Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Beatrice “Tris” Prior has reached the fateful age of sixteen, the stage at which teenagers in Veronica Roth’s dystopian Chicago must select which of five factions to join for life. Each faction represents a virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. To the surprise of herself and her selfless Abnegation family, she chooses Dauntless, the path of courage. Her choice exposes her to the demanding, violent initiation rites of this group, but it also threatens to expose a personal secret that could place her in mortal danger. Veronica Roth’s young adult Divergent trilogy launches with a captivating adventure about love and loyalty playing out under most extreme circumstances.
Thoughts: I felt like I’d been waiting just shy of forever to read this book, when when I finally got myself a copy, I was more than happy to sit down and read through the whole thing as quickly as possible. I’m glad to be able to say that it lives up to my expectations, which were, I confess, flagging in the wake of so many lackluster dystopian novels that seem to be cluttering the shelves these days.
Divergent starts with a concept that’s fairly familiar to readers of dystopian fiction, especially YA dystopian fiction: deperating people into basic categories. In this case, the categories are personality traits. Whether you’re more selfless, or brave, or other such traits will determine your faction in Roth’s future, the section of society in which you will live out the rest of your life past the age of 16. Of course, the main character has a classic case of not quite fitting in, having multiple dominant traits in her personality. This is referred to as Divergence, and must be kept a secret at all costs.
I admit that when I got that explanation, I had a knee-jerk reaction of rolling my eyes and assuming that the only reason that Divergence would be so bad in such a society is because it flies in the face of whatever philosophy declares that people can be reduced to a single personality trait. Reading on, however, reveals that although that is part of it, it only skims the surface of why Divergence is so dangerous to the current regime, and is both more and less than such a simple explanation.
Roth does a wonderful job of showcasing the way that humanity takes things to extremes. Where the Dauntless faction are supposed to embody bravery as a primary trait, this has, over time, come to manifest in a daredevil lifestyle in which peircings, tattoos, and violence are the order of the day. The selflessness of the Abnegation faction has gone beyond charity and modesty and instead teaches that the self is less important than the other, and that not setting yourself aside for everybody else is just selfish and bad. Good in theory, but human nature being what it is, over time people will always take things to the next level and the ritual becomes more important than the meaning.
In much the same way that I praised Mike Mullin’s Ashfall for not shying away from the darker side of life, I must give that same praise to Roth here. There is death in this book, bloody and violent and senseless. There is suicide. There is war, and cruelty, and frank discussions that highlight the way that morals and ethics are a millions shades of grey instead of black-and-white. Roth manages to do all this without being heavy handed about it all, and that works all the more effectively to get her point across. Other writers of YA-oriented novels could do worse than to follow in Roth’s footsteps.
There are a dozen things I could praise this book for, and I can think of only one thing that I really disliked about it. And that is this: it came as no surprise that Tris’s dominant traits were selflessness, bravely, and intelligence. Just about every heroine in every novel, especially ones intended for teenagers, have their main traits be these. It’s getting overdone. Yes, Tris’s personality is rich and layered enough to make her more than just these basic traits, so it’s not a huge flaw, but really, in three words Roth just described the generic heroine, and so it was hard not to wince a little bit there.
But when that’s my biggest complaint, and even I can find counters to my own arguments in the way that Tris was developed, that’s not much of a flaw in the novel as a whole. Really, Divergent is a realistic and exciting ride through a future that’s all too believable, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the books in the planned trilogy. I can’t wait to see what Roth will do next.