Monday, June 20, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

It seems to me that there is a post-Hunger Games explosion in YA dystopian novels, just as there was with vampire/werewolf novels after the Twilight series became popular. I started seeing that "dystopian" label everywhere and thought I had better figure out if what was "dystopian" in my head was the correct definition. 
Well, almost. It makes sense that dystopian is the opposite of utopian, you know, those idealistic societies that we wish ours was like. Dystopian societies are not pleasant places but in my head I had it mixed up with post-apocalyptic when life is so terrible after the whole society is destroyed. Dystopian societies are terrible places by strict definition but there doesn't have to be an apocalyse, just a change in society. In order for a novel to be considered part of the dystopian genre, some would argue that a controlling central government, a totalitarian government, which discourages individuality and dehumanizes people needs to be part of it and play a strong role in the novel. A dystopian novel is quite often set in the future but doesn't necessarily need to be. There is usually an individual, or a small group of people, who do not conform to the strict rules placed on them and it is that conflict which usually forms the basis for the novel.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my head, I want to focus on Divergent, which takes place in Chicago decades in the future.
Society has been split into 5 factions based on the founders' belief that war happened, not for political or other reasons, but because of certain facets of human nature. They divided themselves into factions based on whatever part of human nature they blamed for war.
The factions are:
Amity, who strive for peace because they blamed aggression,
Erudite, who strive for knowledge because they blamed ignorance,
Dauntless, who strive for courage because they blamed cowardice,
Candor, who strive for honesty because they blamed deceit, and
Abnegation, who strive for selflessness because they blamed selfishness.

On one day each year, those who are 16 are tested to determine which faction they would fit in best. They are allowed to choose whether to change factions or remain in the one of their parents, after which they go through an initiation phase and, if they pass, are accepted into the faction. Those who don't pass are considered factionless which is the society's worst fear. If someone doesn't fit in to just one faction, they are considered "divergent" which is a closely held and dangerous secret. Those who are divergent try to hide it and choose their faction just like the others.
Beatrice has been raised in Abnegation. She makes a surprising choice which changes her life completely. From that point on, she is known as "Tris". The initiation phase is brutal but she manages to find friends and allies. Along the way, she discovers a conflict that threatens the society's way of life.
One of the interesting things about the factions is that often the quality that each faction initially revered has morphed into something that is negative and could potentially start a war between the factions. For instance, the Erudites quest for knowledge is lending itself to power and greed, and the Dauntless' love of bravery leads to the acceptance of violence as a way of life. I am curious if the future books in the series will play out this theme even more. We don't learn much about some of the factions but I hope that we do in the future.
Honestly, it has been difficult to write this review without giving away much of the plot. I am aching to talk about it! It is one of those books that sticks with you for awhile. I don't know how many books are planned for the series, only that there are more. This book ends with a major conflict that is somewhat resolved but leaves us with a lot of uncertainty.

Things I liked about the book: I loved getting to know Four even though he seemed so distant at first, watching Tris discover her strengths, the distinctness of each faction even though each citizen can choose only one facet of their personality to acknowledge is frustrating, and the reappearance of Tris' mom.
Things I did not like about the book: I did not like seeing Tris losing some of her humanity and becoming too strong to acknowledge her emotions, I think that she lost some of her likeability by the end. I also did not like the extreme amount of violence especially during the initiation phases.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely I would! I enjoyed reading Divergent and look forward to reading more about Tris and Four!
Was it clean? There was some swearing but not too bad, no f-words, and not too much of it. The sticking point for me would be the amount and intensity of violence in the book. It definitely made me cringe and I would not recommend it to younger teens. There was also an episode of attempted molestation but it was interrupted before it got too far.

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