At the heels of the success of the ‘Hunger Games’ series, dystopian futures are all the rage in the literature community. With so many authors racing to pen the next big thing in a genre that may be fleeting in popularity, it can be hard to stand out from the pack. Veronica Roth’s ‘Divergent’ does so with flying colors. Well, perhaps flying greys and darker greys, because in our protagonist’s futuristic society, it’s frowned upon to be ostentatious.
‘Divergent’ takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago, where society has been broken down into five different factions. Those who believe society fell due to greed and selfishness have formed “Abnegation” and live humbly, quietly, and plainly. The four other factions are Erudite, those blame ignorance for society’s fall and hold intelligence in the highest regard; Amity, who blame it on violence and live only for peace; Candor, who blame lies and deception and live with brutal honesty; and Dauntless, who believe society fell due to cowardice and promote bravery.
When teenagers reach sixteen years of age, they take an aptitude test which places them in a simulated environment and tests their reaction to various difficult situations. Our heroine, Beatrice Prior, has lived all her life feeling out of place in her family’s faction of Abnegation but has been brought up to be fearful to assert her beliefs. Her brother, just a bit older, is also due to take the aptitude test this year, and her thoughts are consumed with the decision to live the rest of her life with restrictions she doesn’t believe in, or abandon her family and go against everything she’s been brought up to believe and join a new faction.
Much like the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts, the aptitude test is meant to suggest a direction that one’s base instincts point to, but at the Choosing Ceremony, every student may choose any direction they desire, even if it goes against the test’s recommendations. When Beatrice takes the test, her results are inconclusive, and the test-giver fearfully informs her that this means she is Divergent, which is considered dangerous, and she’s urged to keep it secret.
At the Choosing Ceremony the next day, Beatrice still isn’t sure which faction to choose, but she gets a jolt of bravery when her brother Caleb is called first and goes against the family faction, choosing Erudite. When it’s her turn, Beatrice also chooses to leave Abnegation and chooses to join Dauntless.
Initiation begins soon after, which for the bravest faction of Dauntless, includes jumping from trains and learning weapons skills. Beatrice changes her name to Tris to begin this new life, and she and the other initiates learn that only 10 of them will make it into Dauntless, leaving the rest dead or factionless, which are the homeless dregs of society. An attractive but intimidating instructor named Four makes the training a bit more exciting, and Tris quickly makes a few friends and a few more enemies, who see every other initiate as competition and will do anything to ensure their own survival.
As if life-threatening training and an unsure future isn’t enough to keep Tris on her toes, there are rumblings of dissention and corruption at the highest levels of the factions, and it all seems to be coming to a head. Did she make the right choice to abandon her parents by joining Dauntless? Should she have joined her brother at Erudite? Will she soon be forced to go to war with her own family?
Roth writes a captivating and gratifying tale with a realistic teenage voice. She came up with the idea for the series while in college and formed it into this breakout three-book series: ‘Divergent,’ ‘Insurgent,’ and an as-of-yet-unnamed book set to come out in October of this year. I couldn’t put this book down and (foolishly) read through it in one day before the entire series was out. Nobody likes waiting, and like everyone, I worry about minute, hinting details that will disappear from memory in the months and years between installments.
To label a book mesmerizing just because it was a quick read seems misleading, because there are obviously different reasons for finishing a book quickly. Simple language can relax the mind, but it can also feel like literary junk food. The opposite — a too-flowery or sesquipedalian book like those in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series — is not necessarily a good thing, but I end up loving those books as well, even if they take me months to finish. Obviously, a quick-read can be so gripping you can’t bear to close it without seeing what the characters do next. For me, ‘Divergent’ fell into these two categories, and flowing language plus gripping cliffhangers at every chapter equals a satisfying read.
As an aside, a book also might be a quick read — and I think this might only apply to people like me with completionist and financial satisfaction tendencies — to get it over with and consumed, ‘Matrix’-download style, and on to the next form of entertainment. People who use “Did Not Finish” tags on goodreads.com set me off twitching, but I certainly understand when it has to be done.
It’s true that this book is simple in language, but that shouldn’t be too much of an admonition of its smarts. Imagining it any other way would not have been believable musings of a teenage girl. The depictions of friendship, betrayal, and love interest are true to life and sometimes heartbreaking, while the intriguing and maniacal tests paint a frighteningly vivid picture of their technologically advanced but broken society. It’s easy to see why Hollywood quickly snatched up this riveting tale and has begun casting for this next big franchise.
‘Divergent’ is an immensely enjoyable book for teenagers and adults alike, possibly skewing more feminine, but just barely, because who doesn’t enjoy girls who kick ass?