Thursday, August 4, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is an exciting dystopian novel filled with action, mystery and romance. In 16 year old Beatrice Prior's world, almost everyone is divided into factions. It was decided to organize society in this manner decades ago because people were convinced that flaws in human personality were the cause of strife and evil. So people divided into five "factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world's disarray." Those five factions are Amity, Erudite, Candor, Abnegation and Dauntless. Abnegation are selfless and are the faction that form the government. Candor speak the truth, while Erudites are learners. Dauntless are the people who protect - they are thrill-seekers and would be akin to extreme sports participants.

At the age of 16, each person takes an aptitude test to help them determine which faction they belong to. They then must pass through an initiation process which, if successful, sees them joining their chosen faction. If they do not, they live on the periphery of society as factionless - poor and doing menial jobs.

Beatrice's family are part of the Abnegation faction who form the government. Most people stay with the faction they are born into but Beatrice is not sure that she can remain in Abnegation. She feels she is not selfless enough to be part of her family's faction. Both Beatrice and her brother Caleb turn 16 in the same year and must take their aptitude tests.

When Beatrice takes her aptitude test, according to Tori the Dauntless woman who administers her test, her results are perplexing and inconclusive. Instead of showing an aptitude for one faction Beatrice shows an equal aptitude for several and is labelled divergent. Beatrice is warned not share this result with anyone because it is dangerous and she later learns that "Divergents" are in great danger of being murdered.

At her Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice chooses to be a part of the Dauntless faction while her brother chooses Erudites. Immediately she leaves her family and begins her initiation into the Dauntless faction. Beatrice becomes Tris and must now endure a brutal and exhausting initiation consisting of 3 stages. Almost immediately she catches the interest of an 18 year old Dauntless leader named Four who is impressed with her bravery and selflessness. But she is also discovers that while Four can be concerned and caring, Eric, the Dauntless leader in charge, is sadistic and evil.

All Dauntless initiates are ranked and those who don't rank high enough will become factionless. This sets up deadly competition between initiates. As her initiation and training progress, Tris gradually realizes that the Dauntless faction has become sadistic and depraved. They no longer practice what is written in their faction's manifesto- "We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another." Instead a Dauntless who stands up for a weaker person is cruelly punished. All except Four participate in this cruelty. It is Four's kindness to her, that results in Tris and Four developing a secret friendship and a blossoming love.

After Tris makes the first cut, the second part of the initiation involved being injected with serum that forces the initiate to confront their fears. Tris manages to work her way through her fears which she comes to learn will mark her as Divergent.  As Four and Tris' relationship develops, Four decides to let Tris experience his fear landscape where she learns that he has only four fears (hence his name) and that his real name is Tobias. She also learns that Tobias' father, Marcus, who is leader of the Abnegation faction did physically abuse his son as the Erudites claimed.

Meanwhile, the signs that their society is gradually becoming fractured continue to grow. The Erudite faction accuses the Abnegation faction of withholding food and other material goods. Tris also discovers that people are searching for Divergents who are considered rebels, but she doesn't yet understand the significance of this. Then Four tells Tris that the Erudites are planning to attack the Abnegation faction by using the Dauntless soldiers.

This is confirmed when all of the Dauntless are injected with a tracking device which is really a mind controlling serum. Both Tris and Tobias, who are divergent, are able to resist the controlling influence of the serum, but are forced to participate so as to avoid discovery. In horror, Tris realizes that the Dauntless are being sent to attack the Abnegation faction. Can Tris save her family while trying to stop the madness that is now tearing apart life in post-apocalyptic Chicago? Tris realizes that her "divergence" offers her the chance to save her family but may also be her undoing.

There's no doubt that Divergence is a thrilling read - lots of brutal action combined with a developing romance between the novel's two main characters, set in an strangely constructed post-apocalyptic word. Readers would have benefited from a map of both the city Tris lived in and also the Dauntless compound. I feel the former would really help set the scene for the reader much better since there were areas of the city which seemed to be abandoned. This first novel in the trilogy provides little of the backstory - how Chicago came to be like this and how the faction system was chosen. Roth may end up providing this information in latter installments.

 Divergent takes time to set the stage for the story then begins to race headlong into a heart-pounding crisis and anti-climax. Tris's sudden enlightenment as to what was happening between the Erudites and Dauntless was unexpected and leaving her with little time to prepare for what was going to happen - a strategy which created tension in the novel. However, Roth's resolution of what happened to Four didn't work for me, but perhaps there are consequences as yet undiscovered or untold.

I eagerly await the second installment in this trilogy.

Book Details:
Divergent by Veronica Roth
HarperCollins Publishers: Katherine Tegen Books 2011
487 pages

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