In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I really did not like this book. This is a truly interesting world presented with a clear voice within the writing – the writing was good enough that I could not put the book down (even though I really, really wanted to). But it is almost completely devoid of compelling characters. Four is amazing, Tris’ parents were both very interesting, but Tris herself was a whiny neutral mask sort of character who only ever succeeded in pissing me off. On top of that, there was not much depth presented within the factions of the world. The following review will contain slight spoilers for the entire series (but I keep away from major events).
“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it.”
See? Good writing!
Tris has a tendency to whine about how difficult her situation is in this book. She acts as if she’s surprised that succeeding in Dauntless is difficult and the characters around her are painted with disdain when they try to tell her she’s be unreasonable. While I understand that this is a natural thing that many people go through, it’s not something that I can entirely stomach reading. It kind of cemented this as a YA novel, giving us a protagonist that was such a stereotype of a teenager that it forgot to remind us that not all teens are dumb. I don’t want this to seem scathing, but Tris, as a character, was weak. She was presented as this strong woman, and there were very real times where she could not be strong, and that was nice. There were very real times where she had to be selfish, where she had the right to be a little annoying. And there were times when she was being ridiculous and no one was willing to call her on it. It very well could just be me and my perception of her, but most of the time Tris made me want to throw my book across the room. And Four, arguably the strongest and most compelling character in this book, was not strong enough to redeem the entire book. As, for me, a book is only as strong as its characters.
On top of that, the book is filled with unnecessary deaths. Not unnecessary in the frame of war, unnecessary in a literary and practical sense. As in, someone gets shot in the face where they could have easily been shot in the knee and knocked out. And then the author framing said senseless murder as justified and in self defense, even though there was no reason for that person to be shot in the face. And Then, Tris’ reaction to these deaths vary to the point where she goes between 100% understandable to 100% robot in the space of only a couple of chapters. Which can also be understandable, but it doesn’t make sense in the way that the story and the character were framed.
I did consider reading the rest of the series, but I was so upset by Tris that I wasn’t sure. So I read ahead, talked to many who had read the books, and decided that I did not need to see more of this world. Why? Because the villains of this world come in one shade, and that seemed to be Erudite. There is not a single Erudite character within this series that is not a completely asshole. And, so you don’t have to check back up there if you don’t already know, Erudite is made up of the intelligent. It is the faction that was created under the belief that ignorance is the root of all evil. As a Ravenclaw, I do take her treatment of this faction a bit personally. They were all robots, which I understand. But they were also all selfish and generally framed as the bad guys. Not one of them stepped forward to say what their faction was doing was wrong. And, if that happened, there isn’t a single die-hard fan I’ve talked to who can remember it. In this world, Erudite is treated like Slytherin. And I have a problem with both. Roth’s treatment of Erudite completely undermines the main idea of the series – that people can’t be categorized like that. Her argument seems to be that people can’t be categorized like that unless they are logical thinkers – those guys are the worst. I can’t get behind that.
Overall, I did not like this book. It was definitely an interesting read, and I do (sort of) understand how so many people can love it. If any of the points discussed above bother you, you probably won’t like it. However, if you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or Twilight, you might really enjoy this.
As a final thought, I don’t want it to seem like I think people are wrong for enjoy this book or the other books listed above. To each his own. I’m only saying that I didn’t get much from it, and ‘I’ has never been synonymous with ‘everyone’.