Divergent by Veronica Roth is the first book in a new dystopian series. You’re probably thinking that this concept has already been done to death, but Roth’s approach and premise is really entertaining. The second title, Insurgent, is already out and the movie (no surprise there) is already in pre-production.
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, 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). Teenagers in each faction take personality and aptitude tests to attempt to predict which faction they belong in.
On an appointed day of every year, all 16-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 to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating 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 a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.
Modified from the publisher, HarperCollins Canada
Some of the premise may sound familiar—teens being forced to choose, highly competitive initiation, possible romance. It may seem like the dystopian YA genre is over-saturated, but thankfully some editor/agent read this story and realized it wasn’t just a “the next Hunger Games”. (Although, it bothers me when they label books “the next something-or-other”). Veronica Roth has a knack for storytelling and a really authentic youth voice.
The world of Divergent has come back from the brink of destruction, believing that society is destroyed due to greed, ignorance, lies, cowardice, or aggression. This future version of Chicago has redistributed themselves based on these core values into five separate factions. Abnegation are the selfless and therefore in charge of the government; Dauntless stand by courage and strong, ruthless determination and are the military in the society; Erudite have a insatiable desire for knowledge and collection of information; Candor pledge to always be honest and candid, to avoid the lies of humanity; Amity are the peacekeepers who stand against unnecessary aggression.
SPOILER ALERT — Discussing details from the novel
The plot was fast-paced and action-driven. The values of this utopian world are slowly going askew: it looks good on paper but it isn’t quite working in practice. Beatrice/Tris’ test results are an important piece of this puzzle. Born into Abnegation, during testing she didn’t fit into one category, she was equally apt for three of the factions and must keep this divergence from the ‘norm’ a secret. The repercussions would be more than becoming homeless and cast out of society (aka Factionless), she would probably become some sort of science experiment.
I felt that Beatrice/Tris’ character development was believable and genuine. There were a few times were she responded exactly how a teenager from a conservative background would have done. Specifically, this was incredibly visible through the romance storyline. First of all, I was incredibly pleased that there wasn’t some Twilight-esque love triangle, which was also frustrating in Hunger Games. Divergent was more about Beatrice/Tris becoming an adult and making her own choices in the world she lives in. She has to decide what values are important to her and who matters in her life.
I also really appreciated how Roth addressed sex and attraction. These are teens who came from all different backgrounds; Tris was in a very reserved and conservative faction and is inexperienced at reading emotions and understanding her own feelings. I really think that her reactions to Four (Tobias) are very typical for a teen—butterflies in her stomach, racing heartbeat, fear of sex/intimacy, yet desire, not understanding why he likes her, etc.—and Roth’s choices for Tris are very accurate.
The way Beatrice/Tris is with her family was near perfect. While we as the reader do have some of their background filled in for us, we get the feeling that there is mutual respect and love even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye. If Divergence is hereditary, it makes sense that Beatrice’s mother (Natalie) is too, but I found it jarring that Natalie knew all these details about simulation serum and the Erudite’s secret plans for power. This is where first-person narratives really seem to detract: not being able to see the other characters and how they obtain information that assists the main protagonist. I also found it a bit abrupt when Natalie immediately knows Tris is Divergent, and also how Four just happens to be Divergent too. It seems a little too easy and perfect in the story.
END SPOILER ALERT
As with most dystopian young adult novels, you will need to suspend disbelief to entertain the notions of this world and the social structure. I’d place it above the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield and about on par with Hunger Games, neither of which are critical literary pieces as something like Lord of the Flies or 1984. But ultimately it’s worth reading—Divergent is a strong addition to a growing canon of YA novels.