Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Trojan Horse Book Review: Divergent

Post 100! A celebration is in order, no? Not to worry, Stacy is working on an entire week of Robin Hood media. Does it get any better than that?

A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended or disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack.
An unfortunate disappointment review is when the media being reviewed could have been good if only ____ hadn't been there. Those poor books/movies/albums/other. They had so much potential. If only the author could have carried it out.

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Teen fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction
My Rating: *
Official Rating: Teen fiction
Age Group: 18+
Awards: Amelia Bloomer Book List Award

The world was in chaos, so of course the government decided to separate people. This time, they've been separated into what they call factions. Each faction is based off a particular virtue and the people who show a tendency toward that virtue are sent there. It's not a requirement--you can stick around in your hometown or you can change factions as you will after taking the test that helps show you what you tend toward. Once you arrive, you're there forever.
Tris is divergent, which is a big problem. The government finds people who don't fit into a particular faction threatening. She chooses dauntless and tries hard to blend in and not die. But when she discovers something much more dangerous than mere separation into factions. Can she stay alive, and save others, before it's too late?

My Hopes:
They were simple. An interesting and good conclusion to the premise presented, and an appropriate romance written by a contemporary author. Both hopes were dashed against the rocks.

Word of Warning
Due to the nature of the material (book, and Trojan horse) this section is going to be less detailed and more broad. Unfortunately, I am not able to list every problematic detail here but have rated the book 18+ to give an idea as to what is present.
  • Bullying by other factions. Certain factions are looked upon as better than others.
  • Kids are given an injection which them simulates rather terrifying situations (attacking dogs, drowning, shooting, etc) to determine which faction they belong in.
  • Violence in the dauntless faction. Much of this comes from training and includes characters getting knocked out, bruised, knives thrown at them, and various other beatings.
  • Tris comes out of the shower and grabs her towel right before two boys and a girl walk in. One of the boys pulls the towel from her but she holds up her dress so they don't see anything. They see her back as she runs out.
  • Tris is captured by a few of her classmates (most of them young men) and they attempt to rape her before throwing her to her death. She fights back but is relatively unsuccessful. They succeed in "only" touching her breast before she is rescued by another character.
  • After being rescued, Tris spends the night in the bedroom of one of her male leaders (the one who saved her). Nothing happens, but by this point in the book the readers are well aware of an attraction between these two.
  • Tris is uncomfortable with her body shape and remarks more than once that it appears childlike.
  • Tattoos are common for dauntless characters. They also pull crazy stunts (jumping off buildings and trains, climbing to dangerous heights, etc) as their faction is based on showing bravery and getting an adrenalin high.
  • Government officials are corrupt.
  • One character's father used to beat him with a belt and told him that it's for his own good.
  • The abnegation (selfless) faction is seen as weak. They often misunderstand selflessness, always backing down in a fight and letting other characters basically walk all over them. Somehow, they have some serious power when it comes to the government.
  • The concept of separating people into factions based on their strongest qualities. This is an interesting idea, but completely unrealistic, as no one person is only going to be one thing. Tris and a few other characters are great examples of this.
  • During a simulation, we find out that Tris is afraid of intimacy (yes, it's that awkward). A character she's in love with appears (remember, this is all in her mind, but to her it feels real) and starts kissing her and slips her jacket off to reveal a tank top. He pulls her onto a bed and continues to kiss her. Tris realizes that he wants to have sex with her (the word "sex" being used) and resists, telling him she's not going to do that with him in a simulation.
  • The romance is a huge problem. Kisses are far too passionate; Tris sits in her love interest's lap at one point during a kiss, later hands run over shoulders and neck, kisses range from various places on the face (nose, cheek, mouth) to neck and back again, and other problems. At one point the male character is without his shirt and, because Tris is too uncomfortable to make the move herself, takes her hands and places them on his abdomen, then brings them upward. Both characters confess to fear of intimacy and decide that they might do it later. Passionate kissing follows.
  • The romance is the biggest reason this book is a Trojan horse book. It is put forth as something relatively chaste as the characters never have sex, but they are pretty physically involved otherwise (as noted above). A complete misunderstanding of chastity is shown here. If the author was going for abstinence, she misses the point there too as the couple is incredibly physically involved.
  • Mind control.
  • Characters (other than Tris) kiss. Tris finds this uncomfortable because she is unused to public displays of affection.
  • A character commits suicide and is praised for his "brave" act. Luckily, Tris and her friends see right through this as a lie. Still, the leaders of the group consider his move to be one of a true dauntless member.
  • Blood and gore (nothing too detailed). Characters get shot and die. Characters are forced to kill those they care about (sometimes for real, sometimes in simulations).

My Thoughts
I admit I was disappointed. While I disagree with separating people into factions based on their strongest inclinations, the premise was one that I thought would be interesting to entertain. What would happen to our world if it was separated like this?
The author followed the premise through in a way that made sense to me, but also disappointed to me. At some point, it became less about the premise and more about one particular character. Then, it became about the romance. Then, it became all about the where-did-that-come-from ending.

The Trojan horse aspect comes from the failure to follow through with the premise and from the romance. Failure to follow a premise to the end is usually seen as more of a writing flaw, but here it was dangerous. Bringing up a premise like that and then dropping it is not safe. The end did not satisfy "conclusion" requirements. As for the romance, there are more details above, but the basic idea behind it is that the romance is portrayed as safe and appropriate and the characters shown as admirable for not having sex right away. The problem is, they went so far that's almost the only thing they're not doing. And there is something wrong with a romance that excites readers (because the characters are portrayed as excited) and then stops. That's not what romance is meant to be--but it's not meant to go that far until marriage either. This is like the set up, set up, part of a three part story, lacking the pay off. In no way am I suggesting the characters engage in any more physical intimacy. I'm suggesting they do the opposite.

Why was it disappointing? Aside from the premise, the romance started out as interesting. When the author took it as far as she possibly could without frightening away the younger audience and their parents, she disappointed me. Can no one write a good romance without all of that? Granted, that's what it should become eventually--in marriage. But I had honestly hoped she'd be one of the few living authors who could write a great romance without that before marriage. I was wrong.

Do I suggest reading the book? No, I don't. For the simple reason that it's a Trojan horse and an unfortunate disappointment. Did I enjoy parts of it? I would be lying if I said I hadn't. No book can be an unfortunate disappointment without having something good in it. This one just didn't follow through.


grandma jane said...

Thanks for the full on review. I did sometimes wonder why the popularity? Now I think I know....
I didn't get beyond a few sample chapters and soon became disinterested with seemingly flat characters. From your review it would seem this coming of age in a dystopian society story was really just a 'Hunger Games' wannabe.
Thanks for your diligence to your craft.

Maria Gianna said...

Grandma Jane,
And thank you for returning again and again to our humble blog :)
I agree, the characters were relatively flat. I feel like splitting them into factions was supposed to prove to us that they weren't, and that was that. Tris wasn't nearly as flat as she might've been though.
You're welcome! Thank you for stopping by again!