Book Review: Divergent, Veronica Roth (2012)

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Starts With One

fiveout of five stars

Not so much a review as a random collection of thoughts (so many feelings!), but you get the idea.

  • The plot, in brief: Set in Chicago sometime in the unspecified future, the hallmark of Divergent is its unusual method of social organization. The population is divided into five factions, each of which embraces a different virtue: Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (honesty), Erudite (knowledge), Amity (peacefulness), and Dauntless(ness) (bravery). Purportedly the faction system arose after the last major war; people blamed the conflict on different flaws fundamental to humanity, and adopted the opposing traits as a means of preventing future violence. Amity, for example, signaled out human aggression and adopted a position of non-aggression coupled with forgiveness and understanding.

    A person’s life is all but dictated by her faction membership: faction housing is segregated, and different factions assume responsibility for those jobs appropriate to their skills (Amity is involved in agriculture; Erudite produces the city’s scientists and innovators; and, owing to their unrelenting selflessness, Abnegation is entrusted to run the government). Aside from political leaders, members from different factions rarely interact, and inter-faction marriages are unheard of.

    Those who find themselves without a faction – because they failed their chosen faction’s initiation, or later left or were cast out – compromise the city’s homeless, who rely on Abnegation charity and menial labor to get by. To be factionless is considered by many a fate worse than death.

    At the age of 16, children – who are raised (read: indoctrinated) in their parents’ faction – armed with the results of aptitude tests administered to determine which faction best suits them, can either choose to stay in their current faction or join a different one. “Transfers” are rare: those who leave their faction may never return, as the choice is a lifelong one. Since members of different factions have little occasion to interact, this often means saying goodbye to one’s family of origin. In more extreme cases, a transfer may be shunned as a traitor. Few adolescents even consider leaving, since they’ve been trained from birth to share in the hive mind of their own faction; different ways of thinking are foreign, even terrifying.

    Of course, not all of Chicago’s citizens can so easily be categorized and classified: unbeknownst to most, there’s a sixth “faction” (the factionless not being considered belonging to a faction, though we’ll see in Insurgent that this is far from the truth), that of Divergent: those rare individuals who demonstrate a flexibility of thinking and aptitude for two or more factions. Young Beatrice Prior is Divergent, in a time when it’s dangerous to be so.

    We meet Tris – as she’s later christened – as she’s on the cusp of choosing her faction. Told from her point of view in first-person narrative, Divergent follows Tris through the process: high-tech aptitude tests, choosing ceremony, and initiation. While her brother Caleb decides to leave Abnegation for Erudite, Tris chooses the daredevils of Dauntless, and the freedom they represent. In just a month, she must learn how to be Dauntless; among the skills she will need to master are weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, and strategy. She must also learn how to conquer her own most primal fears through a computer simulation known as the fear landscape. The initiates aren’t just working against themselves, but are pitted against one another as well: only the top ten initiates make the cut. The rest are cast out into the factionless.

    As if this isn’t enough for Tris, her initiation comes at a time when the gears of war have again been set into motion: led by the Erudite, several factions are on the brink of war, with both the Abnegation and the Dauntless – Tris’s home and chosen factions – caught in the middle.

    Oh, and she’s also got the hots for her instructor. Talk about yer teen angst!

    (More below the fold…)