My only hope with Divergent is that it will get people who don't normally read to read and then to get them to read other books--better books.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


Insurgent--

As I said before, I read Insurgent once upon a time. But I cannot remember one detail about what happened. Here is why: This book is completely unnecessary.

There, I said it. It's unnecessary.

Veronica Roth could have made this trilogy with two books. Two. Not three, two. Almost nothing significant happens in this book. The important stuff comes at the beginning or end or in random spots throughout the rest of the narrative, and the other events aren't relevant or exciting enough. Nothing happens for ages, and then there is one sentence, among five hundred pages worth of sentences, that is important.

This book also opened up my eyes to how disappointing the main characters are. Tris may be strong and quick to action to save lives, but she is also a terrible person. (Yes, I said it.) A lot of her actions are selfish, self-centered, and senseless. I don't care what people have done to you, there is no reason to treat people with such selfish hate. I also don't find her relationship with Tobias to be that stellar. They fight a lot, and they lie to each other... a lot. In addition, they don't talk about their fights or lies, they just kiss and pretend it didn't happen. They've been escalated as a high standard for a relationship, but honestly, I don't see it. I do not want to have a relationship like theirs, and I would never encourage anybody to have a relationship like theirs. The side characters are brutally written without character development or necessity. Are there only others characters added so 1) people can die 2) It won't end up that Tris and Tobias just impossibly save the world/Chicago on their own?

Roth also dug herself into trouble by eliminating both of the main enemies. Sure we're all dying to know what is outside of the fence (literally and figuratively, apparently, since there is zero concept of world building), but what could possibly be the plot of the third novel if you killed off Tris and Tobias' main nemeses? (We'll get to that in a moment.) Also, I still don't understand why a society would allow sixteen year-olds to decide their entire future in one moment based on a test.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars (It gets two stars because of "drugged" Tris and the ledge scene that discusses suicide and the value of life.)

Allegiant--

Ah, here we are, at the end of all things. Really. Allegiant was the end. The doomed end. The end of all ends. The end that finally ended this series. This book is by far the worst of the trilogy. And it's not because of the very predictable and not satisfactory ending.

There were many flaws with this series, and this book collected all of them into one long, boring, dragged-out plot that was very disconnected from the other two books. I felt like Allegiant was an entirely different story. The tone, the plot, the world--everything felt disjointed from Divergent and Insurgent. The only connection were the characters.

The reason for the Divergent, the test, the factions, all it was disappointing and unbelievable. I've only taken one biology class in my life, but I can tell you that genes don't work the way she wanted them to in this story. It made it seem like she published Divergent and Insurgent and had to wrap up the story with some kind of grand explanation, but she didn't plan it until the first two books were published. It didn't work. It didn't fit with the faction-oriented Chicago she had created. There was no build-up for that kind of explanation or ending. It fell flat. And it fell hard.

About two-thirds through Allegiant, I realized Veronica Roth wrote the wrong story. Yep. She wrote the wrong story. After I learned about why the faction society exists, I didn't care about Tris or Tobias or Chicago or any of it. (Okay, okay, I cared even less about it.) I wanted to know about the people who fought in the Purity Wars, who dealt with the onset of "genetic damage," who had their lives thrust upside down by something crazy and not just another "rebellion."

Instead, we get a story about a girl who makes a choice that ruins a city and gets herself killed but she actually doesn't do anything substantial to save the world or the people who are suffering. That is my biggest problem with this story. Nothing significant happened. Sure, Chicago was saved, I guess. Sure, things might get better for those people. But what about the rest of America? What about the rest of the world? I hate comparing it to Hunger Games, but at least Katniss' actions brought about substantial change for the entirety of Panem and not just District 12. In Allegiant, nothing happened in the end. Tris died for absolutely no reason. 

Allegiant disappointed a lot of people but probably not for the same reasons as me. It has a lot of flaws, a lot of boring parts, and a lot of characters that don't matter and don't live up to the potential everybody gives them.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars. (If I could give it 0, I would.)

There are a lot of flaws to this series. If I were to list them all, it would take a long time. I might do that eventually. I think I've figured out ways to fix a lot of what is wrong with this series--including making this story two books instead of one and having older characters, so the romance and the ability to make life-altering decisions is more plausible. I've watched the first two movies, and I can honestly say I enjoyed those more. Some of the flaws of the books were fixed in the movie (or at least didn't drag out everything for 500 pages).  I think the Divergent series had potential, but I think that potential has been wasted by shoddy writing and the goal of trying to be unique yet similar to other YA books (*coughHungerGamescough*). And no, I will not be going near Four.

Hey, maybe someday I'll re-write it to make it work. Or maybe it's not worth it.

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