I have to admit, I didn't have high expectations when I picked Divergent off the shelf. Maybe it was just a symptom of young adult dystopian overload. In any case, it was the January selection for my book club so I was willing to give it a try. Still, I waited until the last minute - the Monday before the Saturday when the book club meets - to begin reading the 400 plus page story. I was worried I had waited too long and wouldn't finish in time. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. At the end of day one I had made it to page 130. I would have finished it on day two but one of my resolutions this year is to get up and exercise before work which requires going to bed at a decent hour, so I reluctantly put the book aside. I picked it up as soon as I could on day three and finished it. It only goes to show just how wrong preconceptions can be.
At the center of the story is sixteen-year-old Beatrice "Tris"
Prior. She lives in a society that is divided into five factions: Abnegation
(the selfless), Amity (the peaceful) Candor (the honest), Erudite (the
intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave).
The story behind the factions is that once there was some sort of war
and after the war ended people divided themselves into the above groups based
on ideas about the causes of war and conflict, what is most important in life, and what is the best way to live.
The beliefs held by each faction run deep.
They permeate every aspect of an individual’s life. The Candor
faction, for instance, believes that dishonesty leads to conflict, suspicion,
and evil and so they strive to be completely honest and transparent, no matter
the consequences. Others may see their
brutal honesty as rude or unkind, but for those in the Candor faction, even lying
to spare someone’s feelings is doing that person an injustice. Initiates
in Candor must reveal their deepest, darkest secrets on the basis that an
omission is as dishonest as an outright lie and that truth prevents
misunderstandings (which can lead to conflict). Those in Abnegation attempt to avoid
all temptations of self-indulgence. They
avoid mirrors, dress plainly, eat simple food, and don’t seem to believe in free time (or strangely, art) as such time
could be spent helping someone else.
At age 16 girls and boys must take an aptitude test aimed at helping
the teen choose which faction they wish to join as an adult. Regardless of what the test says or what
faction a person was born into, the teen gets to pick which faction they want
to be a part of. Beatrice was born into
the Abnegation faction. Her test results
are inconclusive – the only faction that is conclusively ruled out is
Candor. (Funny how kindness and selflessness conflict
with honesty.) This makes her, gasp, a
Divergent. The woman who administers
Beatrice’s test cautions her to tell no one about her test result as her life would
be in danger. Beatrice doesn’t
understand why. The only thing she knows
is that she isn't cut out for Abnegation. For one thing, she is too curious to be so selfless. (Asking too many questions can be considered
to self-indulgent in the Abnegation faction).
So Beatrice chooses Dauntless and renames herself Tris.
Much of the story follows Tris as she tries to gain a foothold in the
Dauntless tribe. It turns out the
Dauntless don’t just accept everyone who chooses them. They make their initiates prove why they
should be allowed to join the faction.
Smaller than most of the other initiates and with a natural instinct
towards kindness and cooperation, Tris struggles to prove herself. At the same time she tries to figure out what
being Divergent means and why it is considered so dangerous. Meanwhile, unrest is brewing among the five factions. Each
faction controls a different aspect of societal life. Because they are considered selfless, only
members of Abnegation serve in the government and the Erudite are none too
happy about that. It would seem that
dividing into five factions isn’t working to prevent conflict quite as well as
everyone had hoped.
I thoroughly enjoyed Divergent and am eager to read the next book in the trilogy,
Insurgent. In particular, Veronica Roth
did a great job in creating the world in which Tris lives. It felt real. Perhaps it felt that way because essentially this is a coming of age story (at least in part) in which a young person has to figure out who she is and if she is willing to be that person even if it means defying her parents or society's expectations. I love the idea of the five factions, all of which are great virtues to strive for.
Of course, I can guess where this going. Eventually the inhabitants of this world will
come to understand that bravery, honesty, selflessness, kindness, and the
pursuit of knowledge are all valuable and valid virtues, and further, that each
on their own is often not enough to prevent conflict or maximize happiness. Honesty without kindness can be cruel. Bravery without intelligence (or the other
way around) can lead to more death and destruction that not. A willingness to be kind at all cost can lead
to nothing getting done, among other problems. Even though I
can guess where this headed I am looking for the journey to see how it gets