© 2011 Veronica Roth
Every major city has problems with organized gangs, but the Chicago of Divergent’s future has nothing else. The entire society is organized in five factions devoted to an ideal; Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudition, Amity, and Candor. These five subcultures prescribe virtually every aspect of life; occupation, manners, dress, and living quarters. Every year, on their sixteenth birthday, young people submit to a test that informs them which faction best suits their personality. A rare few defy this sorting serum, however; they are Divergent, and their very existence is taboo. Such is the premise of Divergent, a young adult sci-fi thriller that succeeds in thrilling despite some problems.
Our lead character and hero is Beatrice, soon to be called Tris. Tris has been raised by the semi-religious Abnegation, who strive for selflessness and are trusted with the governance of society. Beatrice, soon to be called Tris, loves her family’s ways but can’t help but feel she doesn’t belong there. When her inconclusive test results giver her the option of choosing, she bolts factions and becomes Dauntless. Her new faction, the society’s warriors and guards, place a premium on battle skills and ferocity. Most of the book is taken up with Tris training for initiation; if she fails, she will be homeless. Considering that the training involves teenagers violently sparring with one another (with the occasional knife thrown), and the plot eventually ends in rebellion against an establishment reigning with the machinery of the state, little wonder it has been compared to The Hunger Games.
Unlike The Hunger Games, the insurrection is not one of the oppressed against an oppressor, but of one sect against another, manipulating others to do its bidding. The Erudite, who are less wise here than presumptive elites, think little about society being run by simpering religious folk. They intend to seize power through sinister technocracy, and Tris soon finds her allies as against her as everyone else. Though she prevents catastrophic defeat, her victory is necessarily minor given that there are two more books in the series. Divergent is a touch more risqué than The Hunger Games, and not nearly as violent (yet). The premise is contrived, especially when the primary danger of being Divergent is that such individuals pose a danger to the exact technology and plot used by the Erudite to start their coup. Either the Erudite have been scheming this for a very long time, Divergency is dangerous for other reasons, or that was a boo-boo. The entire intellectuals vs. virtuous religious angle is obnoxious, and the villains are more flatly Eeeeeeevil than one would expect for a teen audience. The ever-sympathetic challenges of a young person being removed from the safety of childhood and having to adapt to a new environment and new people provide a familiar story with plenty of excitement, with some exploring of moral horizons thrown in. In my view Divergent’s best virtue is the value placed on family; while its society urges that Faction comes before family, Tris uses the lessons learned from her parents to help guide her transition into her own brave new world, and later relies on their help in the coup.
Problematic but fun, Divergent is best for older tweens and teens.
- “Profession“, Isaac Asimov. In a future society where people’s professions are assigned to them by a testing computer, one man finds himself at a loss when he is declared un-assignable.
- The Hunger Games, obviously.