By Leanndra W. Padgett
When I first ran across the novel “Divergent,” by Veronica Roth, I was skeptical. I saw it on a rack in Kroger, of all places, and dismissed it as another cheap paperback with little literary merit. A second exposure to the book changed my mind, however. I read the dystopian fiction because it is in the curriculum for the sophomore English class in which I am student teaching at Scott County High School.
Though I began it out of obligation, after only a few pages, I was intrigued. The book reminds me of “The Hunger Games.” Both are set in the eastern/central United States in the future. “Divergent” is set in Chicago, “The Hunger Games” in Appalachia. Both are coming of age stories with strong female characters who share many of the same characteristics. The central conflicts deal with narrowing down a group of contestants through life–threatening stakes, tests of physical and mental strength, love interests and (spoiler alert) rebellions.
Despite belonging to an increasingly popular genre of literature (young adult dystopian fiction), there are some unique features to the story that keep it interesting. In the world of the novel, society is divided into five “factions,” each named for their prominent characteristic – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite. The different groups maintain different aspects of society based on their strengths (those in Candor are judges; those in Dauntless take care of security, etc.). At the age of 16, teenagers undergo an aptitude test and then choose a faction.
When the protagonist Beatrice, or Tris, takes her aptitude test, she is told that she does not fit into one category neatly. She is “Divergent,” something that is very dangerous and that she must keep secret. The social commentary is obvious, and makes the story relevant to our society, one in which conformity and nonconformity are hot issues.
This book has an interesting plot, vivid descriptions, complicated issues and lovable heroes (though the PG–rated romance scenes were a little too numerous for my taste). Once I got into the story, I could not put the book down. It is a quick read, and I finished quickly, only to immediately seek the second book in the trilogy, “Insurgent.” The third book, “Allegient,” just came out in October.
“Divergent” is a great read for anyone who wants to escape scholastic reading without totally shutting down their mind. Even though there are numerous characters to keep straight, this book is not difficult to understand. However, “Divergent” leads one to contemplate deeper issues such as identity, social conformity, categorization and personal strengths and weaknesses. Reading it provides a thought–provoking escape.
Now is a great time to read the book, for it is being made into a motion picture in the spring of 2014. Read the book now, and form your own picture of its world and characters before images of the actors and actresses are imprinted onto your mind. “Divergent” can be found locally in Kroger and Wal-Mart as well as in the LRC’s collection. A library order of “Insurgent” has also been requested.