Monday, September 16, 2013


In which Sam rants about the potential for a dystopian future, raves about the plot, placing, and graphic intensity of Divergent, and eagerly anticipates the release of Allegiant this October!

Though I read Divergent earlier this summer, it felt like the perfect time to review it given the release of the final book in the trilogy on October 22nd. (Insurgent, the second book in the trilogy, is still in hardcover and was released last May). I've also already talked a little bit about the upcoming movie adaptation - if you're curious, check it out here. 

If you haven't started this series yet, you're not too late! I blew through Divergent a night of marathon reading. It's fast-paced, thrilling, and even among the multitude of YA dystopian fiction, it stands out. 

On a side note, why are we all so obsessed with dystopian fiction? I think for me it's a real fear of a dystopian future. At least in action-packed YA novels the heroines do not act as helpless as we all feel, listening to the news every day and wondering about what the next few decades will bring. Our reality is overwhelming - the surreal future in Divergent is overwhelming in a different way, but the characters rise to meet its challenges. Perhaps it's an inspiration to face the troubles in our own world.

Wow, okay, unnecessarily grim and philosophical. It's been a heavy Monday.


Image of faction symbols courtesy of Neil Burger's trailer found here
Tris lives in a world where people are divided into five factions: Dauntless, Abnegation, Candor, Amity, and Erudite. In non-SAT words: Fearless, Selfless, Truthful, Friendly, and Smart. In the image, left to right, the symbols represent: Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, Abnegation, and Amity. There are also the "factionless," wretched people who live outside of the factions (kind of like the proletariat in 1984 but there appears to be fewer of them). Society functions and maintains equilibrium by this sorting process, which apparently came from some big conflict years ago.

At the start, the society in Divergent reminded me a lot of Jonas's world in Lois Lowry's The Giver: everyone had a specific role in society, assigned by a combination of innate capacity and choice. Everyone understands that each individual has this accepted role in society, and maintenance of those defined roles is of utmost importance to the powers that be. Anyone outside of the categories society provides must live outside of the society itself - "Elsewhere," the euphemism for the violent ends of those outsiders in The Giver, or the hovels of the factionless in Divergent. 

This need for conformity, this desire for conformity, sets the stage for danger, because our heroine Tris does not conform. She does not fit in. Whether she likes it or not, after years of being Abegnation and denying her individuality, Tris will stand out.


The author does not spare the reader any detail of Tris's rapid journey from Abegnation to her new faction, Dauntless. It's one of the few books in which I flinched away from the page, horrified by the violence inflicted on several characters. Still, Tris overcomes substantial adversity in her transformation. It's part of the five reasons I loved this book:

(1) The female protagonist is STRONG, DIMENSIONAL, and FLAWED. I was interested in her as a reader, wanted to know what happened to her, didn't always agree with her choices but found they stemmed neatly from her personality and her relationships.

(2) The world-building is SOLID and SENSORY. I can easily picture the Dauntless faction's headquarters, the buildings of the Erudite, the sunlit farms of the Amity faction....

(3) The fights are REALISTIC and carry CONSEQUENCES. No one gets up, walks away, and suffers no ill effects from the heavy violence I described earlier.

(4) There is a whole CAST OF CHARACTERS that I came to care about, worry about, and yet still feel angry or frustrated with. Making me care about characters beyond the protagonist and her potential love interest is difficult, because - well, I'm a lazy speed reader, and sometimes secondary characters just don't resonate with me. But here, I wondered where Tris's friends would end up in the rankings, what would happen to her brother, and the back stories of even tertiary characters.

(5) The book ends on a HUGE CLIFFHANGER! I can't wait to read Insurgent & Allegiant now!

Pictured: A cliff
The only critique that I have is this: though I cared about many (most!) characters, sometimes motivations were less than clear. Tris's course of action always made sense, but the other movers and shakers? I felt if you were to carry their decisions out to the logical and desired end, those choices do not actually make a lot of sense, at least in the context of the first book. Do they want to preserve their society? Destroy it? Who would benefit? It's not clear anyone would - rather, it could push their world back into civil war. That's why I guess I've got to read the next two!

Did you read Divergent? What did you think? Do you like dystopian novels, and did you think this one was better or worse than average?

Tell us in the comments!

xoxo sam

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