I love an engrossing story. Who doesn’t, right? I really loved the first of Veronica Roth’s trilogy, Divergent. I have an affinity for dystopian novels, and it seems more and more that teenagers were created to be the pawns of our dystopian obstacle courses. As of late the teenage girl is serving more as this model. No complaints from me.
Whether it’s Katniss or as in this case, Tris, the coming of age story rises from the ashes of a broken world. In Divergent, Tris (short for Beatrice) must choose to devote the rest of her life to one of five factions in a very different Chicago. She has always been raised in abnegation (which values selflessness overall); however, her heart favors dauntless (valuing strength and bravery). But after a type of aptitude test serving to help one choose a faction, Tris discovers she does not fully align with any one faction. This makes her divergent — a dangerous trait.
The bulk of the novel focuses on Tris choosing her faction and then going through the initiation training. Throughout, Roth builds a political tension. The erudite faction (valuing knowledge) seeks to overthrow the power of abnegation, which acts as the political power for the city. This uprising quickly comes to fruition at the end of the novel and thus sets us up for the next two installments.
Divergent has elements of many great young adult novels, but it holds its own as being unique and authentic. Obviously it reminds me a good deal of The Hunger Games Trilogy, but it also has elements of Lowis Lowry’s The Giver, especially the sorting into different groups based on certain attributes an individual possesses (would Jonas have been considered divergent? hmm …)
I appreciate the complexity of what it means to be divergent, as well. What can be misunderstood as misfit/incomplete actually is more complete and belonging. Tris doesn’t fit solely into one category, but that’s something that should be celebrated. The fallacy of the factions resides in the assumption that these groups of people are the same. Tris’s mother explains the “danger” of divergents … and subsequently she pulls one of the greatest themes of the novel into her statement: “We can’t be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can’t be controlled” (442). Control is very much what this novel is concerned with: control of destiny, control of fear, control of government, control of people, etc.
But going back to my earlier point, being divergent is exemplary of what it means to be complete. Divergents have attributes spread out across the values of each faction. One attribute cannot rule the others. They work together; they compliment one another.
Finally, I was very intrigued with the simulations that every initiate was put through. A constant phrase Tris repeats to herself as she goes through each simulation is It’s all in your mind. But she still feels fear and terror. She still feels immense pain and agony. This is such a good example of what we face in our own lives each day. Our own minds create these scenarios that torture us, whether they are our fears being relieved or a figment of our imagination. If we could only recognize that these fears our just in our mind, which ultimately gives us control and power over them — what could we possibly overcome?
I love that the divergents have the ability to manipulate the simulations. They recognize that they have power over the simulation versus it being the other way around. The simulations do not control them (they do at first, but the Ds eventually overcome them). Again, I really think that is a powerful lesson to hang on to from this novel.
I definitely recommend this novel. Roth has worked out an interesting dystopian world full of intriguing ideas and important lessons. Tris is an interesting character that grows steadily throughout the novel — an excellent choice for the narrator/protagonist.
Favorite Passages in Divergent
“I wish I could speak to him like I want to instead of like I’m supposed to.” (37)
“there might come a day when there is no flashlight, there is no gun, there is no guiding hand. And I want to be ready for it.” (138)
“My father used to say that sometimes the best way to help someone is just to be near them.” (191)
“We are not the same. but we are, somehow, one.” (223)
“Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t. It isn’t.” (303)
“That is death — shifting from ‘is’ to ‘was.'”(303)
“Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” (441)