I know the rest of the world read Veronica Roth's Divergent back during the late Pleistocene, but I just got around to it recently. Chalk it up to being busy and reading other stuff but I'm way behind here and I know it. At any rate, I thought I'd give this a try when I caught a copy of it for a good price. Also, it includes some extras that I thought I'd check out since this is such a hint and that kind of thing seems like it might be helpful in my own attempts at novel writing since she's obviously good at what she does. This is a dystopic novel for sure, but Roth makes things look like they may be on the upswing possibly... if things go right in the rest of the series. Don't worry. I won't spoil you. I haven't read the things, nor have I seen the movies, so I don't know what's coming. If you do shhh... I hate spoilers.
Roth does a magnificent job describing a post-apocalyptic Chicago as the setting of her novel. All of the details, from the El, to the Sears Tower to the remains of Lake Michigan are there. I've been to Chicago a few times and although I don't consider myself to be the expert a native of the area would be, I do recognize it. I won't promised you that none of the details were fudged but there is enough there that it feels authentic to someone who has been there. I felt like I was walking the streets and/or riding the El with her characters and it was an awesome feeling. I'm a little bitter because I feel like taking a trip there now and can't manage it right now, but that's actually a good thing from a reader's point of view.
Divergent takes place after a catastrophic war. In the wake of the destruction, the survivors divide themselves into five factions: The Abnegation believe that a society based on self denial and helping others will lead to lack of conflict. The Amity believe that getting along and avoid aggression will lead to peace. The Candor believe that conflict comes from dishonesty and that the only way to avoid conflict is through complete, blunt honesty. The Dauntless believe that direct action and meeting problems head on is the only way to avoid war. Lastly, the Erudite believe that lack of knowledge and understanding leads to strife and that only education can prevent it.
That there are huge gaps between the factions is obvious. That things eventually come to a head is inevitable, especially given that the entire government is given over to one faction, the Abnegation. It is thought that they're the best for the job because they are self-sacrificing and don't want everything for themselves. The rumors aren't true but they don't have to be. A big lie will often work when nothing else will.
Members of Roth's society are able to choose their own faction at the age of sixteen. They are raised by their birth parents and then subjected to an aptitude test to show them where they would fit best. Trainees are allowed to pick their own faction regardless of the results of the tests, but this is not without risk. After selecting a faction, they are then put through a training and indoctrination period. Anyone who fails is forced to become factionless; homeless, poor and unvalued. These are the people who do the jobs that no one else wants. Ending up factionless is the worst fear of many trainees and for good reason. Who wouldn't fear a life of no meaning and no resources, starting at age sixteen? The story begins the day before main character Beatrice's Choosing Ceremony. The majority of Divergent deals with her attempt to get into her chosen faction.
Beatrice's training is not always easy for her, but she comes through it like a champion. This is a girl that I would be proud to call my daughter. She develops an interesting relationship with one of her trainers and finds out not only what she is capable of, but what her worst fears are and how to overcome them. Tris faces betrayal from among her closest friends and a fear of having her darkest secret discovered but through it all she never gives up. This is a main character that I can admire.
The conflict between two of the factions ramps up throughout the book and Beatrice becomes increasingly aware of the problems. She finds herself caught in the middle as her father is a leader in the Abnegation and is at the heart of the controversy. As the story goes on, things come to a head. Beatrice finds herself in a bad place and facing a situation no human being could ever be truly prepared for. Her method of dealing with it leads directly into the ending and the obvious set up for the next novel.
The extras that came with the edition of the book that I got were a lot of fun as well. Roth's writing tips are not exactly earth-shattering secrets to instant success but they are things I've heard mentioned by other successful authors and so I trust them. The faction manifestos are awesome. I have a sneaking suspicion that these were attached (at least in part) to Roth's notes as she was writing the book and that they were worked in later. I loved the chance to see what makes these factions tick. The faction quiz was nothing special but it was fun. The interview was excellent for people like me who enjoy getting a chance to learn more about famous people and how their mind works. Roth's comments on utopias versus dystopias were interesting and something I'm working very hard to avoid using as inspiration for a new writing project as I have too many irons in the fire already. There is also an excerpt for the next book, but I don't read excerpts. I'll read the whole thing when I get a chance and the excerpt will be in there somewhere.
This is yet another work containing my most hated character: Cliff Hanger. Seriously people. I get the fact that it does an author (and their publisher) good for the next book to sell too. That doesn't necessarily mean that we have to be dangling off the edge of a cliff at the end of every book. Ugh. It also occurs to me that Tris suffers from Harry Potter syndrome: She gets away with a lot more than she should be able to at times. In one particular instance I was flat out shocked and thrown out of the story when she got away with something scot-free that she should have been seriously punished for. Overall though, this book was pretty epic.
Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 Simulators
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011
Divergent is available for purchase here: