Veronica Roth’s Divergent sets itself apart from other dystopian tales (such as The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner), establishing itself in its own right as a series with emotional impact, a solid message, and a compelling story.
Divergent, set in dystopian Chicago, tells the story of Beatrice “Tris” Prior. At age 16, all members of the society (Chicago is walled off from the rest of the nation, and we don’t know what lies beyond the wall) must choose which factions to which they want to belong. They may remain in the faction they were born into, or they can choose allegiance to another faction, forsaking the family and the society which raised them. There are five factions, each with its distinct set of traits and place in society: Abnegation (the selfless–they are volunteers, government leaders), Amity (the kind and caring–kind of the hippies of society, farmers, caretakers), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the fearless)–the soldiers and guards of the city), and Erudite (learned–the scholars and educators). If you choose to leave your faction, you abandon it and your family forever.
Tris was raised in Abnegation, learning to be selfless in all things, to put others’ needs above her own. However, when it comes time to take the test which should help her determine where she is destined to go, she learns some disturbing and frightening things–she may be quite different from the others around her, possibly dangerous. This leads her to reevaluate everything she has known or been taught, and she must decide whether she will diverge from her family and faction. If she does, will she be able to live according to the values her parents have instilled in her, or will she go off the reservation and become unrecognizable to them, should they ever see her again?
This is a fantastic book. I listened to it on a road trip, nearly all in one sitting. I really became immersed in the story and characters from minute one; the world that Ms. Roth has built is intricate, well-constructed, vibrant, and dangerous. Tris is such a great, believable character. She demonstrates nearly all of the problems that teens deal with: internalizing your parents’ instructions and following them, even when they’re not around; thinking about decisions, making the right ones for your life, even if they aren’t they easiest.
I agreed with the message of this book, as well as enjoying the book itself–there’s usually a disparity here in YA novels, just see my review for Beauty Queens. Quite often, the book is enjoyable, but the message is not always in line with what I’d recommend to teens. Here, Tris does not simply shake her fist at how she was raised, saying she’ll do anything but what her parents want her to do because they just don’t understand her. So many (though not all) YA novels just assume that parents are domineering, stupid, or just ignorant about their children. It often becomes the mission of the teen to subvert or escape their parents’ reign–they must leave and do their own thing no matter the cost, forget the consequences, as long as it’s on their own. Rather, Tris must find her own way (as all people must one day), but rather than simply abandon anything she has learned before, even though she chooses a completely unexpected path, the things she has learned from her parents keep her alive, helping her to rise to the top and succeed. I really appreciated that about this novel.
Divergent was impressive. I had known about it for awhile, and I’d put it on my to-read list. However, when in a week’s time 4 different people recommended it to me (2 within 10 minutes of each other), I knew I had to get to it–it was entirely worth it. I’m recommending it to all of my students, as well as the teens at my library. I’m really excited about the sequel, Insurgent, which hopefully comes out late next spring.