Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dear Sister Person Book Club: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Dear Sister Person,

At first, when I'd discovered the HusFriend had packed up my original choice for January - Mercycle, in case you forgot - I was excited that I would get to read a book that has been on my To Read list ever since it was released. Then I read the first chapter of Divergent and began to doubt my life choices.
Divergent by Veronica Roth (Via Goodreads)
I mean, it's not an awful book by most standards. If you turn your brain off and treat it like a silly action flick, it's even enjoyable. This is the girl who will watch Predator and Conan the Avenger back to back, laughing at the inanity and ignoring the completely ludicrous. But if, at any second, you start actually thinking about the choices your characters are making or the plot devices required to get them into situations, you definitely start to do a lot of side-eye. And sometimes, you set the book on your lap, stare at the page, and nearly scream, "What??"

That happened a lot with me, because, unlike a "good" 80s cheesecake movie, I just could not disregard the rather stupid elements that Roth introduces and focus on the bountiful action sequences that permeate every page. First off, okay, I get that human beings have a tendency to place others into groups, but I have a hard time believing that any of us would actually say, "I think I will want to be labeled one thing for the rest of my life and will willingly stay segregated from the other factions - and also possibly my family - because ... reasons." And then, we are only supposed to display one particular attribute and raise our children ostensibly to remain in whatever faction he or she was born into. Has Veronica Roth actually met real people? That is the question that continuously ran through my mind when she was describing this post-apocalyptic Chicago (which I actually didn't know was Chicago until I read reviews).

Well, that's not completely true. I had a lot of questions as I read Divergent. Like, anyone can change factions whenever they approach the Sorting Hat turn sixteen or whatever, right? Why do they take the tests in the first place if what they show a propensity for has no bearing whatsoever on what faction they join? I guess it's to see if they are divergent, but Tris gets out of that because some random lady decides that she's not going to report her results. Which brings me to another point. How are more people not considered divergent? What is being "divergent," anyway? It's not really explained, except that it means you aren't just simply one facet of this incredibly (and annoyingly) simplistic society. Again, has Veronica Roth actually met real people?? If this was a fable or fairy tale or even an allegory, I might give it a little bit of wiggle room, but I feel like Roth should not do world building. At least in The Hunger Games, the crazy ass world of Panem seems like it could happen; Divergent's universe just can't stand on its own.

Secondly, I am not really a fan of first-person present narration, not even in The Hunger Games. Plus, Roth's writing is incredibly clunky at times. At first, I thought that she was going to pull that trick where the narrator, taught one way of life, speaks a certain way but as the story progresses - and the character matures - their language becomes more fluid, more expressive, but nope. The author sticks with the same voice, which is fine, I guess, but I kept getting bored when she wasn't describing the various physical feats that Tris would accomplish.

Third, oh, the characters. I really could not stand Tris. Or Four*. Or Peter. Shit, I will just be easier to tell you who I did like: Al and Christina. Al's story arc was the only one that I felt was real, and Roth's handling of him was what made me think that she might actually be a decent writer, but then she went and was like - similar to Beth Ciotta - "Hey, this book is gonna be huge, so I'm just going to let you wonder what happened to Christina so people will want to buy the next book!" Granted, she was obnoxious by mentioning things in other books that haven't even been published, but I was still more than a little frustrated. Plus, everyone else was just as flat as the ill-conceived world. I didn't feel like I knew Four any better than at the beginning of the book, except that his dad is a dick, and Tris is still this self-righteous and yet somehow self-loathing asshole who's super special and will probably lead a revolution because she's just a poorly-written, Midwest Katniss.

I had actually planned on reading the sequels, partially because I heard a lot of fans of the series were pissed at the final ending, but after reading this, I'm not sure I can stomach two more books written by Veronica Roth. Plus, I watched the movie a couple of weeks ago when Three and I were staying at the hotel, and it was probably one of the worst things I'd ever watched. From what I could tell, it's because it stayed so close to the source material, and Roth seemed more focused on what looks "cool" than on, oh, writing a convincing story and multidimensional characters. So yeah, this gets a "meh" from me (and two stars on Goodreads**), and I'm skipping Insurgent and Allegiant (I'm begging you to refrain from making me read these).

Please tell me you have a good book selected for next month?


Juju aka Sissybug

* Can we talk about how dumb a name this is? From what I remember of the book, you're only allowed to change your name once when you enter Dauntless and that's when you arrive at their underground headquarters. But somehow, Tobias/Four is given another chance when he completes his fear landscape. But that's beside the point: this is a dumb fucking name and I cringed every time I read it.
** You should go read some of the reviews there. I laughed aloud at many of them.
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