This review contains spoilers.
Someone recently asked me how Divergent negatively affected my life. It wasn’t out of the blue or anything. I’d posted it as an answer in a series of questions on social media. Well I ignored the inquiry. It’s a bit of a long story. . . . Long enough to deserve it’s own blog.
In 2013 I’d just given birth to my second child. Pregnancy insomnia hit me hard that year, and clung on until, well, now. I was coming out of a season (a rather long season) of booklessness, when a friend let me borrow Divergent. Much like my initial introduction to Twilight, it wasn’t long before I was completely engrossed. You know what I mean—that kind of book that sucks you in so fast and hard that you are forced against your will to stay up till all ungodly hours of the night reading, never knowing who will be dead by morning.
So I read during the day . . . and during the night when I had to get up to nurse. And in those wee hours of the morning, pages turned, my mind raced, I got even less sleep, and my anxiety (which already bordered on PTSD) soared to new heights. I ate those first two books in a jiffy. Then I stopped. Oh, I didn’t really want to stop. The third book sat on the table laughing at me, watching me pace around the room like an addict without a needle. So, I snuck a look in the back to see what happened in the end. What did it matter if I was resolved not to read it? Well if you’ve read the series or have seen the movie (assuming they didn’t change the ending) then you know what happened.
The protagonist died.
And that sealed the deal for me. I was no longer tempted to read the third book. And I never did. (If only I’d had as much self-control years earlier while reading Twilight.) And in the aftermath of that encounter, I began to see troubling patterns emerge. It was definitely a case of 20/20 hindsight—Northanger Abbey style.
I realized that just about every time the author introduced a likable character, they either died or turned to the dark side. This kept pages turning and emotions running high, but it also guaranteed total heartbreak. Even worse was the near constant nagging by the male love interest for his girlfriend (the protagonist) to please, please, please stop throwing herself into super dangerous situations because it would destroy him if she died. Every time he repeated this plea, it cranked the tension higher. And then, of course, she threw herself into a super dangerous situation at the end of the series and died. I didn’t even read the last book, and I felt like the author slowly dragged me to the top of the Empire State Building then dropped me. Talk about heartbreak.
Those plot points were not only devastating, they were clearly intentional and formulaic in their execution. It was as though the author had plotted the series purely for the purpose of torturing her readers. What better way to keep them turning those pages and buying the next book? Also (and this is my pet peeve but I’ve written about it enough not to get into it too much now) the romance was your typical sexy, obsessive, teen angst nonsense. I’ve also heard there was a sex scene in the third book. (Young adult? Give me a break. It’s just good old fashioned porn for your teen.)
When I started writing fiction in 2014, I heard a lot of authors taking joy in the idea of torturing readers with tension and death.
“. . . and forget the whole Point of It All. Which is, of course, to wreck you, the reader.” And I get it. Tension is necessary for a story. Without it, there is no story. Without conflict, it’s all just ponies and rainbows and no one will read a story about that. But what happened to caring about the reader? There is such a thing as creating tension, and even realistic darkness, in such a way that takes the heart of a reader on a journey of bad to better, or from mediocre to superior. Not that I’m say that has to be the point of the story. But there is a way to create tension and write an amazing story that doesn’t smash the reader to tiny bits for the sake of sales (not that I’m accusing the author of Divergent of being that shallow—I don’t even know her.)
Maybe some of you are thinking. Who cares? People like to read stuff like that. I mean, the books sold well and they made them into movies. So why not keeping giving them what they want? Well people also like to eat candy and drink vodka, that doesn’t make it good for them. It’s like the tagline I heard recently in a Diet Coke commercial: “Because I can.” And honestly, every time I see a Coke commercial lately, I think, “Wow. These people have the worst logic.”