Saturday, 8 February 2014

181/111 - Divergent by Veronica Roth

I picked this book up recently after hearing that it was going to be made into yet another film trilogy. I had heard that it had a similar feel to it - a dystopian future with a lead female character, not too much mushy crap like in Twilight - so I thought I'd give it a try as that sort of thing is right up my street. I will tell you now that I have given up approximately halfway through Book 2 as I was not enjoying it enough to continue, which I will expand upon next time.

The main character and narrator in Divergent is a teenage girl called Beatrice Prior. She is a member of one of five factions which exist in this Dystopian future, with each faction having slightly different personality traits. The idea is that you fit into one of these factions homogeneously upon turning sixteen, however Beatrice is what's known as 'divergent' because she shows an aptitude for more than one faction.

She decides to leave her old way of life behind in a sect known for their selflessness and charity to go to a faction known for their violence and bravery and become an initiate there. She now has to compete with others to get a permanent place in the faction, which involves all sorts of things like learning how to beat each other up and how to throw knives and jump from moving trains, for some reason. They really love to jump from moving trains, and I found myself baffled as to why there were so many descriptions of this act.

While this is all going on there are rumours of impending war between the factions, and Beatrice (who has renamed herself Tris) is making some friends and some enemies and also catching the eye of her instructor, whose name is Four (like the number). So there's loads going on. Oh, also she can't let anyone know that she I'd divergent because they are considered to be dangerous traitors.

I was hoping for this trilogy to be more Hunger Games-esque however sadly I didn't enjoy this nearly as much, for a variety of reasons. Divergent seemed to highlight for me some deeply rooted problems I have with fiction aimed at teenage girls:

  • The puritanical nature of the characters and the repression of sexual desire. Yes I know these books are aimed at teenagers and so they can't be all sex and violence, but why can't the girls in these books ever just be allowed to admit that their feelings are sexual without it being some sort of taboo? I'm not suggesting full-on erotica, but there was a sense of shame that I felt very keenly with Tris and her feelings for Four that made me feel really uncomfortable. There's also a scene in which she is groped by some of the other initiates and rather than admit what has happened, Tris can't even bring herself to say where she has been touched which came across as immature. Lady, if your characters can't even bring themselves to name basic human anatomy, then you probably shouldn't be writing about sexual assault. The sexual repression in these books really seems to deny something which is inherently tied in with the experience of being human and the experience of being adolescent.
  • I hate hate HATE the self-deprecation of the girls in books like this. They never think they are good enough, they are self-conscious, they sacrifice themselves, they are overly clumsy, they never think they are beautiful. I get that that's natural and they have a struggle to overcome and be reborn or whatever, and I can't claim to have been a particularly secure teenager, but the insecurities in some of these characters are just too much. I wonder which is the bigger taboo - a female character who acknowledges her sexual desire, or one who has some confidence and character, and isn't just an empty vessel waiting to be filled (metaphorically) by the next cute teenage boy that comes along.

I haven't read that widely when it comes to YA fiction, but some of these trilogies are so popular that they seem like a potentially good barometer of the kinds of messages that teenage girls are receiving. And I hate the messages - suppress your sexuality (Divergent) or have someone do that for you (Twilight) or make sure you choose between one of two men (basically any other series, take your pick) because god forbid you choose neither, or find another path to walk. The Hunger Games was less guilty of the former of these because Katniss is a resourceful and talented female character in her own right, but I was still deeply disappointed by the lame love triangle in which neither of the choices were that appealing. I was also disturbed by how she has to perform at being feminine with all the stupid dresses and fluttering eyelashes in order to get the public to like her. The trilogy closes on her with the eternally dull Peeta and a couple of children running around in a field or something. Tragic, if you ask me.

The pace was fantastic in this book, and had it been the first YA trilogy I read, I probably would have thought of it more favourably, but the frustrations that have built up from other series' have sadly clouded my enjoyment of Divergent.

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