Divergent is the YA engine that apparently couldn’t

As someone in her mid-twenties, I’m only slightly embarrassed that I still enjoy reading young adult novels. The story simplicity helps me forget that being an adult can be the worst and I really enjoy diving into characters who are wiser and more aware than any real human being. Like John Green books. Those kids just get the big picture as teenagers.

When a new series or author attracts attention, I like to check it out. Sometimes, like when I read the Twilight series, you strike out and it’s pretty much melodramatic garbage. Occasionally you find the Hunger Games in the rough and immerse yourself in someone else’s dystopian and angst-filled drama for a few books.

In my experience, most series seem to suffer from third book fatigue. Certain exceptions exist, for example Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the best Harry Potter books, but it isn’t a finale. Authors will build a trilogy and all too often they follow the “introduction – conclusion set up – conclusion” method.

In book one, we meet our protagonist and learn all about the world. Book two is basically plot devices to set up the third act conflict. By the time you reach book three, the world and plot are so weighed down with mythology and character arcs that you forget why you even enjoyed the first one.

Like I said, exceptions always exist. Catching Fire is pretty good, but then again maybe that’s because it’s my favorite Hunger Games movie. Despite numerous references, the focus of this isn’t Katniss and her life. It’s the HG Wannabe that had potential but never reached the ridiculous levels of its counterpart.

I’m talking about the Divergent series.

Before I get into this, I want to be clear: a) spoilers and b) I enjoyed reading these books. I think the character of Tris is brilliant. She doesn’t suffer from Katniss’ reluctance to save the day. She’s a heroine actually dedicated to saving the world, no matter the cost. Every decision she makes follows this. She’s strong and is frequently rescuing the people she loves without any concern for her life. Maybe most importantly, she cuts her hair off because she’s a warrior and that to me makes so much sense.

The future she lives in is interesting, with society divided into four ways of thinking and the random divergent appearing, threatening to break the system. Here come the spoilers: this is actually a giant experiment to fix mankind after genetic alterations lead to its demise. The divergents are proof that people can be more than honest, kind, strong or sacrificial. The books follow this story as Tris and her boyfriend Four (aka Tobias) learn more about the truth and then the outside’s world desire to start again.

That doesn’t sound terribly complicated, but unfortunately there are so many more layers and they’re basically all addressed in Allegiant, the final book, making it hard to follow. To make matters worse, the first two books are entirely from Tris’ perspective and then Allegiant features both Four and Tris, essentially foreshadowing the dramatic conclusion.

Unlike too many stories where everyone actually lives happily ever after and they’re in love and whatever, Tris dies. Her idiot brother who repeatedly makes you hate him backs out of his role in the plan because he could die, obviously leading Tris to step in. Yes, she saves her world, but it costs her life.

Even though I saw it coming, I still hoped maybe Veronica Roth would be like everyone else and give us a miraculous tale of her coming back to life. As much as I appreciated her death, I wanted her to be with Four. In too many YA romances, the characters are childish, but Tris and Four are real. They love each other and work through their problems. They don’t just break up. They understand the sacrifices that must be made. Plus, there was never a love triangle. She wasn’t torn between two boys because her world is collapsing and who has time for that.

This leads me to the Divergent movies. I think they’re well cast and well acted, yet they never really took off. I think they received the greenlight at the beginning and probably made enough to not lose money. Compared to the massive pushes for Hunger Games and Harry Potter, Divergent ended its three-movie series with barely a whisper. It was almost as if they recognized they had an audience, but the marketing money wasn’t worth it for trying to attract new fans.

Now it’s been several years since I read the Divergent series, so my memory isn’t exact. The Allegiant movie took the themes from the book but made them a little easier to digest. It featured Four fighting everyone and being really freaking cool. Tris made some mistakes but then came around to help save the day, only this time she didn’t die. She lives and addresses Chicago with all that she knows and how they can improve. Caleb (her brother) actually kind of redeems himself, unlike the books.
By changing Tris’ fate, it felt like they cheated the story. Yes, as a consumer, I was happy she got her happily ever after because that’s what I want, but as a fan, it wasn’t satisfying enough. At no point was she in any more peril than she had been in the other films. No decision led to almost certain death. Sure every move could’ve resulted in death, but there were no moments of pleading as she did something that might kill her.

Basically, it was very bland. The only things that really stand out from the movie is a sequence at the beginning when they cross the wall and Tris makes a split second decision to descend that ultimately saves the group with Four close behind. Also when Four beats everybody up because he’s the best and up there in my list of desired literary boyfriends (after Peeta and Harry Potter of course).

The potential of the Divergent series makes it lack of impact even sadder. If handled correctly, this could have skyrocketed. It features everything we love from YA, plus a truly BA female who does what it takes every time. Instead we’re left with one ok movie and two that are utterly forgetful.