Divergent, the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth with a film adaptation coming next year, has been compared to The Hunger Games, and it’s easy to see why. Both books feature strong female protagonists in violent and dangerous situations. Both books have a similar tone, and are told in the same first person style aimed at “young adults” (my dislike for that term as related to books is a topic for another post). However, that’s largely where the similarities stop.
Divergent, tells a story set in the post-war remnants of Chicago.
In the aftermath of the war, society formed itself into 5 factions, each valuing a different attribute above all others. Amity values peace, Abnegation values selflessness, Candor values honesty, Dauntless values bravery and Erudite values knowledge. Once a year every 16 year old in the land takes an aptitude test which gives them guidance as to which faction they should join, and the next day they choose a faction to join in a public ceremony. Once joining they must pass that faction’s initiation or be turned away, factionless and doomed to live on the streets, begging for food and doing the most undesirable jobs.
Beatrice Prior’s parents are in Abnegation. She was raised to set aside anything that might lead to vanity or indulgence of the self, and instead to serve others. Abnegation members govern the land, due to their chosen way of life being devoted to serving others. Beatrice has never considered choosing another faction, but she also has never felt particularly called to selflessness. So when her test results show her to be “Divergent”, meaning not clearly aligned with any faction, and she is warned to tell no one because Divergence is dangerous, she doesn’t know what to do. When the day when she is to choose arrives, she is one of the few to switch factions, opting for Dauntless, where she is thrown into a world full of excitement and danger, and is confronted with brutal weeks of initiation training.
Divergent‘s main plot revolves around Beatrice’s training, and her struggle to carve out a place for herself among the Dauntless. Along the way she uncovers a dangerous plot, and must work to save her friends and family. Divergent is often sweet and often brutal and violent, and Roth strikes a good balance all while making sure that each new scene helps develop the characters. She has a simple but effective writing style, with a knack for descriptive visuals and for conveying Beatrice’s emotions.
Beatrice herself is both compelling and relatable, and as a character she drew me into the story in a stronger way than I was expecting. Roth surrounds Beatrice with a strong supporting cast, who all are well rounded and deeper than they first seem. Where Divergent pales in comparison with The Hunger Games is in its world. Roth has created an interesting concept, but we never get enough backstory or explanation of the workings of this community, so when the events at the end of the novel unfold things seem more than a bit random and sudden. I imagine that the world will become more developed in the sequel (which I will be reading in the next few days), but Roth devotes most of her energy to character.
The devotion to character serves her themes well, and her messages about diverging from the roles society tries to force us into really hit home in a satisfying way. Divergent‘s message is what sets it apart from other comparable books, which tend to focus on plot or romance at the cost of not trying to say something larger about society, and when the ideas behind the book are combined with the rich characters it makes me eager to read more. And since I finished Divergent in one day of airplane travel, I hope to be finished with Insurgent by the time I return home!