1. C. S. Lakin says:

    These are great observations and ones I wholly share with you. Since I make my living critiquing about 200 manuscripts a year, I too was very amazed at the success of this book that has a lot of structural problems. The visible goal for Tris was never clear, and the complication that leads to the actual “main plot” doesn’t occur until way into the book, almost as a side plot that becomes the main plot point (the scheme to use Dauntless to engage in “genocide”). I found, as did others I spoke with who had read the whole series, that the world Roth built was not very believable or logical, for the reasons you voiced. Thanks for exploring this story.

    • Thanks, C. S. I had to dig a bit before I understood why the story became so popular, but once I realized it was about finding a place to fit, it made perfect sense.

      But I honestly wonder if that was Veronica Roth’s intention. As you noted, the story changed in the middle and the greater issue—the conflict among factions and the use of the Dauntless members as mass assassins—diverged (pun intended – 😉 ) from that “fitting well” theme.

      But I think it was the latter that captured readers. I doubt if the series would have become so popular if it hadn’t first been about Tris trying to find herself.


      • C. S. Lakin says:

        Thanks, Becky. I agree. I imagine if an author puts that “finding oneself” as the core of the novel, the rest of the plot structure isn’t as important for that YA audience. So long as there is some romantic tension and sections of danger, it will probably go over just fine 🙂 Some of us readers and authors prefer a really tight, well-constructed story and world though 🙂

        • So did you just hit on the formula for a successful teen novel? Finding self+romantic tension+danger=mega best seller? 😉

          But yes, readers who  want more are looking for a well-structured plot and a world that makes sense. In the end, I think there should be a way to engage teens and still write a good story. But I wonder if publishers are so eager to find the “next Harry Potter” blockbuster, they’re looking past the things that make a story bigger than a fan-crazed experience.


  2. Daniel says:

    Have you read all 3 books? (I have.)


    Tris’ mother IS divergent.

    In fact, all of the questions in your 8th & 9th paragraphs are answered by the 3rd book, “Allegiant.” I know its frustrating going to the movie (knowing that that may be the only one in the series that you see) and not having all of these questions answered.

    Maybe the movie makers should have thought about incorporating some of the answers to those questions for the benefit of the audience. That would have made the story more complete.

    But, I agree that the stakes don’t seem as high throughout the story. Even in the books, a sense of urgency is lacking. It seems like the factions are struggling for power among themselves, but with no real cause.


    …Then they find out they are all an experiment by the US government.

    It’s kind of like when a writer starts a story in the middle of a character’s dream, and then the character wakes up and the reader feels cheated.

    Except, in Divergent, the dream lasts for 2 and a half books.

    • Daniel, I haven’t read any of the books—only saw the movie.

      Thanks for giving your spoiler alert, which I’ll repeat: * * * SPOILERS * * *  I’ve talked with friends about the book and knew that the third one gave the explanation for the world as an experimentation. What I don’t find satisfying, but might if I’d read it, is that the first people went along with the rules the experimenters set up but didn’t pass on to the next generation what was behind what they were doing, or that subsequent generations didn’t themselves come to question these rules. Obviously they were capable of turning against authority, so it seems hard to imagine that they wouldn’t at some point turn against these arbitrary and unreasonable aspects of their society.

      That being said, I did not know that the mom turned out to be Divergent. That’s as it should be. Now I wonder why she didn’t just come clean with Tris, but maybe that’s also explained in the third book.

      One thing I neglected to mention in my article which I also thought was a strength is the thread of sacrifice that seems pretty strong. I thought there was a turning point for Tris, first when she didn’t forgive her friend and he committed suicide, then when she fell in love with Four. But of course, it wasn’t just Tris who was willing to sacrifice.

      Anyway, I appreciate your remarks, Daniel.


  3. After The Hunger Games I have never been interested in another “post-apocalyptic” or “dystopian” stories as a rule. More of them seem to be capitalizing in the kind of “suffering glamor” that enables middle-class people to think of themselves by proxy as Victims of Society. Similar to white kids liking “dystopian” rap in the 1990s, methinks.

    Also if the world is in a sorry state, why then you get to have Love Triangles and perhaps illicit sex, which is always helpful.

    I know, I’m grumping. There are many good reasons to appreciate dystop./P-A stories.

    Anyway, the above criticism is too substantive. Here is one purely of style, because it turns out that Divergent Dolls are a thing. On April 11 I took this photo and thought, “I guess we deserve this.”

    • Stephen, I don’t know about a lot of other dystopians. I know the ones that got the most press, but I don’t generally follow YA literature. But I really enjoy dystopian stories. Some of the Christian dystopian (Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series, Evan Angler’s Storm, et. al.) have been some of the best books I’ve read recently. I think it takes some insight and creativity to project into the future what might be—whether technology, societal changes, government developments.

      When I was young, Brave New World and 1984 were some of my favorite books, though they ended so badly. It was hard to be so invested in characters only to discover that the hope I thought they had would not pan out. Apart from that, they were great! 😆

      I think this “no hope” aspect of much dystopian is why it seems to have run its course in the general market. Especially after the third Divergent book, fans seemed done with endings that aren’t what they wanted. You know, the fairytale endings. We all really do want to live happily ever after.


  4. I have read the whole series, and my take is basically this:

    Loved Divergent. I was fine with questions not being answered and people not being who they seem. I think it’s par for the course with series to do that. If everything makes 100% sense in the first book and all questions are answered, then why write further books?

    Liked Insurgent. Not as well-written, kinda chaotic story line, felt mostly like a bridge between the first and third book. Don’t actually remember a lot from that one.

    HATED Allegiant. The science alone made my head nearly explode. I have a degree in Biology, my favorite subject was genetics. The premise behind the factions is so freaking backwards. The scientists themselves were so poorly characterized. The writing itself turned to mush–I could never tell the difference between Tris and Tobias’s voices. Lastly, it was *preachy*…but I could never quite figure out what the message was supposed to be.

    • Kat, good point about the series. We do read with the knowledge that not all will be revealed in the first book. And while I was watching the movie, most of my questions didn’t really bother me.

      All the rest you said about the series reinforces my thought that perhaps Veronica Roth didn’t really have in mind where the story was going or why. I’ve read wandering stories before, usually from seat-of-the-pants writers who didn’t take time to go back and work on the story once they knew what it was about. They simply let the wandering stand and didn’t work to make logical sense of all parts of the story.

      I know Divergent sold well, and it’s been made into a movie and all, but I can’t help but wonder how much better, how much more popular it would have been had the editors or Veronica Roth herself cleaned up the problem areas.

      Was her agent, were the editors just so enamored with the idea of the “next hot dystopian” or with the sure teen hook that they didn’t think they needed to work out the kinks and bumps and potholes? I’d love to know.


    • Kat, I agree with EVERYTHING you said! The first book was easily my favorite, second book was… okay. But I couldn’t even get through the third book, unfortunately. Then I looked up the reviews of Allegiant, and after seeing what happened, decided it wasn’t worth my time to read. 🙁

      • Sarah, I *forced* myself to read the whole thing because I’d paid for it–like $10 on Nook–and was not going to not finish it for that price. By the end, if had not been on my Nook, I’d have thrown it across the room.

  5. Julie D says:

    I thought the initial premise was good, and I’m glad that the romance element wasn’t hyped as much as Hunger Games, but the only new dystopia I’d read is one where a family topples it.

    A father protecting his child, a husband protecting his wife, siblings–ANY family combination bringing down a dystopia. Not some star-crossed lovers or restless teens, but mature, responsible adults.

  6. Interesting thoughts one and all. I have read Book 1 & 2 and liked them both, but I can’t bring myself to read Book 3 after I hear all the disappointment people have felt.


    I too was about to say that Tris’ mom IS divergent but got beaten to the punch! The one thing I really loved about Divergent that I don’t see much in other dystopian stories is how the love of family played a big role.

    With The Hunger Games Katniss’ dad was dead, her mother checked out, and Katniss was forced to grow up too fast, or die. I get that, and it’s believable on some levels, but I enjoyed seeing Tris’ mom especially step up and protect her daughter (rather than the other way around) and…


    I was so disappointed when her mother died. I would’ve loved seeing mother and daughter fight the evil together. But alas…


  7. Steve Rzasa says:

    To quote Stephen: “More of them seem to be capitalizing in the kind of “suffering glamor” that enables middle-class people to think of themselves by proxy as Victims of Society. Similar to white kids liking “dystopian” rap in the 1990s, methinks.
    “Also if the world is in a sorry state, why then you get to have Love Triangles and perhaps illicit sex, which is always helpful.”
    Yes, I think those things are what people like the most about many stories. What I’ve noticed about the wildly popular books that have flown off bookshelves lately is that they are, as Rebecca pointed out, structurally deficient.
    My theory is that we, as writers and editors, are hypercritical of books. Call us book nerds, if you will. The average reader couldn’t care less.

  8. Kirsty says:

    Why did the people take a test to find out what faction they should belong to only to be given the choice to choose the faction they wanted? And who made up that rule? Who determined they had to take a meaningless test?

    I agree this is weird. My dad’s suggestion was that they may be two traditions from different times. This could be possible. So, for example, the idea of choosing came first, and became an integral part of their society. Then, at a later date, the test came in – but because it was so ingrained in society, you still had to be allowed to ‘choose’.

    Still leaves a load of questions, though…

    I do like the book, and plan to get the others. The illogicalities are frustrating, but I can live with them!

  9. Kirsty says:

    We’re told she’d be Factionless, but why that’s so bad isn’t shown. Not really. Not in the movie. To me the Factionless looked like poor people sitting around with nothing to do. I can’t help but wonder, why? Why couldn’t they make their own Faction and find purpose? I mean, there are more than five character traits in the world. But that’s beside the point.

    Rather, being Factionless didn’t seem like the end of the world, maybe because I wasn’t sure what Tris wanted from life.

    I haven’t seen the movie, so my comments are based on the book.

    First, being Factionless is so bad because you have always been taught that it’s a fate worse than death. Your whole worldview revolves around this – if you don’t belong to a Faction, you are nothing. Everything – even how you dress – is based on your faction. You can tell what everyone is at a glance by their clothes (not sure if this is as clear in the movie – doesn’t look like it from the photos).

    Your Faction is your identity. Stronger even than family. You have always been taught that the only way to be part of a community is to belong to a faction. To be Factionless would be a bit like being a stateless orphan today – maybe worse. They belong nowhere.

    On top of which, people become Factionless by failing or dropping out of initiation. So everyone is there as a result of personal failure. And no-one wants that.

    They don’t have nothing to do, but they are only allowed the most menial jobs. The compensation for this is not enough to live on, so they have to rely on charity. As your job is dependent on the faction you’re in, you have no choice in this. I suppose it’s a bit like the old Indian caste system. Just like an ‘untouchable’ in that system – or, indeed a black person under segregation or apartheid – had no choice. Of course in these real-life instances things could and did change, but it took major social and political upheaval.

What do you think?