Following (fairly) close on the heels of The Hunger Games comes Veronica Roth’s Divergent. The highest compliment I can give Divergent (and I intend it to be very high indeed!) is that it didn’t read like the creation of a 23 year old, much less a first novel.
In Roth’s dystopic Chicago, the city1 is divided into five factions, each representing an ideal virtue in the new society–Candor (honest and outspoken), Abnegation (self-effacing and selfless), Dauntless (fearless warriors), Amity (friendship and peacemaking), and Erudite (intelligent/learned). At age sixteen, children are put through a gamut of tests which determine their talents for and tendencies towards a specific faction, and must then select the faction to which they will belong in adulthood. Our Brave Heroine, Beatrice, turns out to be that most dangerous of odd ducks, a Divergent; Divergents fall into more than one group and thus cannot be automatically slotted into a specific talent or behavior. The tester enters her manually into the databases as Abnegation, the faction to which her family belongs and in which Beatrice has been raised, and so presumably the one into which she’d likeliest fall. Despite her own misgivings about leaving her family, Beatrice chooses Dauntless and a new name, Tris.
The children, now “initiates”, are sent off to their chosen factions for training before attempting to pass the appropriate test for their group; those who do not pass become “factionless”, outcasts from society who get stuck with all the crummy jobs like garbage collection. The training for Dauntless, not surprisingly given the faction’s role in the society, involves physical agility, strength, hand to hand combat and feats of derringdo2 and a fair bit of nasty squabbling back in the dormitories. As they work their way through training, Tris and her friends among the initiates learn more about their society; an upsurge in…well…factionalism bodes ill for the society’s integrity in the future. On the eve of their passing into adulthood, the infighting comes to a head: one faction attempts to use Dauntless’ fighting capacity to subjugate the other three factions and take over the society as a whole. (The book has a happy ending of sorts, never fear.)
On the plus side, I’m glad to see another book about a tough determined brave (but caring!) girl. Given that I appreciate Julie (Julie of the Wolves) and Karana (Island of the Blue Dolphins) for their bravery in the face of difficult situations and their selfsufficiency, I can do no less than plug this book to teen and tween girls. It’s wonderful to see books coming out that center around girls who are active both physically and mentally and who challenge the standards of their society. That said, I found the writing stilted and the plot points were telegraphed many chapters ahead of time…but then keep in mind, I’ve read a great many more books than the target audience (possibly the author too, but I’m not committing myself to that) I’m not quite sure why they aren’t automatically assigned to a group, as the norm seems to be that people have a talent or propensity for only one group; shouldn’t that be where they go?
On the whole, this was a book worth reading for its intended age group and then some; I wish Roth well in her future writing! She’s off to a good start.
1and presumably the larger society if there is one, though Roth doesn’t mention that
2for some reason, many of the tests of bravery seem to revolve around jumping from (or across) great heights; at one point they bungee jump (or something similar) off the Hancock Tower