I have to thank CJ over at Years of Reading Seriously. She left a comment on my post a few weeks ago about dystopian sf literature, and recommended Divergent by Veronica Roth. So I started looking for it, along with many of the other books recommended by you lovely book blogging friends. To my surprise, I discovered Divergent is a YA dystopian novel, and that it was published only last year. I tried to get it at my library and discovered 600 people were ahead of me! Then, on Tuesday, I discovered it at Chapters. I sat down to read a few chapters to see if I liked it.
It's the story of a young girl, 16 year old Beatrice, who lives in what remains of Chicago after some unnamed world disaster. Humanity - at least in Chicago - have separated into 5 factions: Abnegation, where selflessness is the purpose, and serving others first; Amity, friendship and caring, peaceful and artistic aims with this faction; Candor, where honest is the name of the game always so they wear black and white and live as if the world is exactly that, right or wrong; Dauntless, the group that protects the other four factions, that values fearlessness in protecting others, and that facing your fears makes you stronger,; and Erudite, the last group, where learning, and knowledge are the route to power.
The five factions are made up of people who show a natural tendency for the group, and who select them on their 16th birthday. They are initiated into the group they have selected, and then must pass a series of initiation rigors before achieving acceptance and full membership. Unfortunately it is more difficult to become a full member than some people have the capacity for, and they fail to become members, to pass the initiation tests, and leave their group. These are known as factionless people, and have no power, no say, no group, no place really in the world. It is considered the worst thing to fail to become a member of the group you have selected.
The heroine is Beatrice, who we follow from just before the testing for her natural aptitudes, through her choice - because even if they have an aptitude for one group, they don't have to choose it. This the monikor on the top of the front cover: One Choice Can Transform You. Beatrice discovers that her test results are inconclusive. She could be Abnegation, Erudite, or Dauntless. Any faction. This is an unusual result, called Divergent, and Beatrice is warned that she can tell no one her results. She makes her choice to become dauntless, the brave, fearless confident group that wear black clothes and have tattoos and earrings and piercings everywhere. Much of the novel is taken up with her in the initiation and testing, which is a fascinating story about competition and winning, and bravery. I loved this part. It was like being at a school where you can't fail, because failure is to end up factionless, homeless, castout.
This is a fast-paced novel, the first in a trilogy. Insurgent is book 2, out now in bookstores - I will be hastening to get my copy shortly! Wonderful characters abound, from the group Beatrice (or Tris as she is known in Dauntless), is training with, Christina, Will, Al, Four, Max, to Tris's family, to the testing itself. Tris is not perfect, she is small, and comes from Abnegation, so everyone makes fun of the fact that she has gone from the group serving others and not thinking of one's self, to learning how to give herself time and pleasure and to live for what she wants, which is why she left Abnegation.
I was fascinated by the psychology behind these groupings, and how people fit themselves, in, and how each group worked. There is even a quiz at the end which I did for fun, and - it was inconclusive. I'm not sure if that means I am divergent too! or if they didn't have enough questions for an adult, as these were geared for teens. I liked seeing how the factions worked, too, and most of all, I enjoyed getting to know Tris and what happens to her as she grows in skill and confidence during the rounds of testing. She learns a lot about herself and others, and she fails sometimes too.
This was a really enjoyable book. I have already offered to lend it to one friend, I like it so much! It's been reviewed as a book similar to The Hunger Games, which I have not read yet (though I do finally own a copy). Similar in that the world has changed, it's a teen book, and a contest is going on. So if you liked The Hunger Games, most assuredly you will like Divergent. It's a really good SF novel.
However, it is not a perfect book. There is a lot of violence - the Dauntless are training to be the protectors of the city, thus they have to develop fighting skills and show bravery. One of the best things about Tris is that she is brave and courageous naturally, which are not Abnegation skills, though as Four points out to her, she is brave when it comes to helping people - an Abnegation way of looking at the world, of putting others first. Tris discovers that something is not perfect in this society, that however these groups were originally devised, something is changing in the power struggle. Thus the name of the second book - Insurgent. I won't say more so that you don't read any spoilers, I will say that the book ends in a shocking ending,one that I am still thinking over today. It is gripping, exciting, an adventure novel that is difficult to put down. I didn't like all the violence at the end, not because it wasn't necessary to the book, it was, and done in a very chilling way. I just don't like alot of violence to begin with (and yes, I know, I read tons of mysteries!) and the book ended in a way that there wasn't time to feel the cathartic release as the killers (hopefully) feel their remorse. Yet it is an integral part of the story, so it belongs. I say this as someone who hasn't read The Hunger Games because I know it involves killing your opponent. That is something I have to be in the right frame of mind to read.
Divergent rates a 4/5 stars, mostly because there is one act in the middle of the book that didn't seem to fit, that was never dealt with by the leaders in the group, and I think normally would have been. So not a perfect novel, though certainly very interesting and enjoyable and thrilling to read. I also really like that the idea of belonging to a group vs being on your own is what is in the background here. How does a person fit in? What do they have to do to succeed in this? What happens when you don't fit in? Which aren't just teen concerns,though this is when we first become aware of the group and the self and make our initial decisions on how we belong, and where. I rather think I belong to divergent anyway, as there are very few groups that I fit into, naturally. I'm just odd. It's only now that I'm nearing 50 that I feel safe saying so!
If you have read it, did you take the quiz at the end? Is anyone out there clearly belonging to a faction?
Batman: I don't know about you, but I am so excited about The Dark Knight Rises opening tomorrow!!!! I am hoping to go see it tomorrow night, though realistically it will be sometimes this weekend.