I have a real problem here. I really liked this story. I mean, I couldn't put it down. But the premise the whole thing is based on is utterly ridiculous. The society in this book is preposterous. No group of people in their right minds would create a societal structure like this for the purpose of maintaining peace. It is a perfect shitstorm waiting to happen. The only reason anyone would design a society like this is if they wanted to study conflict between groups. You're dividing people into "factions" (i.e. cults) according to ideology and values (i.e. politics and religion), and separating them geographically but within a confined area where they have to compete for limited resources. And then you give one group "governmental" control, but allow each faction to do whatever they want within their boundaries. Of course they are going to start hating each other and their overlords!
In addition, this system forces 16 year olds to make an uninformed choice that will seal their fate for the rest of their lives. If they make the wrong choice, they are 'exiled' and forced to join the dredges of society, the poor and homeless. First of all, you cannot categorize people this way. People who have multiple dominant "traits" (there are only five, apparently) are considered "Divergent", which is the worst kind of danger to the state. If they are caught, they are exiled or even killed, just for their test results. In this story, there are only a handful of people who don't fall into one of the five categories. There is no faction for people who believe multiple values are important. You must choose between honesty, selflessness, courage, knowledge or peacefulness. And you must dedicate the rest of your life to a choice you make at a time in your development when you are still in the process of defining yourself. In reality, humans are far more complex than this, and their values shift over time. There is no room for personal change in this society. In effect, there is no room to be human. And yet the creators of this system thought it would keep the peace?
The test which decides the life-long and unchanging "aptitude" of these teenagers is a two-minute long simulation that offers a few choices. You can't always tell a person's intentions from their choices. For example, the first choice is to choose, without context, either a piece of cheese or a knife. According to the test, any person who chooses the knife over the cheese is "Dauntless", meaning they believe bravery is the most important human trait. But what if someone chooses the knife because they are terrified? These 16 year olds are given a choice about which faction they will join, and they don't have to choose the one they are told they are supposedly suited for. But unless they choose the faction they are born into, they have NO IDEA what they are getting into. They don't know what life is like in the segregated section of the city that will now be their home, and they have no clue what kind of horrors await them during "initiation". All they know is the symbolic "trait" that the faction is supposed to honour in their choice of lifestyle. What kind of sick people consciously choose a system that does this to their children?
There is no reason given in this book why the city is walled off from the outside or what happened to the previous civilization. Thus, there's no good explanation as to why these people chose to order their society in this way. The idea behind this civilization is that people are inherently flawed, and this was the best method of treatment - to choose one of five human propensities for evil (dishonesty, selfishness, cowardice, ignorance, or aggression) and order your life around avoiding it. Except there are people in your city who choose one of the other traits and feel free to behave in the other four ways. So what problem is this solving?
Like I said, the scenario in which this story is based is inconceivable. There is no place on this planet where anyone with knowledge of humanity could think this society was a plausible way to create peace. Considering how I feel about this, I don't know how I could've enjoyed the actual story so much, but I did. I liked the characters, even though again we were stuck with a typical brash, stubborn, fierce-yet-self-doubting girl for a protagonist. Clearly, there is a way to do stereo-types in a way that is not annoying, and Roth has figured it out. I liked her friends, I liked the love interest, and the villains (and there were a lot, yay!) each had their own motivation and individual methods. I never felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters here, even though there were a ton. Each of them were different and memorable (which is ironic, considering that there are only supposed to be five types of people in this world). So I guess you could say Roth's world is "richly populated", especially for a YA novel. The story was fast-paced, continuous and exciting. I might've even given this book 5 stars if there weren't all the aforementioned premise problems. Still, this might be the best action-y YA dystopia I've read since The Hunger Games trilogy, and I look forward to Insurgent.
See my review of Insurgent (Divergent #2)