So that YA fix I was anticipating from The Rook remained alive for me and lead me towards a book in the Fast Reads section at the library that featured a cover design that was (alarmingly, right!?) like The Hunger Games cover: Divergent by Suzanne Collins, I mean, by Veronica Roth.
I decided to review the first two volumes of Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA trilogy together, mostly because the plot is all a big blur in my mind. These books borrow heavily from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, but not in a bad way or anything. The novels are different enough that they stand out and, honestly, it’s going to be awhile before anyone can write dystopian YA fiction without having it compared to The Hunger Games.
Divergent begins a few days before The Choosing, when 16-year-olds choose which faction they want to become a part of. Factions are as follows: Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, and Amity. I found the names of the Factions to be a bit eye-rolly and heavy handed, but it’s YA fiction, so I’ll let it slide. YOU’RE WELCOME, WORLD.
Beatrice Prior is our heroine, who is currently a member of Abnegation. The Abnegation are selfless and kind and patient and Beatrice does not relate because WHO DOES, amirite? Beatrice, tired of selfless life on the high road, wants to be brave. So she joins Dauntless, which is a big deal, because the Dauntless are completely crazy, jumping off of trains and other nonsense. Basically, they’re the opposite of what Beatrice has grown up with.
Beatrice must make it through the Dauntless initiation, a frightful affair full of weapons and hand-to-hand combat and back-stabbing, without being either kicked out to live among the Factionless, or, you know, DYING. Fun times! The Factionless are exactly what they sound like, members of the community who have failed Faction initiation or who have been excommunicated for some other nefarious reason. They don’t seem that important at first BUT THEY WILL BE.
I don’t want to say too much about Insurgent for fear of spoiling, but Insurgent picks up where Divergent ends, which is good because, if I remember correctly, Divergent was very cliffhangery. Aren’t they all, though? Insurgent follows Beatrice (now known as Tris) through a harrowing journey, filled with death and love and fighting and again, NOT TO SPOIL, but I will just say I’m not quite sure what I think about the end of Insurgent. I’ll withhold judgement until I read the last book, but it isn’t out yet, which is very annoying.
This series didn’t grab me the way The Hunger Games did, but it was interesting and I’ll definitely be picking up the final part of the trilogy once it comes out. Until then,
may the odds be EVER in your favor oops never mind BYE.
Divergent is set in a dystopian Chicago, where society is divided into five factions, each founded on respect for a particular virtue: Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace) and Erudite (intelligence). Each faction reveres their chosen virtue to a fault: the Candor are transparent but brash, the Abnegation selfless but sheltered, the Dauntless courageous but reckless, the Amity complacent but ambivalent and the Erudite astute but overly pragmatic. On an appointed day each year, all sixteen-year-olds in Chicago 2.0 must choose the faction to which they will belong for the rest of their lives. Notably, those who select a faction other than the one in which they were raised agree to an all but certain exiling from the friends and family they’ve always known.
From page one, Divergent falls in line with its predecessors in the Young Adult Dystopia (let’s call it YAD) genre: Abnegation-raised Beatrice shocks her family when she decides to switch factions, and shocks absolutely no one when she meets a “sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating” boy in her new community. Faction initiation reveals vulnerabilities; love blossoms; a treacherous plot is discovered; a battle is fought.
What makes Divergent interesting—dare I say mildly unique—is that its conflict doesn’t rely on the avarice or corruption of a single person or body of people. Sure, there are instigators in the war that’s ultimately waged among factions, but said war isn’t the byproduct of an immoral central government (see: The Hunger Games, Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451). No one’s fighting evil vampires (Twilight, The Strain) or rebelling against dubious biological conditioning (The Handmaid’s Tale, Never Let Me Go, Brave New World again). Rather, Divergent pits virtue against virtue, ideal against ideal, and good intentions against a paved road to Hell. This facet of the novel—a central fight that’s more Hufflepuff vs. Gryffindor than peasant vs. king—makes it special, and in some sense a better read for teenagers. “Would you rather be always honest or always brave?” is a more valuable question than “Would you rather be poor and oppressed or not poor and oppressed?”