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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