The YA dystopian future genre has exploded in the past few years. I was pretty late to jump on the band wagon, starting with The Hunger Games a few months ago, and I’m still trying to work out what I think of it all. With it’s film release in the UK today, I decided that Divergent was the next book on my list to try.
Divergent is set in a dystopian future Chicago, where the community is split into five ‘factions’ according to the inhabitant’s personality types. The factions are: Abnegation – the selfless; Dauntless – the brave; Candor – the honest; Erudite – the intelligent and Amity – the peaceful. The book opens with our protagonist, Beatrice, living with her family in Abnegation and it soon becomes clear that these factions take their duties pretty seriously. Beatrice is only allowed to look in the mirror once every three months in order to evade vanity, they wear plain, grey clothes and only eat plain food, usually straight out of a tin, as anything else would be seen as an indulgence.
Beatrice has recently turned sixteen, and that means that she is due to attend the Choosing Ceremony. This is the ceremony in which all of the community’s 16-year-olds get the chance to choose which faction they feel they belong in. Although it is offered as a free choice, you get the feeling there is some stigma surrounding the ‘transfers’ – those who choose to abandon their own families and factions.
Beatrice is considering becoming one of those transfers. Although she loves her family, she is plagued with guilt over the fact that being selfless just does not come naturally to her, and she longs for a life where she is allowed to consider her own feelings. She hopes that the aptitude test which the teenagers are required to take before they make their decision will make things clearer. But this just serves to make her decision harder, when she is given an unsettling and unclear result – Divergent. Her personality traits are not distinct enough to place her in a faction, and so she must choose based on her feelings alone.
And choose she does – making a decision which shocks her family and leaves them desolate, she decides to be brave. She chooses Dauntless.
What follows is a brutal initiation which takes up the majority of the book. We are plunged into a world of bare-knuckled fighting and strange simulations as the Dauntless initiates must learn how to fight, how to be brave, and how to face their fears – or they may lose their place and end up ‘factionless’. I found Roth’s ideas for the initiation original and engaging, and the action scenes are truly heart-in-your-mouth stuff. But through all this is the underlying feeling of uncertainty; Beatrice knows that she is Divergent and, although she doesn’t really understand what this is, she knows that it is bad and she works to keep her secret from her peers.
Divergent is Veronica Roth’s first novel, which she managed to get published almost as soon as she finished college. This is definitely an incredible feat in itself, and in it she has produced and engaging and immersive novel, which I got through very quickly. But, at the same time, I did find the writing style and character development a little lacking and it was obvious to me that this was aimed at a younger audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because it is.
The entire premise of the factions was an intriguing but fatally flawed one. How could any one person, with their plethora of thoughts and feelings, confine themselves to one personality type? It’s a peculiar way of life and it’s not really surprising that as the story continues, the society begins to fall apart and Beatrice herself realises that she may need to possess more than one of these contradicting elements in order to survive. One of my favourite quotes in the book is when she realises this, saying: “I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”
There’s also the issue of the inevitable romance between Beatrice and her Dauntless trainer, Four/Tobias. This seems to move extremely quickly, and is – quite forcibly – rammed down the reader’s throat. I know I shouldn’t do this but comparing it to The Hunger Games – where the romantic entanglements are a lot more subtle – I found it a little bit too much to take.
All in all, I’m glad I read this book, but I’m not sure yet whether I will continue with the rest of the trilogy. However, considering how early on Roth is in her writing career and the phenomenal success she has already had, I am excited to see what’s in the future for this new, young author.