After hearing a lot about Divergent by Veronica Roth when it first came out and then again when Insurgent hit the shelves, I decided to track down a copy. My lovely friend Wendy let me borrow hers and I found it to be a fun YA dystopian novel with some interesting world building.
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). 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. 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. (Synopsis from Veronica Roth’s website)
I absolutely adored that this was set in Chicago. I also really liked that she set it in the future so she could mess with the landscape as she felt she needed to, but keeping some of the major places, like Navy Pier and the giant Ferris Wheel, as landmarks. I thought the different Factions were interesting. The brain washing that went on was pretty intense and really messed with the kids’ heads. I’ve seen that kind of fanaticism at work and it is real and it can be scary. I understand why people have a problem with the fact that there seems to be no real separation of the factions, and it seems that there is no point to them really. But coming from a fanaticism perspective, from my religious upbringing, I can totally see how people are taught to be in the world but not of the world. Where they are taught that you can walk side by side people and despise them and refuse to interact with them.
I also really liked Tris as a main character. Her dilemma seems a little strange to me. Which faction to choose? . . . But, everyone has a choice no matter what their tests are, so why wait until the last second to make a decision you’ve known all your life is coming? Sure, she gets thrown for a loop with the the whole secret thing she learns after getting tested, but that doesn’t actually play into any of her decision making, at all. It doesn’t seem to influence her choosing which faction nor how she interacts with her new family. I mean, if you know maybe you are smarter or better at something than you should be, why wouldn’t you dumb yourself down to not get noticed? Tris is strong and smart, but incredibly naive. Perhaps her prerogative, being someone half my age (gah!). But I learned at a fairly early age that in order to interact with society I had to set aside some of who I am to fit in. Perhaps, in a perfect world, I shouldn’t have to, but I do not live in a perfect world. (Except on the internets, where I’ve built my own world and community.) And neither does Tris. Perhaps this is her biggest fault, believing everything she has been taught, the good and the bad. It takes her a really long time to realize that perhaps she should question some of those teachings and hold back some from the people she is supposed to be able to trust, but maybe shouldn’t.
I was quite taken with all of the tattoos. In fact, I plan on getting a span of flying birds across my back. One bird for each of my siblings and I. When I can afford to do this, I don’t know. But I definitely want to. I think it will go well with the moon goddess on my right shoulder. The start of a night sky on my back!
I really like Four, I liked him better than Tris. He was less naive, but still hopeful. He understood how to interact with his society and what it meant to have a secret. He also was subversive in his tactics and getting away with what he could get away with. I love sneaky characters in books. Mayhaps that is because I can be a rather subversive person myself. 😉 I definitely related to his character far more than I related to Tris. I liked their subtle romance which was built on interactions and conversations and wasn’t solely based in INSTALOVE.
One additional problem I had with the book is that it definitely felt like a first book in a series. I understand the author knew she would be able to explain more in further books, but some of the back history of Tris’ family came out of the middle of nowhere and then went nowhere. It was very abrupt and I feel like, if the author had to explain that in this book and not rely on a second narrative, some of the story lines in Divergent would have been tighter and a bit cleaner.
In a nutshell, Divergent is the story of a girl who leaves the comfort of all that she is known to face scary people, a physically demanding lifestyle, and some problems Tris never new existed with her perfect society. She must find the answers to her questions before her secret is discovered.