I am one of those people who has to read the book before the movie comes out, especially if it’s a fiction book. Everyone has been making a big deal about Divergent, and I knew I would want to see the movie, so I got my hands on a library copy of the book. And I absolutely devoured it. Maybe there is a part of me that has been pining for a dystopian YA novel since reading The Hunger Games, but I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed Divergent. I am always searching for books that are all-consuming and make you think of nothing else in the world except what is happening in that book. Divergent, while not perfect, is one of those books.
The story is set in a futuristic and dystopian Chicago, where society is divided into five factions based on virtues they value most: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), Candor (honesty), Erudite (knowledge), and Dauntless (bravery). The idea is that everyone inhabits one of these virtues, and each of these virtues combats negative human traits (selfishness, war, dishonesty, ignorance, and cowardice). In theory, then, with each person in society working to uphold its faction’s virtue, the society is flawless. The selfless Abnegation run the government, the caring Amity are counselors, the honest Candor are lawyers, the intelligent Erudite are researchers, and the brave Dauntless are protectors of the city.
The novel begins shortly before Choosing Day, when all 16-year-olds choose the faction in which they want to train and live for the rest of their lives. But first, they must undergo a simulation test to determine which faction they are best suited for. It is sort of like a really intense Sorting Hat. In comes Beatrice, or Tris, who was raised in Abnegation, but doesn’t really know where she belongs. It turns out that she doesn’t “belong” anywhere, as her results were inconclusive. She has traits that match Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless, making her what they call “Divergent.” This is very rare, and very dangerous, for reasons that are explained later in the book. But ultimately the choice is up to Tris, and she decides to betray her family to join Dauntless.
The rest of the novel follows her journey through initiation, where she must perform terrifying and harrowing acts before being inducted in to the faction (those who are kicked out are deemed “factionless” and are basically jobless and homeless). This is the real meat of the book, where she makes friends, enemies, and crushes. And along the way, she realizes that things aren’t so perfect in her segregated society.
Veronica Roth’s writing is so dynamic that it pushes the reader with Tris as she jumps off buildings, runs from demons, and fights her enemies. The narrative is so fast-paced that I felt like I had to keep reading to keep up with it and not get left behind. I loved the thrill of the cliffhangers and the feeling that there is more to certain characters than what they seem. When every person is defined by a single trait, you know there is something they must be hiding.
In fact, what I loved most about the book was its exploration of psychology. It is a fascinating idea that humans could be broken down to five basic qualities, and live their whole lives in adherence to just one. Everyone’s actions in the book were based on this system, and I found the rationalizations really interesting. Abnegation sees the pursuit of knowledge as self-centered, and thus dislikes the Erudite. The Erudite use their knowledge to write manipulative articles about Abnegation, so their tactics are in disaccord with the honesty of Candor. Roth has carefully thought of the motivation and reasoning for everything that happens, and it is fascinating to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together, right before they are completely blown apart.
At the same time, however, the premise of the novel is almost too simplistic. Can people really be reduced to one single virtue, and can they be happy working solely in adherence to it for their whole lives? Admittedly, Tris is an exploration of what happens when this system fails, but why is Divergence so rare? It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that the humans in the book, with the exception of Tris and a few others, are not very complex beings. There is actually a lot of diversity in the personalities of the characters, which makes it kind of implausible that this society functioned at all.
While I didn’t absolutely love any of the characters (Tris could be a bit stupid at times and Four, her love interest, could be too controlling), I enjoyed the development of their personalities and relationships. You can see how much Tris loves her family, but also how much she wants to be her own person. She struggles between resenting Abnegation and missing it; between wanting to be Dauntless and not exactly knowing what Dauntless means. In a way, Divergent is a classic coming-of-age story, with a girl trying to figure out who she wants to be, while the rest of society is telling her who she should be.
Overall, I really enjoyed Divergent and I can’t wait to read the next two in the series. I’m still not sure if I liked it as much as The Hunger Games, but it was definitely an interesting, exciting, and captivating read. Here’s to hoping the movie is just as good!