Divergent by Veronica Roth, 576 pages
Books like these make me wish I was in a book club. I read this novel in twenty-four hours, and when we’re talking 500+ pages, that says something. From the first page the reader is immersed in the life of Beatrice Prior, a sixteen-year-old on the cusp of making a life-defining decision. In Beatrice’s world every person belongs to one of five factions: Dauntless, Candor, Amity, Erudite, or Abnegation. Each of the factions has a prized trait that they seek to cultivate above all others, and factions come before blood. Beatrice and her brother are tested along with the rest of of their peers for aptitude and must publicly decide which faction to commit their lives to (each has its own community in the ruins of Chicago). A poor choice, a mistake, means becoming one of the destitute factionless. Our heroine is torn between the faction she’s always known and the one that calls to her, but changing teams may mean losing her family forever.
My summarizing will stop here because I don’t want to spoil even one choice or discovery. This novel is so tightly plotted that it sweeps the reader along without a single good place to take a break. The stakes are high from the start for Beatrice, who reinvents herself as Tris during initiation to her chosen faction, and they get higher. Tris is a complex character with a consistent core, and she remains true to herself as she makes new friends and enemies (and falls in love for the first time). The world of Divergent is richly detailed, and learning more about Tris’ faction only made me more curious about the others. Tris gradually realizes that the friction between the factions is something more than the usual grumblings, and her individual struggle goes global in the action-packed ending of the novel.
Tris is an incredible heroine. She is brave and smart and protective of others, not particularly self-aware (which makes sense considering that she was raised in the selfless faction, Abnegation). She navigates her initiation through sheer force of will, failing miserably and standing out by turns. The reader can cheer for her and be frustrated by her at the same time. She grows into a new person over the course of the novel in ways both horrifying and impressive.
The novel is brutally violent at times, but it is never gratuitous or gory. All of the characters are three dimensional, even the “bad guys” are intriguing enough to arouse curiosity. There is a lot to dig into when it comes to the world of Divergent. Should government positions only be filled by the selfless (and just because someone identifies as selfless, does that mean they actually are?). Do the pet causes of the selfless actually address the needs of a whole society? Can a group of people all work toward cultivating a single trait without becoming corrupted by that pursuit? I suspect picking your faction will become the new sorting-hat-style craze (the author even provides a helpful quiz to that end in the novel’s extras).
Speaking of the extras, they are fantastic. There are the usual discussion questions along with an interview with Veronica Roth, the aforementioned quiz, manifestos from each faction, and an excerpt of Insurgent (the next novel in the series). A novel which I just so happened to purchase today.
I told my Facebook friends that Divergent was better than The Hunger Games, and it is. Not a million times better; but the writing is tighter, the story fuller, the foreshadowing never heavy-handed, and the characters run deeper. I cannot recommend it more highly than that.