Divergent by Veronica Roth
first read : audiobook : 11:12/11:12
DIVERGENT! It is the thrilling tale of a butt-kicking girl teen for fans of The Hunger Games who have already read The Hunger Games. DIVERGENT! It takes place in a future Chicago. At some point in slightly less future Chicago, everyone got together and decided in an act of consensus that reminds me of nothing that has ever happened on this Earth, that society’s problems are not racism, religious bigotry, poverty, and so on, NO, the problem is Myers-Briggs types.
The unknown forebears, determining this, decide that segregation is usually a good option in these situations. So they establish the five Cyberhogwarts houses that will reductively and peculiarly dictate the lives of the people of Chicago for at least several more generations. These houses are Evil Ravenclaw, Puritanical Hufflepuff, Friendly Stoner Hufflepuff, Mrs. Weasley, and EFFED UP GRYFFINDOR.*
In this completely realistic society where no one is sure what exists outside of Chicago but one imagines that internet quizzes are read as holy scripture, you live with your parents until you are 16. Then you and all the other sixteen-year-olds play a VR game with the worst programming of all time and it tells you what you should do with your life.
The protagonist of Divergent is an Abnegation (Puritanical Hufflepuff) girl called Beatrice. Later, when she becomes cool and starts getting tattoos and punching people’s teeth in, she is Tris. Right now she is Beatrice, because that is the kind of name you have when you’re a white girl future Puritan who will be needing a tough-sounding nick-name later. Beatrice, Roth tries really hard to tell us, us a BAD, BAD girl, who is not nearly giving and selfless enough to stay in Abnegation. She sometimes feels pride. It’s despicable, you can only imagine how despicable is. This is real important setup for Tris not staying in Abnegation, where probably you could not fit fight scenes into the mix until close to the end of the book?
Tris goes to her super secret test and goes into the VR that will tell her her fate and she has–a choice. The One Choice, from the very cover. The One Choice that will change you forever. I am ready now for the SH*T TO GET REAL. This is a gritty, action-packed, sexy future-story where Tris is A TRUE OUTLIER, A DANGEROUS ANOMALY, A MYSTERIOUS AND ENDANGERED RARITY. That is the PREMISE of the ENTIRE SERIES. TWO BASKETS. TWO OPTIONS. WHO WILL YOU BE? I. AM. PREPARED.
The VR wants Tris to pick between a knife and…a block of…cheese.
Nooooooo there isn’t CONTEXT, she’s just standing there in front of these virtual baskets on virtual pedestals and there’s just this BLOCK OF CHEESE (or you could have this knife, what will it be?) WELL HOW WOULD ANYONE ON EARTH KNOW? Is it to EAT? Is it to OFFER A HOMELESS PERSON? Is it a LIFELONG INVESTMENT, like a knife will probably be more useful over time than a block of cheese…? BUT MAYBE…? IT IS FOR SEASONING SOMETHING? Can I not just USE THE KNIFE TO EAT THE CHEESE?
Apparently Tris and I are the only people to get stymied at this point, apparently everyone else looks and goes OH OBVIOUSLY BLOCK OF CHEESE I WILL TAKE THE BLOCK OF CHEESE, CLEARLY or whatever, because suddenly the whole simulation is messed up in its virtual head, it does not know what to do. And Tris’s results are…IN CON CLU SIVE. Her inability to choose at random between cheese and a knife make her a dangerous subset of humankind, with a computer-defeating superbrain who MIGHT singlehandedly destroy the Myers-Briggs society….somebody…? created. So the test-giver is like HOLY CRAP BEATRICE DON’T TELL ANYONE EVER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, YOU HAVE SUPERBRAINS AND THEY’LL TAKE YOU DOOOOOOOWN.
Listen. Here is the thing. This means almost nothing for the rest of the book. The test means NOTHING. Because you don’t even have to commit yourself to the faction you come from OR the faction the computer puts you in. You. Just. Pick. One. You pick one by cutting yourself in the hand like everyone ever to take a stupid oath in every book and TV show and movie for fifty years, like your hands aren’t important and delicate appendages that you can completely destroy with that kind of nonsense.
The only reason that your choice matters, aside from your family will hate you forever possibly if you switch factions, is that if you fail your initiation you end up factionless. This is kind of like college admissions where you are forced to stab yourself and move across the country before beginning the admissions process, and oh, if you don’t get in, you will live on the streets for the rest of your life.
It’s both worse and more hilarious because Roth’s idea of Untouchables-style jobs is, like…train conductors. Janitors. You know, normal moderately well-paid blue-collar frequently unionized jobs, so, totally the lowest rung of society ROTH. YOUR PRIVILEGE IS SHOWING. (Then again, you might have known that from the fact that she wanted to write a dystopia only after she’d tossed out all those pesky Real World Issues.)
You can pick, let me reiterate, ANY FACTION YOU FEEL LIKE, NO MATTER WHAT YOUR RESULTS SAY. And Tris has already belaboredly informed us that she doesn’t fit in at Abnegation, where action sequences will be limited. So she and her brother both pick other factions, and their boss-Puritan dad is deeply disturbed by this. Brother picks Evil Ravenclaw, which looks good on the surface, but Tris picks Dauntless, and I can’t figure out why. She should have known better. In her defense, knowledge is a spotty thing in future Chicago. Like, Tris knows ALL about how other factions perceive her way of Abnegation life, apparently, and she knows what the Hancock building used to be called even though she definitely like all other future people calls it the Hub. Buuuuuut she does not know that you have to get initiated after you pick a faction, and she doesn’t know not everyone makes it even though her faction are in charge of feeding the Factionless ? ? ?
On the surface, the Dauntless are punk police forces that wear only Hot Topic remainders and do a lot of body-mod. That doesn’t seem great to me. But also, as Tris would probably know if knowledge made sense in this world, Dauntless members hurl themselves on and off the L, which no one else rides and which NEVER STOPS, EVER. (Is this where the factionless work? Why? Who is paying for this train to drive all around future Chicago just so Dauntless can hurl themselves on and off it?) And that I think says most of what you need to know about Dauntless. THEY ARE NONSENSE CHILDREN. NOW TRIS IS AMONG THEM. WHAT COMES NEXT?
*In order: Erudite, Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless.