Beatrice "Tris" Prior has reached the fateful age of sixteen, the stage at which teenagers in Veronica Roth's dystopian Chicago must select which of five factions to join for life. Each faction represents a virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. To the surprise of herself and her selfless Abnegation family, she chooses Dauntless, the path of courage. Her choice exposes her to the demanding, violent initiation rites of this group, but it also threatens to expose a personal secret that could place in mortal danger. Veronica Roth's young adult Divergent trilogy launches with a captivating adventure about love and loyalty playing out under most extreme circumstances.
YA dystopia is all the rage now, largely thanks to The Hunger Games, a fantastic, pulse-pounding, dystopia that led many readers (including myself) to crave similar books. Since reading The Hunger Games I have read several of the other offerings that have come out, only to be repeatedly disappointed, so by the time I picked up Divergent my expectations were pretty low. But to my delight, Divergent turned out to be just the kind of book I was hoping for and for the past couple days I’ve spent every free minute that I could find immersed in this story.
Beatrice Prior has just turned sixteen which means that it’s time for her to publicly announce the faction that she would like to spend the rest of her life in.
Having spent her childhood as an Abnegation, Beatrice doesn’t think she is meant for the life of quiet, selfless giving that her parents and the rest of the community are dedicated to. Instead Beatrice finds herself drawn to the wild, warrior-like Dauntless, with their tattoo covered bodies and daring acts of devilry. But choosing to join another faction means turning her back on her family and everything that she has been raised to believe in and Beatrice isn’t sure if she is strong enough to do so. When the time comes though, Beatrice makes the decision that will permanently change her life.
As a Dauntless initiate, Beatrice, now known as Tris, is expected to be brave and fearless at all times. The weeks of initiation are filled with daily tests involving brutal fights between initiates and mental exercises in which they are attacked by their fears. With her slight build and background as an Abnegate, Tris has to work harder than anyone to prove herself, though she soon discovers that doing too well can also result in dangerous consequences.
Tris’s new life is full of exciting new experiences, including new friends and a possible romance, but when corruption within the factions threaten her family, and the world that she lives in, Tris will discover what courage really is.
Just a few pages in and Divergent had me fully in its grip. While it starts off a bit slow, introducing us to Tris and the quiet, rigid, life that she lead as an Abnegation, the pace quickly speeds up once Tris joins her new faction. Most of the book describes Tris’s brutal initiation process and we watch as she transforms from a quiet, submissive shadow to a fierce young woman determined to succeed at all cost. But Tris’s current path is often in direct conflict with the ethics that her parents had instilled in her and Tris must find a way to balance the two if she doesn’t want to lose herself completely.
Tris’s personality and the challenges that she faces reminded me a lot of Katniss, which is probably why Divergent is often compared to The Hunger Games. But unlike in the Hunger Games, the futuristic society that Roth creates here wasn’t quite as convincing, and I found it to be the weakest part of the story. The idea that all the people of the world are divided into five communities based on the virtue they believe in the most (knowledge, honesty, selflessness, courage and peacefulness) in order to prevent war makes no sense. And as we can see in this story, animosity and conflict still exist, though it’s now mostly geared towards members of the other factions. A really good dystopia has it's roots in reality which makes the dystopic parts of the story believable and thought provoking, and in this Divergent fell short.
There is also very little explanation as to what each of the different factions actually does. So what if members of Candor believe in being honest, what is their actual role in this society? And how can Abnegation be the official leaders if their belief in selflessness places them on the peripheral of society? There was just a lot here that was left unexplained, and this did occasionally frustrate me. Mention is also made of a fence that the Dauntless guard but we don’t find out anything more about what they are guarding against and what is on the other side of the fence. Perhaps this will come up in one of the future books, but based on the way Divergant ends I’m not sure of that.
While I think Divergant would have been a much more powerful book had all the details about this future world been hashed out a bit better, it was still one of the best YA dystopias that I have read in a while and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.