BBGT Dares To Be Different Just Like Tris: We're Reading Divergent

We’re switching gears from vampire young adult fiction to dystopian young adult fiction! You know, what the kids are into these days! So for the next few months, we’re going to read Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

divergent

In case you have no idea what we’re talking about, here is a summary:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone [Ariel says: Except for the reader], including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Matthew says:

Bad Books, Good Times is reading Divergent?!” You might say. “Consternation! Uproar!” You might add.

Ariel and I thought about this one for a while, because don’t people sort of actually like Divergent? It at least seems to run with a more respected crowd than Fifty Shades or, to use a more appropriate comparison to the target audience, House of Night or The Host. But just because it isn’t the absolutely lowest-hanging fruit like any of those books are, should we not read it for the blog?

I’d like to argue that we totally can, because, holy shit you guys, Divergent is dumb. Dystopian fiction is really hot in young adult fiction right now, so it’s natural that we’re going to get some weird and lifeless offshoots from that. I can’t imagine that the pitch for Divergent could have been anything other than “It’s like The Hunger Games, but a Meyers-Briggs test.” It’s dumb. It’s not the Worst Thing Ever. But it’s dumb.

I’ve always really liked dystopian fiction and fondly remember reading The Giver, 1984, and even The Hunger Games, because I like the thought-provoking and imaginative ways this genre can distort the civilization we live in now and turn it into the end of civilization. Apparently in Divergent, civilization ends because of too many “Which Mean Girls character are you?” online quizzes. And civilization ends because Tris is (dramatic pause) divergent! Aka, somewhere between Cady and Regina. And maybe a little bit Karen!

And that’s the main concept we’re supposed to buy into. That everyone is exactly a Cady (to keep this metaphor going, I guess) or exactly a Regina, and that this is a perfectly believable premise, and that it’s totally crazy that this one super special person is also a little bit Karen, when, let’s be honest, everybody is a little bit Karen.

This is a very thin concept to structure a a story around, let alone an entire trilogy. You can counter-argue that the point of Divergent is that such a society doesn’t actually work, and it shows how conformity doesn’t work. But there’s a lot of problems with how it does this, both in terms of contradictory story mechanics and terms of the message it actually arrives at. I strongly encourage everyone to read Linda Holmes’s NPR piece, “Not So ‘Divergent’: The Cookie-Cutter Nonconformist“, because 1) I sent it to Ariel and that was when we decided, “Yeah, this says exactly why we want to do this book,” and 2) I will never miss an opportunity to brag about how I know Linda Holmes.

I saw the recent film adaptation and I’m eager to see if the book is just as stupid, because even if it’s better written than most of the books we read, a well-written story about utter nonsense is still a story about utter nonsense. And maybe you’re also curious about Divergent and haven’t read it either, and that’s why Bad Books, Good Times is reading Divergent: so you don’t have to.

Ariel says:

It took so much deliberation for me to be convinced that Divergent has a home here because I had a good time reading it. You know, like a regular good time, not a Bad Books, Good Times situation. But I did write a lot of jokes as I was reading, and I did have this desire to make these jokes to other people. And once Matt sent me the article he linked to above, I was like YES, we can definitely do this book.

Weirdly enough, the reason I’m excited to write about Divergent is precisely because I enjoyed it. I didn’t think Divergent was anything special (it was no Hunger Games to me), but I read it in like one afternoon, and I found Tris to be more interesting than any of our other leading ladies. In fact, the Casts could learn a thing or two about intentionally writing a character who is sometimes unlikeable while still making her interesting and sympathetic.

There are so many things both good and ridiculous that I want to discuss about Divergent on here, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to be able to be able to praise and poke fun at a book. The writing doesn’t make me want to bash my head against a wall, but I also need to just point out the fact that most of the characters in this story act “divergent”, but Tris will be like, “I didn’t know if I wanted to eat the potato or the beef, I AM DIVERGENT AS FUCK.” Seriously, that’s not too far off what actually happens in the story.

I don’t want any fans of Divergent coming here and bitching at us for hating on this book or what have you because I didn’t hate it. Fans of Fifty Shade, House of Night, Crossfire, etc can still come and whine about that because that would be accurate.

That being said, and to echo what Matt said above, the plot is just inherently ridiculous. Sure, everyone in the different factions are meant to act in certain ways which reflect their culture. Erudite reads all the time and Candors constantly say what they really think (allegedly). But this seems to only last for about one chapter of the book, and then everyone we meet basically is a regular person who might be more blunt than others because Candor! Or they held the door open for everyone because Abnegation! But it becomes clear really quickly that it is really fucking impossible for behaviour not to overlap between factions or that you can interpret the same action in about 300 different ways. If a Dauntless jumps in front of a bullet to save someone else’s life is it brave (Dauntless) or selfless (Abnegation)? IS EVERYONE REALLY DIVERGENT AS FUCK?? Sorry to spoil it, but obviously. It is obviously being human.

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0 comments

  1. eisyasofia Reply

    I have seen the movie but not read the book so I cannot comment on its adaptation quality. However I do agree with you on the Myers-Briggs personality test. MBTI is just a preference indicator, which means people can switch (e.g. from being introverted to extraverted) when a situation calls for it. It’s to believe that humans are just one-type personality. We’re complex, that’s why there is plenty of psychological studies.

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  2. Dana Reply

    Though I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’m fairly familiar with it from other snark blogs. It’s definitely not nearly as bad as the other books featured on here, or even a lot of other YA dystopian fiction (to the point where there are genuine things to praise about it), but at the same time, that’s not really saying a lot. And OH MY GOD I can go on such long ass rants about the plot and worldbuilding in this series. And the characters. And the weird thread of anti-intellectualism running through it.

    Yeah, I guess I have problems with this book all around. But I also did with The Hunger Games (yep, not a huge fan of that series) soooo … eh, what do I know.

    By the way, have you guys heard of the book Revealing Eden?

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      Hahaha, if you ever want to see Ariel and myself get into a fight, ask us what we thought of the Hunger Games sequels.

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      • Dana Reply

        I mean, I think The Hunger Games is all right. I enjoy the movies, and I don’t hate the books. I’m just very “meh” toward them. While I have a lot of little issues with both the storyline and the characters, the main reason I was not a huge fan of series (besides the fact that people waaaay overhyped it, thus making it a rather underwhelming read) was that I simply don’t think Suzanne Collins is that fantastic of a writer. I admit, I don’t buy a lot of YA fiction and The Hunger Games was not written in the style I personally prefer reading anyway, but I often thought the writing was very simplistic, unemotional, heavy-handed (SO HEAVY-HANDED) and at times, just plain … bad. That scene in Mockingjay, when Collins is explaining HER OWN symbolism within the book? You know, about Buttercup and the flashlight? Seriously, WTF was that?

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        • matthewjulius Post authorReply

          OH MY GOD I KNOW. That fucking flashlight scene. After the first Hunger Games book, I was pretty convinced Collins was a shitty writer who just got lucky. I think the second Hunger Games movie actually demonstrates this really well, because they brought in talented, competent writers for the movie, and it shows. The Catching Fire movie is leaps and bounds better than the book.

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      • Bellomy Reply

        Okay, I’m nearly done with Mockingjay. Still not hating it. It’s not great, and I think the first Hunger Games book (you know, the one where the actual Hunger Games makes up at least half of the book?) is probably a bit better, but it’s solidly entertaining. I like that Coin dropped the bombs on the children, though that wasn’t really a twist for me, since it was ludicrously obvious. But it was creepy and dark and it worked.

        Prim’s death would have had much more of an effect if I cared about Prim in the slightest.

        Katniss is so great that she gets to CHOOSE her lover. NO MATTER WHAT SHE DOES, THEY WILL LOVE HER.

        The Buttercup scene made zero effect on me. As in, it took me a moment to remember what you were talking about. If it were cut it would have made no difference to me, which I suppose is a sign of bad writing.

        The Peeta thing is resolved way, way too easily. Collins wanted her happy ending too much.

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        • matthewjulius Post authorReply

          Well, I hated it more than you did, but we’ve got a lot of similar complaints anyway. Prim was a massively wasted opportunity and the love triangle just got so meaningless.

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          • bookbaron Reply

            Matthew I agree with you completely. I hate the last two books in the Hunger Games books and if I started talking about why, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

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      • Bellomy Reply

        I’m not QUITE done yet, though because I didn’t care, I looked up the ending a while back. So I know what happens. I do want to read it for myself though, and see if I remember things right.

        The problem is, the worst parts of the book are what she chose to focus on: Katniss herself and the love triangle.

        Katniss is a weird hybrid of unlikeable and whiny and perfect. Everybody thinks she’s amazing when she did…what? Not die? Several times? Every time Collins had Katniss play hero it felt too easy, but everybody seemed to buy that she was some super-soldier ultra-warrior MOCKINGJAY. Supposedly this was due to media manipulation or something, but she convinces the fucking soldiers to put her on a crack shot team. Armed with trick bow and arrows that mysteriously never run out (this occur to anybody else?).

        The love triangle was a disaster. It wasn’t even two boys fighting over Katniss, which at least has conflict to recommend it. It’s just Collins handing Katniss her two dream guys and saying “Take your pick”. Which is literally what happens: She just says “Yeah, you”, and bam. They had the whole thing going on with Peeta and the tracker-jackers, and it would have been nice if Collins had stuck to her guns there instead of turning it back into a traditional love triangle.

        And it just ended too well for Katniss. The resolution was way too neat. Katniss was far too wounded for it to end the way it did; it should have been a Western “ride off into the sunset” sort of thing.

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        • matthewjulius Post authorReply

          It was actually a really miserable ending. Katniss just got more and more damaged and then it ended. Yay feminism?

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      • Bellomy Reply

        BUT – I didn’t hate the whole concept behind using Katniss as a figurehead to ignite a rebellion, and at least the action scenes in it, of which there were a decent amount, were entertaining.

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      • Bellomy Reply

        I actually would have LIKED if it ended that way, then she had to add “BTW, she marries Peeta and has kids HAPPILY EVER AFTER!!!!!!!”

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      I just read the first paragraph of the wikipedia summary for Save the Pearls, and this sounds like the sort of thing that could either be really insightful or really racist. (reads the part about blackface) HAHAHA WOW REALLY RACIST THEN

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      • Dana Reply

        Haha, it’s kind of hard to write a book on that topic without coming off as incredibly racist, especially when black people are referred to as “Coals” and the poor, oppressed white people are called “Pearls.”

        I won’t suggest you guys read it—it would mostly be just a lot of unintentional racism and stupid plots (and probably bad science)—but I was thinking of bad YA dystopian fiction and suddenly felt the need to bring this book to light.

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  3. Shreya Reply

    Divergent is…really not that bad. I havent seen the movie but I have read the book. Im not a big fan of the book either. Going by the reviews,I was expecting some really good YA fiction. But,yeesh. People seem to be easily pleased with YAF these days.
    The trailer for the movie actually put me off.There are sooo many annoying instances in the book which,honestly,I was not dying to see translated on screen. And the fact that Four is named so because he has four fears? Um,what? Going by that logic, from now onwards,I shall be named Infinite.

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  4. E.H.Taylor Post authorReply

    I think it’s going to be a fun change to comment more so on plot points that are ridiculous rather than terrible writing. I did enjoy the first book, enough to buy the second, but the second one is when this series truly begins to belong on this blog and start to resemble the other Bad Books.

    I’m going to be jetting off on an adventure for the next few weeks and will have little access to the internet, which means I won’t be able to start off my day by reading both of your amusing posts. At least that means I will have *something* to look forward to when I get back!

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  5. graceless Reply

    I’ve read Divergent and I liked the book and Tris but the whole factions thing just seemed like bullshit to me because I couldn’t wrap my head around having only like one characteristic.

    The last two books (ESPECIALLY ALLEGIANT) were just really bad and Allegiant was just really fucking stupid.

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  6. Taylor Reply

    Matt: the movie is absolutely not a good adaptation of the book. They screwed up the themes COMPLETELY. Ariel, tell him how they screwed up the themes. I AM SO ANGRY ABOUT THIS. I don’t care if the premise is stupid, THE BOOK HAD REALLY GOOD THEMES!
    If you’re reading the first book, though, I really hope you read ALLEGIANT. Especially with Matt being a bio major. Oh, my word, the amount of terrible, terrible genetics in that book. It almost ruined the whole thing for me.
    Skeptical of this new selection but I’m hopeful that you’ll still recognize the good parts of it.

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      I’ll try to assuage your fears and reassure you that I know that movie adaptations are not the same things as the books they’re based on. I made sure to do some minimal research (Wikipedia!) beforehand to make sure the things I hated about the movie were still relevant to the book before I got serious about doing Divergent.
      I know that the series gets really shitty as it goes on, but we kinda couldn’t just skip the first book. Although it does occur to me that depending on how this goes, we’ll totally be able to continue and do the books people really hated. You know I love tearing apart awful biology!
      On a totally different note, I know that feel when a book you like is turned into a shitty movie. See Ender’s Game :'(

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      • 22aer22 Post authorReply

        I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m with you about some of the themes, Taylor. I’ll talk about this a lot when we’re doing the book, but I think the ways Tris is forced to act more vulnerable than she really is in order to gain more sympathy from people is really relevant to what a lot of women experience. There were other themes I enjoyed, but that one sticks out to me most.

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  7. malcolmthecynic Reply

    The first “Hunger Games” book is okay.

    The second was bad. It was boring for the vast majority, then they got to the actual games for like 10% of the book, which was okay.

    The third, which I’m reading, is better than the second but still not too great. The way Gale acts about Katniss is just so ridiculous. MOVE THE FUCK ON, GALE.

    I also thought it was hilarious that Katniss claimed she was one of their best soldiers because…what? She was a good shot with a bow and arrow? That’s…that’s pretty much it, actually.

    I do like the Peeta thing with the tracker-jackers, but I skipped to the end and fucking Hell, that fixed itself rather quickly.

    Haymitch is seriously just the best though, man. I want to read a book that’s just full of quotes of Haymitch making sarcastic comments to Katniss, because she pretty much always deserves it. And what he says is pretty much always awesome.

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      You matched my thoughts exactly, down to Haymitch being the best. Fair warning, since we’re apparently on the same page so far: book 3 starts better than book 2, but around the halfway point becomes one of the stupidest, worst things I’ve ever read.

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    • Bellomy Reply

      The inclusion of Haymitch as a character is so odd, because I feel like he’s written way better than Collins’s actual talent level, and I’m not sure why.

      The movies missed a huge opportunity by not making Haymitch Hugh Lauries or RDJ, though. He could have been great dark comic relief and they decided not to even try.

      But BY FAR the best scene in the second book is Haymitch in the Quarter Quell. His interview with Flickerman was just fantastic.

      The Katniss as a soldier thing still baffles me, but it was kind of hilarious. In the games for like 90+ percent of them she was either in a group mostly being taken care of or hiding. The one person she *really* killed (not counting the tracker-jacker thing) she basically took by surprise. In District 8 she basically just shot arrows at a hovercraft. She barely had any actual experience as a soldier, and only a few weeks training. And when she tells them she’s the best they’ve got and they can’t waste her, there is…absolutely no argument? What the fuck? Sending her into the Capitol is just really dumb.

      Peeta’s dialogue with Katniss after the tracker-jacker venom was awesome.

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    • Bellomy Reply

      …Basically it was “So..uhhhhh…you’re kind of a bitch, aren’t you? I mean, the evidence points that way.”

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