Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Divergent" by Veronica Roth

I've been recommending the Hunger Games to my 9th grade students for several years (even before it reached its current popularity--yeah, I'm that cool), and ever since I've been looking for its successor. At this point virtually all of my students have read the Hunger Games, and I need another book with such wide appeal (girls and boys; weak readers and stellar students). Though Divergent isn't quite that novel, I'm happy to say it is one I can recommend to a large number of my students, and it will undoubtedly be enjoyed by many Hunger Games fans.

Divergent's premise and plot lies entirely within it's worldbuilding, though it's this worldbuilding that is also the most unrealistic part of the novel. At some point in the United States' future, people decided that the country's problems were caused by individuals' lack of particular character traits. People formed groups called "factions" based on what personality trait they believed was most necessary for success: Abnegation believes in selflessness; Dauntless in courage; Erudite in knowledge; Amity in kindness; and Candor in honesty. Since then, people have grown up in one faction but are allowed to choose their own faction as teenagers. Once they do so, they undergo a rigorous initiation in order to become full faction members.

So, on the outset, this set-up seems pretty silly and doomed to failure. First, there's the absurdity in the idea that anyone could believe that one personality trait is sufficient for an effective society. Not surprisingly, the factions have taken their trait to an absurd extreme, so that Dauntless, for example, is dedicated mostly to reckless thrill seeking and Abnegation doesn't allow its members to use mirrors or wear anything but gray. Secondly, the government design is doomed for failure. Abnegation is given control of the government (since they're so selfless), but that obviously will breed anger among other factions. And people who fail faction initiation are "Factionless" and live essentially homeless, yet the people in the book don't seem to see this as a gigantic problem.

But, if the reader can accept all this, Divergent is a fun novel. The protagonist is Tris, a girl who has grown up as Abnegation but never felt at home there. When she takes her aptitude test to determine what faction she fits best in, she discovers that she doesn't fit just one faction--instead, she's "divergent." She keeps this a secret, knowing it's dangerous, and chooses to join Dauntless. Dauntless initiation is a struggle; though she makes a few friends (and grows especially close to one of their trainers, a slightly older boy named Four), she's forced to fight, take risks, and face unimaginable fears. Yet amidst all this there is growing unease between the factions, and a future in which Tris will have to play an important role.

Divergent has a fast pace and nicely balances the individual struggles of Tris as she undergoes initiation with the societal struggles between the factions. Tris is a fully realized character, particularly as she attempts to put aside her Abnegation upbringing in order to fulfill the requirements for Dauntless. Her relationship with Four doesn't overwhelm the story, but it's relationship you root for nonetheless. Like Hunger Games, Divergent doesn't shy away from violence. There are teenagers killing other people and a high body count. This will probably help make it appeal to teenage readers, though the number of deaths is so high by the end that the impact is somewhat lost.

The audiobook I listened to is read by Emma Galvin, who does an excellent job with Tris' narration and with the other characters' voices. The pacing and emotional tenor was spot on, and the novel was easy to follow.

I'm planning on recommending Divergent to my students when their next independent reading comes up, and I'm hoping it will be a new favorite for some.


  1. I've been hearing good things about Divergent for over a year now, and I was wondering whether that was 'hype' or genuine. I trust your judgment, so I'll pick this one up - just maybe not right away. Nice review!

  2. I was a bit wary of the hype myself--it was actually my husband (who listens to a ton of audiobooks) who convinced me to give it a go. I liked that it appealed to that Hunger Games audience while being a very different story, even though there are definitely some flaws.