Tris Is Special… Maybe TOO Special: Divergent Chapter 21

So here’s something crazy: I really, genuinely liked this chapter of Divergent. [Ariel says: Me too! I didn’t make many notes on this chapter, and the ones I did make were nice!] We knew going into this book that it wasn’t as “bad” as the other books we’ve read – just as stupid as them – but I didn’t really expect to actually be enjoying a chapter that was way better than everything the book had thrown at up until that point. Except for a completely mangled plot twist at the end. So, um, get ready for jokes about how some of this chapter works really well and why the ending doesn’t work at all? Jokes!

asdf
Jokesss

Chapter 21

The chapter starts with an infodump about how Erudite has published more anti-Abnegation propaganda. What’s really weird is that it starts off making sense.

The second article discusses the failings of choosing government officials based on their faction

Uh, YES? Yes, this is really stupid? This is like saying you can only be in the government if you get carrots on a “Which Vegetable Are You” Quiz. [Ariel says: Yes! Even though Erudite’s actual motivations are stupid, this criticism is not.] Tris even recognizes that this makes sense, albeit in her own… words…

It makes a lot of sense, which makes me suspect it is a call for revolution wrapped in the clothing of rationality.

I don’t understand how any of those things are mutually exclusive. 

It promotes a return to the democratically elected systems of the past.

Friendly reminder that Divergent is really pushing how the Faction system is a choice, because, wow, it’d be a shame if the end of the book and backstory revelations of the rest of the series directly contradict this, huh?

But like I said earlier, I actually liked this chapter. This is an infodump that serves a dual purpose of making the world bigger and getting us in the head of the main character. The articles trouble Tris, who does some genuinely not-irritating soul searching.

I didn’t jump off the roof because I wanted to be like the Dauntless. I jumped off because I was already like them […] I wanted to acknowledge a part of myself that Abnegation demanded that I hide.

Do you know how hard it is to make a teenager’s soul searching not irritating? 

I'm impressed!
I’m impressed, Divergent. I’m impressed.

Back in simulation training (I’m starting to get the feeling like young adults mostly relate to this book because it’s non-stop testing), Tris continues to be too good at simulations. This definitely works out in her favor, since some of her simulations now involve being forced to shoot her family.

“In the simulation is the only time I get to see them […] You  ever just… miss your family?”
Four looks down. “No,” he says eventually. “I don’t. But that’s unusual.”

[Ariel says: So everyone knows what faction Four was originally from at this point, right? Like it’s getting increasingly obvious who he is?] Tris thinks more important thoughts.

Are you like me? I ask him silently. Are you Divergent?

We get confirmation that Tris’s problem is actually just that she’s too special when Eric comes around with the stage two rankings and pulls a Katniss.

My name is in the first slot.
Heads turn in my direction. I follow the list down. Christina and Will are seventh and ninth, respectively. Peter is second, but when I look at the time listed by his name, I realize that the margin between us is conspicuously wide.
Peter’s average simulation time is eight minutes. Mine is two minutes, forty-five seconds.

Okay, since I can’t think of anything else to criticize in this chapter, I guess this is a good time to bring up.

The dramatic.

Pauses.

That’s actually how the quote – and a great many like it – is written in the book. With mere sentences getting paragraph breaks for emphasis, and it’s not terrible uncommon for this to actually happen every other paragraph.

And it’s annoying.

See how annoying this is? Patronizing, even, like the book is scared you’ll miss even one Important Thing. This information could easily have fit into one paragraph. It even should have, because it’s all appropriately, conceptually linked. There’s only one reason to constantly break paragraphs like this.

For cheap emphasis.

Does this feel patronizing? Good, now you know what reading writing like this feels like.
Does this feel patronizing? Good, now you know what reading something written like this feels like.

Anyway, back to me actually liking this chapter! Tris makes a realization that she doesn’t over-explain:

Now I am Edward. It could be my eye next. Or worse.

Peter also makes this realization, and issues a warning to everyone that Tris is manipulating them, which manages to sneak even into her friends’ heads. [Ariel says: I liked this a lot because at the time I really felt Tris was just being herself at this point. I mean her friends saw she sucked most of the time at the fights but that she wound up kicking Molly’s ass. They saw that she was useful during capture the flag, and it seems pretty feasible that mentally she could be pretty strong even though she doesn’t stack up physically. Later, though, out of necessity she winds up having to manipulate them a bit. But at this point? Not so much.] Dramatic tension! Worse, Tris realizes that Al has fallen to the last slot. She wants to console him, but doesn’t know how, and he’s not in a place where he wants her help anyway.

“For you it’s easy. All of this was easy. […] You aren’t helping me by pretending it isn’t. I don’t – I’m not sure you can help me at all.” […]
Leaving him is not a good idea, but I can’t stop myself.

Tris leaves him, but feels bad about it, because she knows it’s a bad idea to leave him alone right now.

Every other time I failed, I knew what to do but chose not to do it. This time, I did not know what to do. Have I lost the ability to see what people need? Have I lost part of myself?

Guys, this is all pretty great! I mean, wow, it sucks for basically everyone involved, but this is the first time in this entire book I’m feeling like these are real people with real emotions, and this is after we’ve seen kids die or get stabbed in the eye.

Uriah compliments Tris on her ranking, suspecting that “your friends might not be so congratulatory”. Tris goes to hang out with Uriah and his other Dauntless-born friends for a while. There’s really nothing important worth sharing, except for a weird Chekhov’s Gun where Tris sees that Uriah has a tattoo under his shirt but can’t make out what it is, which I bet will totally never be important in some way. There’s some good comic relief in there, though:

“Why are you shooting a muffin off Marlene’s head?”
“She bet me I couldn’t aim well enough to hit a small object from one hundred feet,” Uriah explains. “I bet her she didn’t have the guts to stand th
ere as I tried. It works out well really.”

Guys, this chapter is great! Funny jokes! No excessively-explanatory narration! Teenagers feeling like shit! What’s not to love?

Four catches them shooting plastic pellets in an off-limits training room and kicks them out, but not before the chapter’s Obligatory Moment Of Romantic Tension:

“Wait a second,” Four says. I turn toward him […] “You belong here, you know that?” he says. “You belong with us. It’ll be over soon, so just hold on, okay?”
He scratches behind his ear and looks away, like he’s embarrassed by what he said.
I stare at him. I feel my heartbeat everywhere

Tris does something dramatic.

I reach out and take his hand.

By Tris standards.

His fingers slide between mine. I can’t breathe.
I stare up at him, and he stares down at me. For a long moment we stay that way.

You know what? I like that this moment actually happened by Tris standards, rather than YA “and then they kissed with the passion of a thousand firey suns of fire” standards. It kept things in character! [Ariel says: I’m with you. I hate to say this, but I’m a sucker for a sweet, “tender” moment like this.] Even if it makes this subplot move painfully slowly.

I'm just going to keep using this gif until this subplot stops beating around the bush.
I’m just going to keep using this gif until something actually happens.

On her way back to the dorm, Tris overhears the plot.

“So far there haven’t been any signs of it.” Eric’s voice. […]
“Well, you wouldn’t have seen much of it yet,” someone replies. A female voice […] “The simulations, however, reveal who the Divergent rebels are […] Don’t forget the reason I had Max appoint you,” the voice says. “Your first priority is always finding them. Always.”

Tris tries to sneak around the corner to figure out who this mysterious new, real villain is, when she is conveniently attacked at the last moment! Someone grabs her from behind, blindfolds her, and drags her off with a group of people. The others are obviously Peter and Peter’s douche minions, but the one who grabbed her is unknown. Tris hears the sound of rushing water and realizes the group’s intentions.

And here’s where I start hating this book again.

I try to focus on the hand on my mouth. There must be something distinct about it that will make him easier to identify.

There had to be a billion other ways to word this to make it not sound stupid. This doesn’t make her sound like someone fearing for their life; this makes her sound like a hand model talent scout. Or like a hand fetishist. [Ariel says: I laughed so hard at this line. Like what about the *hand* would be distinct? Ah yes, I could feel a callous, and it could only be Peter’s!]

She recognizes Al from his lemongrass and sage soap smell. (Props for having actually mentioned this detail once before in the novel so it wasn’t a total ass-grab way for Tris to identify Al! Although now we have to believe that everyone brought a supply of their favorite soap with them to the Choosing Ceremony.) [Ariels says: Couldn’t she just have opened her eyes at some point and revealed to us that it was Al?] AL! The guy who LIKES her! PLOT TWIST! BETRAYAL! Wow, this was a huge decision for Al! He must be feeling incredibly desperate and scared! Hopefully this scene conveys any of this intense conflict now at the core of his character!

A heavy hand gropes along my chest. “You sure you’re sixteen, Stiff? Doesn’t feel like you’re more than twelve.” The other boys laugh. […]
Al’s hand slips from my mouth. “Stop that,” he snaps. I recognize his low, distinctive voice.
When Al lets go of me, I thrash again and slip to the ground.

Then a scuffle breaks out and Al runs away, and, uh, that’s it for Al in this scene!

bert

So… what happened here, Divergent? What was the point of giving a character the most significant internal conflict and act of desperation in the novel thus far, and then, in the scene where they have to act on it, have… basically nothing about why they’re doing that? Or to have them revert back from what was apparently not a very serious change of heart? How does it make any kind of sense to go from “I have to kill my friend Tris now” to “BUT DON’T YOU TOUCH HER WE’RE JUST GOING TO MURDER HER”? I guess maybe he’s not too far gone, but then again we’ll never know because somehow during this scene where Al attempts to murder his friend, we never find out how he feels about that.

Obviously, let’s pretend other famous acts of betrayal throughout books and film were written this way!

  • “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Casear!”
    Brutus stared vaguely into the middle distance, then ran away.
  • As he opened the door for Han and Leia, Lando said, “I’ve just made a deal that’ll keep the Empire out of here forever.
    The door opened, revealing Darth Vader at the head of the table.
    “We would be honored if you joined us.”
    Lando stared vaguely into the middle distance, then ran away.
"Scar! Brother! Help me!" (Scar says nothing
“Scar! Brother! Help me!”
“Huh, I guess that sounds good too.”
(Awkward pause)
“So… did you try to kill me, or…”

As the fight progresses, Peter is eventually able to drop Tris over the railing, which she holds onto for life. Then Four shows up and everything is cool yay

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  1. Claudia M. Reply

    So, when do we finally get to learn Four’s old faction and who is father is? This book flips back and forth between grabbing plot points out of thin air and heavy handed hints that make what actually could be an interesting reveal from early Erudite propaganda really not shocking.

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  2. Dana Reply

    Authors need to start coming up with better, more proactive ways for the protagonist to learn important information outside of fortuitous eavesdropping. Or at least do it in a more creative way.

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  3. Pingback: Tris Aggressively Butters Toast: Divergent Chapters 26 & 27 | Bad Books, Good Times

  4. E.H.Taylor Reply

    I am ashamed to admit it, but I’m a sucker for the dramatic pauses. I love a good fragment sentence and enjoy having the tension built up quickly by the use of one line paragraphs. Don’t judge!

    I remember enjoying a few scenes in this novel (a lot more than the second one), and the love story between Tris and Four didn’t bother me like most YA romances do. My problem is I don’t mind the writing too much and I can actually get behind a lot of the characters, but the plot itself is really flimsy and predictable.

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