In the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, society is separated into five factions according to the value each group prioritizes: kindness, bravery, knowledge, honesty, and selflessness. The factions live mostly separate but peaceful lives, each one contributing its particular gifts to society.
Each faction conditions its children to follow its culture and beliefs. When the children are sixteen, they take an aptitude test to identify their natural inclinations, and they have a chance to choose their permanent factions. Most choose to stay in the factions into which they were born. Others feel pulled toward a different way of life, and might choose to join another faction, even though it means leaving the familiar behind.
Beatrice is sixteen. She was born into the selfless faction, called Abnegation. Her parents taught her never to think of her own desires or needs. They told her when to speak, and instructed her to be subservient. Beatrice admires the people of Abnegation for their quiet life of thoughtfulness and service, but she has never felt as though she belongs among them. The people who fascinate her – the Dauntless – are the opposite of Abnegation. They are loud and bold. They jump from moving trains and are covered in piercings and tattoos. They attract attention wherever they go. Beatrice knows that the choosing ceremony is her chance to find a place where she can fully belong.
At the beginning of the story, the rapport between some of the factions has become tense – after all, they have vastly different priorities – and, as the plot develops, the tension turns into hostility and violence. Beatrice’s natural curiosity and leadership drive her to uncover the secrets behind the founding of the factions, no matter how many generations of lies she has to uncover. Or beat out of people.
I enjoyed watching Beatrice come into her own. She is so uncertain of herself at the start of the book, but she becomes increasingly confident about her abilities as the book unfolds. Other characters in the book frequently dismiss her because of her gender and small stature, sometimes referring to her as “little girl.” It’s very satisfying, then, to watch her develop into a strong heroine. Roth makes sure she doesn’t read like a gun-slinging video game character. She remains thoughtful and openhearted, even while her circumstances demand that she become more decisive and aggressive than she ever thought she could be. The action moves quickly, and there is a fun (if predictable) romance that serves to help Beatrice become even stronger.
Roth’s story brought up interesting ideas, such as how we influence our children; prodding them to become the people we want or need them to be. In the book, most of the children choose to stay with their families – either they happened to be born into the faction for which they are best suited, or they have been successfully conditioned, or they just don’t want to leave what they know. Those that seek happiness elsewhere face a difficult choice. They know that, if they leave, it will cause shame for their families, and a rift in the relationship. It got me thinking about how we support or reject our children when they embrace an identity or value with which we disagree.
Identity – and how it is determined – is a big theme of the book. The children in Divergent choose their own identities in that they proclaim themselves to be a member of one faction or another. But the identities are too narrow; they don’t allow room for a whole person. For example, a member of the Dauntless faction must act brave, even reckless, at all times in order to keep her position within her community. When we embrace an identity – funny girl, brain, jock – do we leave room to acknowledge the other parts of our self? Does the funny girl get to be bummed out? How do others respond to her when she breaks out of her role?
One critique I have of the book is that the author reveals several details toward the end that were supposed to be surprising, but weren’t. Roth leaves a trail of clues that is too obvious for the reader to stay in the dark, even though Beatrice still seems to be. So, when she discovers aspects of certain characters’ back-stories, her “aha” moments are underwhelming for the reader.
Despite this flaw, it’s a fast-paced book with good characters and an interesting concept. I’d recommend it to young teens and older who are looking for a fun read this summer. It’s the first of a trilogy, with the last book coming out in fall of 2013.
Shannon blogs about her bookish life at www.shannonrigney.com