If you liked The Hunger Games, I’m sure you’ve already read this one by now. But if you haven’t, or if you like to get ahead of what’s coming out in theaters, you might want to check this one out. Divergent isn’t literature, and it doesn’t break too many of the rules of the young adult-dystopian genre. Unusually strong heroine, dreamy hero, movie-like fight scenes, and a save-the-world plot. This book has all that.
But it’s also got a much more interesting concept than most young adult dystopian fiction. Beatrice (or Tris) is a sixteen year old facing her Choosing Day, which is the day each teen chooses a faction to live in. There are five factions: Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless. A faction is more than a community, it’s an entire way of life. And choosing a faction other than the one you grew up in is seen as a rejection of your family.
The idea is to place people in the faction that most suits them, so everyone gets an Aptitude Test that tells you the right faction. Then it’s your choice (just like the Sorting process in Harry Potter). Tris and her brother and parents are members of Abnegation (the selfless) but she’s never felt like she’s selfless enough to belong there. It’s not an easy life, because she has to give up possessions, vanity, free speech, etc. but it’s also comfortable because it’s what she knows. I really identified with Tris’ wishing she was more selfless but knowing she isn’t.
I liked the idea that most people can be categorized by one character trait, or that it might be beneficial to society to organize it that way. For example, government is run by the Abnegation faction, because they are the least likely to abuse power. Security and defense is the job of the Dauntless, and of course learning is managed by the Erudite.
Sure, we have all five characteristics, but don’t you have one that’s more dominant? I like to think I’d be Erudite. I certainly wouldn’t be Dauntless or Abnegation, and the problem with Candor is, I can be brutally honest but I also value my privacy too much.
Roth has created a fascinating world and she actually answers a lot of the questions you might have about how this all works. Each group socializes its own, so as long as you have a tendency towards one characteristic, once you’ve been initiated and adopted into the faction, it becomes your way of life. So even if you’re both brave and smart, once you choose, you’re likely to focus only one that one characteristic, which then becomes your defining role. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Peer pressure keeps you in line — plus, if you don’t make it in your faction, you don’t get to pick another. You become factionless, which is the sort of like being homeless.
The animosity among the factions also makes sense to me, because the more you segregate people, the more separate they become — and the more invested they are in being braver, smarter, etc. than the other groups. I think distrust and suspicion is exactly what would happen — sort of like separating out the smart kids in school. Or like whether you get your news from The Daily Show or Fox News… we grow farther and farther apart the more we hear only one side.
On the other hand, there are big things in this book that don’t make sense, like, if society wants to place people where they’ll be most productive, why treat it as an act of betrayal to the people who raised you? It would be one thing if there were no families in this world, or if they placed children at birth. But asking teens to take a test, choose what you’re best at, and then try not to think about the fact that you’re betraying your family, your childhood, and your entire community? Plus the whole choosing thing didn’t make sense either, since you’re clearly expected to follow your test result (which goes back to, how is that a betrayal?).
And if being factionless is so horrible, why are there so many ways to become factionless? I suspect they’re all secretly off having a party somewhere, laughing at these people whose every characteristic is defined by their faction.
I do feel like this book steals a fair amount from books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but it does have a pretty unique take on dystopian fiction. It’s not great on character development — Tris herself isn’t the nicest person most of the time but I liked that she really struggles with the selfless and selfish sides of herself. But the supporting characters are pretty one-dimensional, and the story gets fairly predictable at times.
Still, if you’ve read this far you must like this sort of thing, and this one’s better than most.
Have you seen the movie trailer? Thoughts? I don’t think it looks great, although I loved Shailene Woodley in The Descendants, and Kate Winslet doesn’t do stupid movies. Still, it just looks a little canned to me. You could do a lot with this book as a movie… or you could just make it a lot of fight scenes. I predict it will be like Hunger Games. Good cast, but nothing in the movie that isn’t better in the book.