In a gray, derelict Chicago set far in the future, humans have divided themselves into five groups: Candor (honesty), Amity (kindness), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery) and Erudite (intelligence). Each has its own focus, its own culture, its own social standards. Brewing beneath the carefully organized groups, however, is a brilliant mind, a hunger for power, a need for control driven by mercilessness. Only one set of people – the Divergent, those who cannot be pigeonholed into one faction – have the ability to fight for freedom from conformity. That is, if they can survive.
Plot Overview:Dystopia, Identity and Self-Actualization
In Divergent, each 16-year-old undergoes an assessment to determine which faction is most suitable before the “Choosing Ceremony.” Beatrice Prior, a member of Abnegation, is told that her tests are inconclusive. Shocked, puzzled, Beatrice learns that not only is she Divergent, but she also fits into an unprecedented three factions: Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite. On the day of the ceremony, she hesitates before impulsively dedicating herself to Dauntless. As she undergoes initiation, Beatrice, newly christened “Tris,” tests her courage, her abilities and her strength – and, with help from her enigmatic instructor, Four, slowly wades into the fearsome deep waters of intimacy.
In Insurgent, Tris, Four and their friends (i.e. those who survived initiation) find themselves fleeing after a calculated takeover by Erudite that resulted in the deaths of hundreds. Determined to avenge her mother and father, Tris makes her through Amity, through Candor, to find the truth and shove justice, an element missing from the neat and cold world of factions, into the forefront.
In Allegiant, Evelyn, Four’s mother, has taken control of the closed society, but a newly formed rebel group, Allegiant, is planning an uprising to reinstate the factions. Tris, Four and their allies hatch a plan to escape the city to discover what really lies behind the boundaries of the city. In the process, relationships will fall apart, lives will be lost, but freedom and choice are, and always will be, the priority.
Criticisms and Compliments
It’s time to call it at this point: vampires are out, dystopian futures are in. Whether she intended to or not, Roth has tapped into the fantastic new trend among young adult readers: teenagers trapped in oppressive societies in a crumbling, corrupt U.S. where divisions are clear, free thought is dangerous, and strategy is the only means of survival (in all fairness, however, this trend started long ago with The Giver). Tris, like Katniss of The Hunger Games Trilogy, is other, an outsider who struggles to maintain her inner thoughts and stay balanced in her tightly controlled world (not so different from teens enduring high school, right?). Add lust, romance and teenage hormones (though the Divergent series is refreshingly without a love triangle), and the resulting reads are impossible to put down.
Although reviewers have pointed out flaws in Roth’s logic, her trilogy is creative and provocative. The only aspect that doesn’t ring true is Tris’ continued wavering on selfishness and selflessness; though she’s designed to be complex – she is Divergent – her inner dialogue between the value of human life, her guilt and her need to sacrifice, even if it’s really for her own emotional needs, can be frustrating for Roth’s (older) readers; perhaps the younger readers, her target audience, can better relate to Tris’ confusion. Four, or Tobias, however, makes up for Tris’ frequent ruminations on the meaning of life and her identity. He is Roth’s most intriguing character, and given that the Divergent Trilogy is written in first person, he remains a mystery. Fascinating.
UPDATE: After completing the third novel, I have to give Roth credit for including the enigmatic Tobias’ thoughts, feelings and motivations (Allegiant alternates between Tris and Tobias’ first-person narratives). What’s most fascinating about the concluding novel, however, is Roth’s depiction of genetically pure vs. genetically damaged. In many ways, this division could be racial or ethnic or sexual, but it taps into a part of U.S. history long forgotten: eugenics. Jodi Picoult explored the topic not long ago in Second Glances, and it’s interesting to see it pop up again in such a trilogy. If anything, the study of good genes and bad, what makes a person good and evil, only further delineates how choices and nature determine a person’s identity. It’s (surely) not just one or the other. Tris doesn’t think so.
Overall, the Divergent Trilogy is aimed at young adult readers, but, like The Hunger Games, it can be enjoyed by all readers, particularly as Roth explores classic archetypes man vs. nature and man vs. self. Additionally, the pacing is fast, the action is high, and the reader always has to wonder: which faction am I?
- Roth, Veronica. Divergent. Katherine Tegen Books, 2013 ISBN 9780062278784