An upside down Chicago: A review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent

“One Choice Transforms You”

Divergent by Veronica Roth

 Yes, I am little late to the party, but I have only recently been given the time to read for pleasure…so, yes, I am playing catch-up.

Not only has the trilogy finished, a film has been released, and there is now a special edition titled Four that just came out this month. So behind or not, the Divergent series is still alive and kicking with popularity.

Divergent, the first book in the dystopian series, has been accused more than once of being a rip off of The Hunger Games. I can definitely see it. All Divergent lacks is the more pronounced love triangle (I mean, there is a short-lived one, but nothing to get excited about) and the games where young kids kill each other for the amusement of others (although, kids are still killing kids in Divergent, just not in a controlled setting). If we are all being honest, whether we like one series more than the other, they both revolve around a similar plot line.

A quick recap on what Divergent is about: It is based in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago divided into five different factions. The whole of society is based on these societal divisions, which classify citizens based on their dominant personality type. The factions are Dauntless (basically wildly brave and daring), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent [or full of themselves, really]), Abnegation (the selfless and caring), and Candor (the crazily honest). On an appointed day of every year, the newly turned sixteen-year-olds take a placement test which ultimately decides which faction you are best suited for. The candidate must then choose whether to remain with their family’s faction or join another. Those who do not complete initiation into their new faction become “Factionless” and are forced to live in poverty on the streets of this very upside down Chicago.

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior is born into an Abnegation family, however, she never feels like she truly belongs to Abnegation due to her inability to wholly embody selflessness. She can’t understand why it comes so easy for her brother, who is always looking at her disapprovingly when she screws up. It isn’t until Choosing Day that Beatrice comes to understand that she is even more different than she had ever realized. When her results come back inconclusive, her tester warns her that she is divergent and if she wants to live, she can tell no one. With her results giving her a range of options (Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless), Beatrice must make a choice. In the end her admiration of the fearless faction, compels her to join Dauntless, where she is put to the ultimate test of endurance and bravery Abnegation had never required of her. Fully adopting her new identity as Dauntless, Beatrice is the first to make the jump into her new faction’s headquarters and changes her name to Tris. She also meets Four, her initiation instructor who has a dangerous secret of his own to protect.

But trying to pass the Dauntless initiation ritual is the least of Tris’ worries when she discovers that her society of five factions isn’t as stable as it has always appeared to be. She catches wind of a plot that will not only reveal her as divergent but will unravel any semblance of peace that remains among all of the factions.

*

 I love quick-and-easy reads, and young adult books are a great go-to when that is what you’re looking for. A well-written book, Divergent offers a fast-paced, easy-to-follow plot line that keeps you hooked without any of those annoying lulls in action that make a reader struggle to the finish line. The action continuously progresses with jolts of violence and romantic attachment. Roth also sets her story in a familiar landscape—modern day Chicago. The well-known landmarks are mentioned from the Pier to the Bean, which vividly bring this new world order to life. Having just visited Chicago for the first time this past winter, I felt even more involved in the book, because I was able to pick out features of the city Roth would mention in passing during Tris’ training.

I also really enjoyed the main character, Tris. She is not the archetype heroine. Instead, she is clumsy, initially weak, and she often fails to make the right choice. However, these qualities make her human. We see her grow and, in some instances, forced to grow as she faces new and unexpected challenges as part of the Dauntless faction. She is the every girl instead of just the girl. Despite the fact that she is an upside down world and literally battling a revolution, readers can easily connect with Tris as she tries to make friends and survive initiation, which isn’t that much different from trying to survive high school.

The one thing I wish the book was more informative on was why Chicago has become this divided city. Is the rest of the world like this? Who started the war and why? And how long have these factions been in place? These are all important questions that were glossed over, and while this didn’t hinder the engrossing storyline, I still felt cheated of an explanation. Hopefully, the second and third book are prepared to tell me a bit more.

 All in all, despite following a dominant trend, Divergent is a well-imagined story that makes the impossible plausible . It also does a great job at recognizing just how blended and different our personalities are. We are not one or other like Roth’s made-up world has tried to be…we are all divergent.

4 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

Divergent by Veronica Roth, published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada © 2011

Available at Amazon, Chapters, and independent bookstores everywhere.

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A story within a story: Stratford Festival’s latest and most progressive rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Stratford Festival, A Midsummer Night's Dream

*Some Spoilers below*

The Stratford Festival: One of the most iconic theatrical institutions of my childhood. Living only 20 minutes away from such a cultural monument has allowed my life growing up to be enriched with creatively thought out plays from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the musical West Side Story. It became tradition to at least try to go to one play a year, and even my high school graduation involved a gift of two Festival tickets for all graduates. Beloved to all, the Festival was a summer haven of artistic creation.

This year, however, I feared the worst. Since graduating from university and moving to Toronto, money has become…a little tight. Spending $45 on tickets to the Stratford Festival just wasn’t an option anymore, and Play On Weekends for those under 25 are limited and not always feasible when you don’t know when you’ll be home next or have the available time.

But…a new phenomenon happened, the Dream Deal of all deals and Play On exclusive—the chance to be a guest at the “wedding” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My friend, Melanie, and I decided it was too good to pass up (and she had loved the production so much, this was her second attendance).

As “wedding guests,” we were expected to dress up in fairly nice picnic attire, and I, of course being me, had to go one step further. I wore my 1950s vintage frock with a crinoline and 50s-inspired high heels—I received quite the compliments on the entire ensemble. I also fit in with the actors’ clothing (Hermia was also wearing a 50s-inspired circlet skirt with a crinoline underneath).

Upon arrival, we were directed into a private room to wait and then a group of cast members entered and gave us the down-low about what would be happening and the part we’d be playing. Afterward, they led us to our makeshift seats of pillows and cushions at the bottom of the stage, which were surprisingly comfortable. Other cast members came over to say hello before the play started. This was definitely the dream (pun intended). There was also the cutest little girl playing the changeling child that Titania refuses to give to Oberon, which starts some of the shenanigans the play is famous for. She was a doll before and during the play, twirling around and making faces with the other child actors in the play. She was definitely a favourite with the audience as many awed whenever she took the stage, often carried by Titania or another fairy. A Midsummer Night's Dream - Stratford Festival

The Stratford Festival’s newest version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream lived up to the play’s reputation and then some. The hilarity remained with a progressive angle involving two grooms (the play was performed by the wedding party in honour of the married couple) and a female Lysander in love with Hermia. Titania (the male that played Oberon would sometimes exchange roles with the male playing Titania for different performances) was also played by a male. It was quite comical to see the burly arms extending from a dress with attached fairy wings (see first image). As much as I love the classic Shakespeare play as is, I appreciated the new contemporary additions that added to the comedy and allowed the play to resonate with a modern audience.

a midsummer night's dream - stratford festivalAside from simply “attending” the wedding and allowing our laughter and applause to join the actors’, we were also permitted to join the “dance party” started by Bottom (a particularly funny incarnation of the character, which was artfully played). However, one downside about wearing a fairly poofy dress and heels is it is a little difficult to manoeuver one’s self into a standing position when you are sitting so low to the ground. Thank goodness for the actress playing Lysander and my own friend, who both offered me their hands, pulling me up onto the stage to join the revelry.

Overall, the play was a great success, and I highly enjoyed myself. I also have to give a brief shout out to the lovely usher at the bottom of the aisle who helped my friend and I up the fairly steep drop to the lower level of the stage area. He was quite the gentleman offering his hand as support to each of us. I certainly felt transported in time in the best possible way, and I was almost sorry the experience as a wedding guest had to come to an end; it made the play more personal and exciting. It isn’t every day you get to be a part of the action at the Stratford Festival!

I do hope the Festival considers this option again for future plays. Not only is it great for publicity, but it a great way to generate new fans and re-inspire old ones.

At the Stratford Festival

The appeal of a man in a kilt: A talk with Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series

author, Diana Gabaldon and I

I have had a fascination with the Outlander series for quite some time now. And even before I was able to actually read the books myself, I knew of them. My mother had borrowed the first three books from my aunt, and these ones had the really old covers from when they were first published. I remember flipping open the cover that had the secret hole in the centre to then reveal the full cover image on the first two preliminary pages. I specifically recall a tall red-headed woman with wind-swept hair. I was clueless then that I would be a future Outlander addict obsessed with Claire, the pictured woman I had absently admired, and Jamie’s turbulent love story in historical Scotland.

Written in My Heart's Own BloodOn June 21, 2014, I attended a segment of Diana Gabaldon’s Canadian Tour for Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. This is the second time I’ve seen Diana in person—the first was at Fergus’ annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games last year. I waited in a very long line to ensure I got every single book in the series signed, aside from the newest edition to the series (only freshly signed last month). While the line up in a London Chapters was not quite as long, it did wrap around the store in a snake-like fashion.

Diana is an amazing speaker. She is definitely up there as one of the top authors I love to hear speak in person. And despite her telling the same anecdotes I had previously heard in Fergus, I was enthralled and, frankly, she has some pretty great lines that don’t get old. My favourite is the rhyme she would tell at the beginning of her science classes when she frequently came up against a row of half-sleeping jocks:

“In days of old, when knights were bold and condoms weren’t invented, they wrapped old socks around their cocks and babies were prevented.”

Needless to say, these words got the jocks’ attention very quickly, and they also certainly have the ability to also grab an audience of adoring Outlander fans. Hearing it for a second time, I still chuckled to myself.

Another line I absolutely love is her reference to a time when she was asked by a German journalist (I think) what the appeal of a man in a kilt was. Her response? “Well I guess it has something to do with fact that you can be up against a wall with him in a second.” A shocking revelation said matter of factly that this journalist never forgot, and it is one that I have taken a liking to. Who wouldn’t want a dashing fellow in a kilt with a Scottish accent up against a wall? Especially an eighteenth-century man such as Jamie Fraser.

In addition to Diana’s book during this tour, there is also the added excitement of the new television series based on the Outlander series, which will be airing this August on STARZ. Whether or not the adaptation will live up to fans’ expectations has yet to be revealed, but Diana seems optimistic, and she warns against fans expecting producers to be able to “read minds” when every readers has a different fantasy concocted. Frankly, if the author has given the seal of approval then I have a lot of faith in the upcoming show.

Meeting Diana for a second time was amazing, and there was also the added pleasure of being recognized by the publicist on duty as one of the many interns at Random House of Canada last fall. I’m so glad I made a lasting impression there and that I had the opportunity to work where great storytellers like Diana Gabaldon see their work published. As a reader and publishing professional, I have never felt more privileged.

If you want to learn more about Diana’s tour, her books, or just her personal musing in general, which are often highly entertaining, then check out her blog. If you didn’t get a chance to get up close and personal with her during this tour then her blog is the next best thing.

One question Diana did answer was when/if the series had a foreseeable conclusion? Diana provided us eager listeners with a very flippant and , in my opinion, appropriate response: “Not yet.” Therefore, Diana can’t promise what book number in the series will see Claire and Jamie’s long love story end, but her fans, myself included, can make a promise: We will all be eagerly awaiting the next one, and the next one after that.

Me and the Outlander TV series standup ad

 

 

 

I’M SO EXCITED!!!! (for the show and to be this close to a cardboard apparition of Jamie)