Ready, aim, fire. We’ve got another high-kicking, angst-ridden teen dystopian franchise that is soaring through Hollywood.
“Divergent” is the story of a dystopian, futuristic society set in Chicago. At the age of sixteen, you are given an aptitude test to determine your best fit fiction. Unlike the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter directing students to their house, in Divergent you can choose a faction other than the one you are best fit for, these factions are for life, and you can no longer associate with people in other factions. So it’s a big deal. Factions include: Amity (promoting harmony and peace), Abnegation (being selfless, volunteering, putting others before yourself), Dauntless (bravery above all things), Candor (honest in all things), and Erudite (pursuit of knowledge as the primary directive). (Love these less common words for certain characteristics!)
Obviously, from the get go you realize that people are not only one thing – for example, if you are knowledgeable and intelligent you still ought to be honest, and you can be brave by putting others first. It’s a fundamental flaw in the societal setup. The leading lady, Beatrice, discovers this after her aptitude test and numerous instances where she’s not sure which faction she most belongs to. Because her results are inconclusive, she belongs to a rare sort of person called “divergent.”
When I first began, I had trouble getting over the name “Beatrice” as a match for this character. It felt contrived, because this character with her rebellious, sometimes violent ways is anything but a Beatrice. As the novel progressed, I think the author and character realized this, and “Beatrice” begins to go by “Tris.” Very cool.
Another excellent part of this character is that Beatrice/Tris is ACTIVE. Not just physically – well, definitely physically, there are multiple scenes of her running, kickboxing, fighting and zip lining – but she is mentally aware and decisive. Life doesn’t just happen to Tris. Unlike the wishy washy blank canvas a character like Bella from “Twilight,” Tris decides her life for herself. She leads. In the authors’ “extras” after the book ends, Veronica Roth states that she challenged herself to make Tris the agent, the catalyst, the actor, instead of the victim or reaction.
One thing I noticed is that Divergent is way edgier than “Hunger Games.” Kids die, Tris and friends go together multiple times to get a volley of tattoos and tight clothes and colorful hair, and copious needles are involved to inject the kids with “simulation serums,” aka hallucinogenic substances. I had trouble with accepting these kinds of things for a sixteen year old, and I’m still wondering how this will translate to the big screen. The author seems to make Tris disinterested in the tattoos, but she gets them anyway at the urging of friends. It’s not fully convincing either way. Another warning for parents: there are one or two pretty steamy moments between Tris and her handsome, 18-year-old instructor, Four, and there’s a scene where Tris is manhandled by crude, jealous young men in her faction.
Another issue I had – there’s very little background for how this sort of faction-divided society arose. There’s no clear threat from the outside. Hunger Games had a history of governmental overthrow, thus resulting in more easily-managed districts. I’m hoping that more history will be revealed in Roth’s second and third books of the series, “Insurgent” and “Allegiant” (love these titles!). I will be reading these as well (they’re on my Christmas wish list!) so that I can get a sense of the whole picture of the series. If I’d read just the first book of Hunger Games, I’d have a much more limited view of the series’ potential. Same with Harry Potter.
I loved the “extras” that came with my paperback copy. An interview with Veronica Roth on how she got this idea, the manifestos for each faction, a self-conducted quiz to determine which fact you’d be in, Roth’s process for writing, discussion questions and more. As a writer, it is pure pleasure to get to sneak behind the scenes and learn how she created this work. Her process is reflective of many other writers I’ve read – word vomit (write as much as you can), take time off and go back into the world, then return for hardcore editing in which you “kill your darlings.” I feel confirmed reading this process and comparing it with my own!
That’s all for now! I do recommend you pick up “Divergent” before the movie’s release, so you can know if this is a worthy story for you and your kids to read/watch. Beware though – it is much more intense than most teen Hollywood fare.