Veronica Roth. Katherine Tegan Books. Copyright 2011. 487 pages.
I recently finished reading the Divergent Series over Christmas break. I am a huge fan of Dystopian fiction and this series intrigued me. This was an interesting read. Roth’s writing style is very inviting and easy to maintain for most level young adult readers.
Divergent opens with its central character, Beatrice Prior, preparing for her final day of school before the choosing ceremony. Roth develops the setting in a futuristic Chicago where the city is divided into 5 different factions: Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless. These factions are filled through a Choosing Ceremony that requires 16 year olds from every faction to participate in an aptitude test.
This test is designed to test a candidate’s personality through a series of hallucinations that force them to make decisions that reveal dominant aspects of their personalities. These tests are administered using serum. Roth uses serum as a dominant device to progress the plot. When the test is finished, a candidate is given a recommendation of which faction they belong in, but the candidate can choose to remain in their original factions.
Each of the factions value different personality traits.
Abnegation values a selfless person that lacks vanity and desires to help everyone before themself. They wear grey and possess an unassuming nature. This faction is the ruling party. Beatrice and her brother Caleb start in this faction.
Erudite value individuals who are intelligent and constantly searching for more information. They lack emotional tendencies in favor of logic. Those they seem more ambitious in attempting to control all the other factions. They are the creators of the different serum. They tend to wear blue.
Dauntless value courage above all else. A member of Dauntless charges into battle without fear or forethought. This faction is mostly in charge of security of the city, so they have most the weapons and train constantly in combat techniques. Dauntless are often tattooed and pierced. Their clothes are tight and somewhat revealing.
Candor value the truth more than anything. They enjoy debating, but not taking action. They make their candidates admit their deepest secrets at initiation to open them up to all the members. They want members that hide nothing.
Amity value happiness. They use drugs to help maintain a constant peace among their members. They tend to wear yellow and red. They are the growers of fruit for the city.
After taking the aptitude test, Beatrice discovers that she has a divergent personality. This means that she is considered a dangerous anomaly in the city. Instead of one dominant personality trait, Beatrice has three.
After the choosing, both Beatrice and Caleb decide to leave Abnegation. Caleb chooses Erudite and Beatrice chooses Dauntless. Their family is now fragmented as the two children go their separate ways for their initiation and training.
Roth focuses on Beatrice, shortened to Tris, through the novel while returning to Caleb and the rest of her family periodically. Tris begins to excel in her new faction; Dauntless. She proves a fearless initiate as she climbs the ranks.
The training in Dauntless is brutal. Men and women fight daily in arenas against each other until one is no longer capable of continuing. While the training seems in-line with military style training to break down a candidate and rebuild them stronger, Roth reveals that the training has recently been changed to a more brutal and merciless form to develop tougher members. This foreshadows some sort of need for these battle skills in the future.
It is during initiate training that Tris meets Four (a nickname because he only has four fears) and the two become romantically involved. The Dauntless use a serum to reveal a member’s fear in order that they should face them. Tris has the power to manipulate or resist the serum because she is divergent. It is during this period that she learns that people with divergent personalities are disappearing from the population. The rumor is that they are being killed because they are dangerous.
As the action continues to rise, Roth reveals that there is a partnership between the leaders of the Erudite and Dauntless. The Erudite inoculate the entire Dauntless faction with a better serum to test their fears, or so they think. The serum is really a battle serum that makes the Dauntless attack the Abnegation faction without mercy.
There are a few among the Dauntless that resist the serum, Tris and Four among them. Now the reader understands that Four is a divergent as well. Together, Tris and Four, hurry to rescue Tris’ family during the attack. They find the survivors hiding out in a safe house. Both Tris parents are there, as well as Four’s (he was originally in Abnegation as well).
As the novel comes to its close, a group of mixed faction members, races to the Dauntless headquarters to stop the attack by ending the simulation that controls the Dauntless members.
This 1st novel in the series does spend a lot of time developing a sense of exposition for the reader, but it does slow down the action. The reader becomes engrossed in Tris’s development in the new faction, all the time wondering what her being divergent is going to mean to the plot. Her romantic connection to Four doesn’t feel forced, and her character develops at a steady, believable pace.
It seems like Roth’s novel attempts to provide a commentary about human nature. By isolating the different personality traits, she provides a clear view about how these traits affect humanity. Since the Erudite follow only logic without emotion, it could be commenting on science’s zealous search for higher understanding without an emotional connection to the world it is trying to understand (cloning, nuclear power, Large Hadron Collider). And since the Dauntless favor only violence without compassion, then it seems to illustrate the countless periods of history where the stronger more violent factions of humanity dominated the meeker factions. When you combine intelligent and ambitious leaders with extremely violent followers, the results can be catastrophic for society.
Divergent is a wonderful first novel in a dystopian series that activates familiar surroundings and human characteristics with a dysfunctional society to create a wonderful novel that a reader can devour.