Thursday, October 13, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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In Beatrice’s 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).  On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen 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. 

Divergent is a powerful novel that will please fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner Trilogies.  There’s plenty to keep your head spinning.  The creation of a society that is so drastically separated from one another is mind-boggling.   No matter how much I liked the book, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of society being divided into factions based on one main characteristic.  It seemed so one-dimensional and inconceivable to me.  Despite that I was plenty able to go with it.

Tris is a formidable presence.  Having lived her whole life under severe constraints, she relishes her new freedom.  Her acceptance of herself as someone who can’t fit neatly into one category echoes my feeling about factions as a whole.  As a member of a new faction she has to learn to fight for herself.  And for the first time in her life she also has to learn to think of herself  – a concept so alien to her strict upbringing as a member of Abnegation where she was always expected to put others before herself.  However, she doesn’t easily abandon her Abnegation roots.  She silently works to balance her new experiences with her previous beliefs. 

The initiation process is grueling and if it were a reality show it would be a mix of Survivor, Amazing Race, The Apprentice (when it was cool which was forever ago) and Big Brother – but with weapons … used by sixteen year-olds.  As I plowed through the story, I’d seriously pause to ask, “Who was the genius who thought this was a good idea?”  It makes you wonder what could have happened before to create this world. Even though Divergent is pretty heavy, there are a few lighthearted moments as Tris learns to not take herself so seriously.  And she also finds a like-minded soul in Four, her love interest as they both struggle with the changes they're facing.

Divergent is a definite must-read.  There’s so much action to keep you turning the pages as fast as you can.  It’s very hard to put down.  And since I, like the author also live just outside of Chicago, viewing the city through this book was a wild ride!  It was a trip recognizing famous landmarks but unnerving to witness them as part of an unrecognizable bleak, rigid society. The messages in this book are very obvious – can society as a whole really function, and function effectively, when people are divided into factions and expected to perform based on one virtue?  Can this set-up truly erase problematic characteristics of basic human nature?  And what happens when you can’t fit yourself into just one neat little category?  What does that make you?


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