On all things Divergent

I have a young person in my life who’s reading the Divergent series, so I’ve been rereading the books for discussion purposes, and took her to see the movie as well. And I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t hold up quite as well to a second read as I would have hoped.

Divergent was such a clever concept, and IMO one of the best books to come out of the dystopia trend. It didn’t have the depth of The Hunger Games, but Tris was a well drawn character, the world was interesting, and let’s face it: neither Peeta nor Gale can hold a candle to Four as far as romantic leads go, am I right? And I think that for young girls learning about relationships through fiction (you know, the way we did from Judy Blume when I was a kid), it’s a great thing that Four never sees Tris as a damsel in distress, even when he’s rescuing her. There’s a line between supporting and coddling that he doesn’t cross.

So there are a lot of good things there. Which is probably why, the first time I read it, I was too engaged to notice the sloppy writing. I know! I’m sorry. I hate to call a writer sloppy; there’s no doubt Veronica Roth put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into her work and applying a term like that to it is kind of mean. But when you’ve got characters walking outside and then two sentences later looking up at the ceiling, or standing in the lobby of a building and then telling each other to close the door for privacy, or leaving their rooms barefoot in the middle of the night, then going directly to breakfast and training in the morning without ever going back for shoes, that’s really the best word to apply. All three books are riddled with these kinds of small logistical errors that completely pull me out of the story and that should have been caught in editing.

But that’s not the hugest deal. Just nitpicks. And the good outweighs the bad. Until you get to Allegiant.

My complaint with this book is not among the common ones. Yes, Tris can be frustrating, and makes some bad decisions, in both Insurgent and Allegiant, but do you know any teens who are never frustrating and never make bad decisions? And yes, there is that ending, but I’m fine with that too. No, my problem with Allegiant is the sloppy factor, which is carried to new heights here.

Rather than giving us only Tris’s first person point of view, as in the previous two books, Roth also gives us first person chapters from Four’s point of view. Great! Now we can get new insight, see things from a different perspective, and gain a deeper understanding of both the world and Four as a person!

Except no. Because Four’s chapters are completely indistinguishable from Tris’s. The same voice. The same language. The same tone. Exactly. I know they have a lot in common, but come on. He should be a separate person. I shouldn’t have to flip back, when I pick up the book from the night before, to remind myself who’s talking. I should be able to tell by the voice. When there’s nothing fresh about this new perspective, I can’t help but feel that its only purpose is author convenience, to show me things that Tris is not present to see. Which is… sloppy.

This is still a good series. It’s clever, the worldbuilding and storytelling are good, and Tris is generally a good kickass heroine for young girls to read about. But it needed more time in the editing room.

As for the movie, it’s a pretty faithful adaptation that captures the spirit of the book even when details inevitably have to be changed or omitted. There were some characters I missed, but the ones who made it to the screen were well acted. The action was very good; even knowing what was about to happen, I was on the edge of my seat more than once. Really, my only complaint here was trying to get used to the idea of Mr. Pamuk as Four. Theo James’s performance was solid, don’t get me wrong, it’s just… Mr. Pamuk is not passing as eighteen or nineteen. Whereas Shailene Woodley, while also older than her character, can still come across as teen-ish. Which made watching them kiss a little disturbing, like a Lifetime movie (or a Police song) about an affair between a high school teacher and one of his students. It was distracting.

Bottom line: read the books (or at least the first one), and see the movie. But only if you can set aside nitpickery for a while.