By Ekta R. Garg
February 12, 2014
Rated: Bookmark it!
Writers and readers alike have caught dystopia fever. Everywhere you look you can find a myriad of books about cities and countries dealing with life after a terrible event has altered life as we know it today. Governments fall, young people rise as heroes, and things end on a hint of promise. Maybe life won’t return to the twentieth or twenty-first century, but they will get better.
Not everyone manages to write a book that reaches cult status and becomes a movie, though. Suzanne Collins did it with The Hunger Games, and now in a month or so Veronica Roth’s book Divergent will come to theaters across the country and the world. I saw a trailer for Divergent when I went to see Catching Fire and Saving Mr. Banks. I’d heard about the books for the first time from a new friend here in Illinois, and when I saw the movie trailer I got curious. So I checked it out from the library.
Here’s a tip: if you want to check a book out from the library that is really popular and it’s got a long list of requests, see if your library has access to a large print version. The regular versions of Divergent and even the audio recording had long waiting lists. But the large print version was readily available.
But back to the book. Having read and loved The Hunger Games, I have to admit I use it now as a gold standard. Most books will probably fall short of it. But Divergent came very close.
Also, when I realized early into the book that it was set in Chicago, that made me more open to it right away. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Windy City after spending 15 months in graduate school there. Go, Wildcats!
Roth’s brief references to some of Chicago’s landmarks—the Sears Tower, the John Hancock building, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park—made me smile. Attachment to Chicago notwithstanding, it was interesting to me to read about these places that, in Roth’s world, have deteriorated and symbolize a past life almost. These subtle reminders in both Divergent and The Hunger Games show what can happen if we don’t take better care of our cities and home towns.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story (as I was before moving here,) Divergent focuses on Beatrice Prior and her place in a society where every single person must align himself or herself with a particular faction. Five factions exist: Erudite, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, and Abnegation. Beatrice grew up in Abnegation, the faction dedicated to the quality of selflessness. Everyone in Abnegation wears the same clothes and withholds any public displays of affection, focusing on serving others.
On their sixteenth birthdays everyone undergoes a test that will determine what faction they will choose for the rest of their lives. When Beatrice takes her test something goes awry. The test administrator quietly informs Beatrice that the test didn’t work, that it listed her as “divergent.” Beatrice doesn’t have a clue what that means; she’s never heard the term before. But Tori, the administrator, implores her to keep the information to herself. If it became public knowledge, Beatrice could suffer terrible consequences.
When she goes to her Choosing Ceremony, everyone expects Beatrice to stay with Abnegation. But Beatrice has a secret. She wants to pick a different faction. Selecting a different faction almost definitely means being shunned by her family and those who have known her since birth. But Beatrice can’t deny what her heart tells her, and she picks the faction where she knows she belongs.
Most of the book focuses on the training Beatrice undergoes to prove she should stay with the faction she chose. But this is a book of dystopian fiction, so of course there’s a larger story at work in which Beatrice becomes involved. Because Divergent is the first book in a trilogy, the book ends with the beginning of that larger story. By then, though, Beatrice’s role is becoming clear.
For the most part I really enjoyed the book. I find it thought provoking that Roth chose nouns for the three factions that don’t have as much clout—Abnegation, Candor, and Amity—and she chose adjectives for the clans—Erudite and Dauntless—that lead the major conflict. I almost feel the names of Erudite and Dauntless function more like verbs than adjectives. Members of Abnegation, Amity, and Candor so far are hanging back to watch where the chips fall before they step up to take any major part in the story.
Divergent is a few hairs less mature than The Hunger Games. Roth allows her story to move a little too quickly, particularly in the climax. Because of the way she wrote it, I spent a good portion of the last 50 or 75 pages convinced that any minute Beatrice would wake up and realize she was dreaming the terrible events. When I got to a certain point it became clear Beatrice wasn’t dreaming, so I had to kind of reframe my mind.
Still, she’s gotten me hooked to find out what happens next. And while some of the writing seems like it’s trying too hard, there’s one quote that jumped out at me. Beatrice is talking about one of her first encounters with a boy she likes, and she says:
“He told me once to be brave, and though I have stood still while knives spun toward my face and jumped off a roof, I never thought I would need bravery in the small moments of my life. I do.”
Love that. Because it’s so true. We often admire people who endure amazingly huge challenges, and they do deserve our admiration. But sometimes we forget that those small moments of our lives require just as much courage as the big ones.
If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, you’ll definitely enjoy Divergent. If Roth’s story holds up through all three books, I may need to make space on the shelf for this series too.