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Book Review: The Divergent Trilogy

When I started this blog, I figured I wouldn’t have a ton of time to read anymore, between writing every day, working, and taking classes.  But over the holiday break, while classes weren’t in session, I decided that I should get a head start on reading some things for a potential project I’m thinking about doing.[i]  So, after first listening to Divergent on Amazon’s Audible app, I went out and bought the entire trilogy.  Because I had already fallen in love with Tris, Four, and their world. So, here are my book reviews, bundled together in one post so that I don’t have to relive the pain of finishing this trilogy.  Seriously.  For those of you who haven’t read the trilogy, I would suggest you don’t read the rest of this post.  Because I have to talk about the ending.  I have to.  K, I’m looking at you!  Don’t read this!

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but these covers are pretty cool.

Book 1:  Divergent

We are introduced to our narrator and her family right away – Beatrice Prior is a member of the faction called Abnegation, who value selflessness above all else.  At the very beginning, I was drawn into this world, because I wanted to know about the faction system,[ii] and I wanted to know what had happened to the city of Chicago that led to the start of the faction system in the first place.

Beatrice is an intriguing character and narrator because she didn’t feel like she belonged in Abnegation.  She didn’t feel selfless.  And when she took her aptitude test, her result was inconclusive.  That is a sign of Divergence, which is bad in this place.  Anyways.  Flash forward.  She chooses to leave her family, choosing the faction called Dauntless, who value bravery over all else.[iii]  Which is where we are introduced to her initiation instructor, Four.

The book mostly follows her initiation process, but also follows her as she realizes that she has feelings for Four.  This is where we, as readers, begin to understand that Tris (as she now calls herself, in Dauntless) is an unreliable narrator.  To me, it was so obvious that Four was into her.  So flipping obvious.  But she couldn’t see it.  He brought her through his fear landscape, for crying out loud!  Where his father beats him in his nightmares, where she learns his real name (Tobias), where she learns where his nickname came from.  Four, for only having four fears.  But she calls him Tobias.

Tris passes Dauntless initiation with only seven fears, a very low number.  And one of the fears was sex with Tobias, which I thought was pretty hilarious, but also pretty honest for a sixteen year old girl.  She faces that one,[iv] and Tobias says that she can now be called Six.  Six and Four.[v]

But then… Jeanine Matthews, the Erudite leader, injects all the Dauntless with attack simulations to create soldiers to wipe out the leaders of the government, who are all in Abnegation.[vi]  One of the traits of Divergence is that a person is aware during simulations.  So Tris fights back, along with Tobias (who she suspected was also Divergent very early on in the book).

The end makes it clear that you have to keep reading.  Tobias nearly kills Tris while under a simulation that is supposed to counter Divergent immunity.  Tris brings him back to the real world, they shut down the simulation, and they escape to Amity.  Both of Tris’s parents die in the fight.  Tobias’s father escapes with them, as does Tris’s brother.  And Tris got shot.  Jeanine Matthews still has a plan of destruction in mind, and they don’t know why.

My thoughts and rating:  I would give it 5/5.  It was well-written, and very clearly leads up to bigger things in the next two books.  I loved the bit of a love story in there (without the stupid love triangle that Twilight made so popular).  I was rooting for Tobias, because I liked him more than I liked Tris.  I actually thought Tris was a pretty stupid girl, at times, but that’s the beauty of first person narration like this – it’s flawed.  It’s biased.  And as much as I didn’t like Tris sometimes, she was the perfect narrator.

Book 2:  Insurgent

We pick up right where we left off – arriving at the Amity compound.  The Amity, peacemakers and all that, vote and allow them to stay temporarily.  But it doesn’t take long for the Erudite, with their Dauntless army, to invade, looking for Tris and Tobias, whom they see as traitors.  So they run away and end up with the factionless, where we learn that Tobias’s mother is alive.[vii]  But then they run away from the factionless as well, to Candor headquarters, where they’re put under the truth serum, and Tris, though she is able to fight the truth serum, decides she has to confess that she killed her friend Christina’s boyfriend, who was under simulation.  Then the Erudite and Dauntless invade again, looking to Divergents to kill.  Only Tris intervenes, almost getting herself killed.  The Dauntless, after realizing that the Candor leader is planning to sell them out to the Erudite to protect himself, decide to reform their faction and kill the Dauntless traitor who was working with Jeanine.  Then Jeanine activates another simulation and starts killing off Dauntless youth until a Divergent willingly surrenders to the Erudite.  Seriously, this is how the book felt.  It all went this quickly, like it was in a single paragraph.

Tris, still grieving over her parents, decides that she doesn’t have anything left to live for,[viii] so she turns herself into the Erudite.  Which she believes was the correct decision, because she is protecting the other Divergents.  And because she wants to die to be with her parents again.  Only Tobias comes after her, which is when she realizes that she does want to live after all, for him.  Jeanine can’t formulate a serum that Tris isn’t immune to, so she decides to execute Tris and continue testing on Tobias.  It was around this time that Tris also realizes that Caleb betrayed her as well.  He’d been helping Jeanine all along.

Another Dauntless traitor saves Tris, because Tris saved his life once earlier in the book, and helps Tobias get out of his cell.  They escape to Abnegation headquarters, which is where the factionless and the Dauntless are now living.  And Tobias’s mother comes up with a plan to attack Erudite and destroy all of their information.  Except Marcus, Tobias’s father, has information about why the Erudite destroyed Abnegation in the first place.  And he wants that information saved.  So he, Tris, and Christina form a plan to break back into Erudite and release this important information.  Which means Tris is going behind Tobias’s back,[ix] and working with the father he hates.

They break in.  Another Dauntless executes Jeanine before the information can be released, and Tris is arrested.  But Tobias, in trying to find the reason that Tris would betray him, finds the information and releases it.  Here is what they learn:  Chicago is a special place where people with damaged genes went to try to purify them again.  Divergence is a sign of pure genes, and the Divergents are supposed to leave the city to rejoin the world.  Also, Tobias’s mother, Evelyn, takes over the government, foreshadowing a tyrannical government issue.

My thoughts and rating:  2.5 out of 5.  There was no down time in this book, and I was exhausted after reading it.  And I hate that feeling.  I took a couple of creative writing classes in college, and we were told that we have to give the reader time to recover, even if it’s with just a scene or two of a subplot.  I understand that this was about the beginnings of a war, but seriously, I had a hard time getting through it.  I’m glad I did, though, because Allegiant made it worth it.  And I love Tobias.  I truly love his character, and the way he interacts with Tris, whom I don’t like much.  The only scenes where I like Tris are when she is acting out of love for him.  And I understand that this book is supposed to be about her grief, but I hated it.  It felt too fast.  It felt labored.  It was hard to read.

Book 3:  Allegiant

One of the first things that is obvious about Allegiant is that it is told from both Tris and Tobias’s perspectives.[x]  Mostly, it alternates, but sometimes it doesn’t, which can be confusing if you’re not paying attention.  We start with Tris, Christina, and Cara[xi] in their prison cell, awaiting trial for betraying the new factionless government.  Tobias is now working for his mother, sort of.  He makes her believe that, but what he really wants is information so that he can leave the city.  He and Tris formulate a plan to get them out of prison by using Tris’s ability to manipulate the serums – she lies under the truth serum, exonerating herself and her friends.

Tris and Tobias have to sneak around for a little while, because he makes Evelyn believe that he broke up with Tris the Traitor.[xii]  But soon, they both learn about a group called the Allegiant, who want the faction system back, but who also want to investigate the claims made about what’s outside the fence.  Tris, Tobias, Christina, Cara, Uriah, Tori, and Peter[xiii] volunteer to go outside of the fence.  Tris convinces Tobias to save Caleb and bring him with them outside the fence, because even though he betrayed her, Tris didn’t feel like their parents would want her to allow Caleb to die.  They are attacked in their attempt to leave, and Tori is killed.

Outside the fence, they are greeted by members of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, who are running the Chicago experiment.  They meet some people who used to be Dauntless, but were rescued from the experiment when Jeanine started killing Divergents – so everyone thought they were dead, when they really weren’t.  Tris learns that her mother didn’t originate in Dauntless, like she thought – she came from outside to try to rescue Divergents, and ended up falling in love with her father and settling in Abnegation, instead of leaving like she was supposed to.  We also learn that Tobias is not Divergent after all, that he just has the ability to resist serums.  They tell him that he is still Genetically Damaged, while Tris is Genetically Pure.  This causes a slight rift in their relationship, and Tobias starts acting distant and reckless.

He joins up with some GD employees in an uprising that he thinks is about stealing the memory serum, so it can’t be used on the experiments anymore.  But his coconspirators lied to him – they were really hoping to steal the death serum, to kill off the people who have been allowing others to die in the experiments for the sake of science.  The attack leads to Uriah having so much brain damage that he is in a coma without hope of waking up, and Tobias feels incredibly guilty.  It takes Tris a while to figure out if they can still be together after he went behind her back and didn’t heed her warning about the people he was working with, but she comes around.  And she is angry too, because the Bureau allowed her parents to die, and they are planning on erasing everyone’s memory in the Chicago experiment to prevent an uprising by the Allegiant.

They form a two-part plan.  Half of the group will go into the city to inoculate their families and against the memory serum, and half will break into the room where the serums are kept to release memory serum at the Bureau, to change the way they view genetics.[xiv]

Tobias goes into the city to find Uriah’s family and tell them what happened to him so that they could come with them back to the Bureau to say their goodbyes.  He also forms an alliance with his mother to make peace in the city, so that the Bureau won’t have to intervene anymore.  Caleb volunteers for the suicide mission that is releasing the memory serum at the Bureau, because he feels so guilty for betraying Tris.  Everything is going according to plan.


Tris knows that self-sacrifice should be made out of love, not out of guilt.[xv]  So she can’t allow Caleb to kill himself when he isn’t doing it out of love for her.  So she goes into the Weapons Lab instead of him, sacrificing herself because she loves him.  She leaves a heartbreaking message with him to give to Tobias – “Tell Tobias that I didn’t want to leave him.”  She survives the death serum – because of her strange immunity to serums – but is shot by the leader of the Bureau.  She is able to release the memory serum before she dies, so the mission is complete.

But she dies.  Tris dies.

The last 40 pages or so of the book are obviously narrated by Tobias.  And this is the part that broke me, that makes me still start crying at random times when I think about this.[xvi]  Tobias was a different person with Tris.  He was a good person, and he finally saw the good in himself.  And then she died.  He almost takes some memory serum himself, just to get rid of knowing the fact that he survived and she did not, and that he wasn’t there to save her.  But Christina, Tris’s best friend, stops him.  She says that Tris would never want him to become someone that she would hate, and she would hate it if he forgot about her.  So he doesn’t take it.  He decides to suffer instead, but suffer in a way that will honor Tris and how much he loved her.

The epilogue is about Tobias releasing Tris’s ashes two and a half years later.  They zip line off the top of the Hancock building, just like Tris did in Divergent.  One of Tobias’s four fears is heights, but he does it for Tris.  Because she would have loved it.  The city of Chicago is no longer an experiment, and Tobias is working as an assistant to a city leader, finally realizing that his true calling is to lead, like Tris always told him.  And he says that, while it hurts to think about her, it’s good, too.

My thoughts and rating:  4.5/5.  A great follow up to Insurgent, and a good end to the trilogy.  But I’m still dying inside because of Tobias’s pain.  Like I’ve said, I didn’t really like Tris all that much.  But I loved Tobias, loved his character to the point where I’m crying because of his grief and loss rather than the death of Tris.  It was a necessary ending, I guess.  Veronica Roth, in a blog post about the ending of Alleginat, said that she had been planning this ending all along, because it was Tris figuring out what selflessness truly was.  It was love.  She saved everyone.  Everyone except Tobias.[xvii]

Now that I’ve written this, I need to shelve this trilogy for a while.  It’s like pouring salt into an open wound, and I feel like that wound is barely going to start to heal with the Divergent movie comes out in March.  Since I know how it’s all going to end, I’m not sure how watching the first movie on the screen is going to be.  We’ll see, I guess.  But for now, I’m going to start focusing on my schoolwork and stop thinking about wanting to eat my feelings.

Here's the trailer, for those of you who haven't seen it.

This is why I read.  Because it takes me to a place far away from here, and reminds me of how strongly I feel for characters.  That makes for a good writer, I’ve been told.  Because you have to care about your own characters this much in order to make other people love them, too.


[i] I’m thinking about writing a paper on the upswing in popularity of dystopian futures in Young Adult fiction, and submitting it to conferences.  I think it’s going to be a lot more work than I originally thought, so I might not.  But I still might.

[ii] More information, for those who haven’t read and didn’t heed my warning about spoilers – there are five factions who each value something in particular in their members:  Abnegation (selflessness), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (kindness), Candor (honesty), and Dauntless (bravery).  So they think that the opposite of those traits is what led to the destruction of the city long ago.

[iii] I should also point out that Beatrice’s brother, Caleb, also leaves Abnegation for Erudite.  This becomes important later.

[iv] Meaning that they talk about it!  It’s fairly obvious to me that Veronica Roth is a strong Christian.  No sex scenes in these books, for one, but also just the way she talks about things.  It’s something I picked up on that doesn’t really matter either way.

[v] Which equals ten, so I’m okay with it.

[vi] This part stuck with me – if all government leaders had to be selfless, what kind of world would be live in?  Think about that one.

[vii] It is a minor detail in the first book, but Tobias’s father Marcus raised Tobias by himself, because his wife died giving birth to their second child.  Or that’s what we’re made to believe.

[viii] What about Tobias, you silly girl!

[ix] Not for the first time.  He begs her to save herself the night before she turns herself in to the Erudite.  It’s a sore spot in their relationship.

[x] And in hindsight, this should have been an omen of what was to come.  I loved finally hearing from Tobias, though.  Thank you for that, Veronica Roth, since he is the only character I’ve liked throughout all three books.

[xi] Cara is Christina’s dead boyfriend’s sister, who was an Erudite and knows valuable information about the serums.  She is important later.

[xii] That part was fun to read – he would leave her notes to VI from IV, for example.  It was cute, and I loved it.

[xiii] Uriah was a Dauntless born initiate who befriended Tris is Divergent and helped her several times in Insurgent.  Tori administered Tris’s aptitude test and told her about Divergence, and was also the Dauntless who killed Jeanine in Insurgent.  And Peter was an Erudite transfer to Dauntless who was Tris’s enemy in Divergent, but who saved her life in Insurgent by switching out the death serum with a paralytic.  There are a lot of characters in these books.

[xiv] This part was interesting to me.  If memories can be erased and people can relearn their beliefs… is that somewhere that science will go?  Here, they are retaught that GP’s and GD’s are essentially the same, so it doesn’t matter who is what.

[xv] It took her a long time to figure this out, but once she did, she realized that her parents died that way.  So it was a way that they could be honored, that she could be like them.

[xvi] I’ve been told that I get a little overinvolved in books and in characters.  I can’t help it.  I live my life through fiction.  And I love characters like they are real people.

[xvii] I guess you could say that she saved him, too, because she loved him, and taught him how to love.  But then she left him, and that breaks my heart.

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