This post is a part of the #CritYourFaves event Aentee from Read at Midnight.
(P.S. There will be spoilers for the Divergent series by Veronica Roth in this discussion. You have officially been warned.)
Perfection is abundant in YA, or at least at first glance, it seems so. There is always the stunningly handsome love interest who is somehow smart, funny, popular, and well, perfect. There is always the "flawed" main character who can ace her classes, fight monsters, all while still getting the boyfriend at the end. Perfection has become a standard in YA, and one of my favorite book series is a major culprit.
When I was just beginning my journey into YA, I was really into science fiction and dystopian novels. So, of course, I fell in love with Divergent by Veronica Roth. She created this amazing world with such interesting social structures, setting, and characters. I quickly fell in love with Tris and her battle to prove that she was not just a silent Abnegation girl, but a kick-butt Dauntless warrior. But above all else, I was obsessed with the idea of being Divergent. They were the elite, those who could be more than one thing. They were, in a way, perfect.
When I was a naive YA reader, I did not have a problem with this. I actually thought it was cool that the characters could be so good at so many things. But with deeper analysis, I discovered some major issues with my favorite series.
My biggest problem is the reasoning and methodology behind the entire Chicago situation. In Allegiant, it is revealed that those who are not Divergent have a genetic defect. They are unable to excel at more than one quality, so they were portrayed as genetically insufficient. The whole reason that the people were put into these fake cities with the strict social structure was to rid the human race of those who could not be Divergent, those who were not good at everything. Now, I can see the hatred and prejudice that Four had to endure, just because he was not as Divergent, not as special, not as "perfect." The phrase "genetically damaged" also got under my skin as I realized the implications of the phrase. As you would imagine, that rubbed me the wrong way.
You don't have to be good at everything to be a good person. Maybe you are just really smart. That does not make you any less of a person than someone who is both smart and kind. Different people have different talents and qualities, and not everyone can have them all. If you can excel in multiple different areas, then good for you. But having more talent does not make you more "human" or "ideal."
Throughout the novels, being Divergent set people apart. Sure, they were persecuted for it, but they were ultimately praised as perfection incarnate. I disagree with the portrayal and standards of perfection. In real life, no one can even begin to reach the high standards of the Divergent, so it should not be portrayed as the ideal in the society.
Looking back now, I also do not exactly love how Four's family situation was handled. There was never really a resolution between Four and his father beside anger and resentment. Evelyn and her role did not really help the matters. She talked about leaving Four behind like the abuse was nothing like he could just deal with it himself. I think that the seriousness of the abuse was ignored and kind of dropped when it did not fit the plot anymore.
Regardless of the expectations of perfection, Divergent will always hold a special place in my heart because it was one of the first YA books that I really got into. I could relate to Tris's struggle to be brave, smart, and kind at the same time. She was not portrayed as uncommonly beautiful, in fact, she was rather plain. I remember that she was described as small, delicate, and unthreatening. Not many characters in YA are described as anything but perfect. In my eyes, this made her an amazing protagonist because I could see some of myself in her. Also, I understood her desire to prove herself to her parents and her faction. At one time or another, we all have to prove ourselves and I believe that Tris is an excellent role model. Even though the ending was tragic, she stayed true to herself and her ideals until the very end.
In the end, Divergent shows both sides of perfection. While it glorifies being Divergent and insinuating that you need to have more than one affinity to be acceptable, it also shows that a main character does not have to be stuck in the cookie-cutter YA default.
You can see the rest of the #CritYourFaves posts here.
Have you ever had problems with a favorite book? Is it still one of your favorite books? Did you notice any of these themes in Divergent?