Summary via Veronica Roth’s website:
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.
First and foremost, Divergent tells a darn good story! While reading it, I wasn’t worrying about potential weaknesses, I just wanted to keep going to see what happened next.
Divergent features a future society with a very rigorous structure. It’s an intriguing world, one that kept me thinking long after finishing the book. I wanted to know how it came about, how it functioned, and where the books are going to take it. That’s enough to set the book apart from the crowd, but not enough in and of itself to make the book compelling.
Luckily, the characters are enough. Beatrice was a convincing as a teen needing to move from childhood to adulthood, a transition marked with a choice which cannot be undone. Beatrice chooses to break from her family to join another faction, one that demands courage above all else.
Relationships are key in Divergent, existing relationships and relationships that are formed in her new life. The characters (friends and otherwise) are an interesting bunch, each with their own approach, whether it be in Abnegation (her old faction) or Dauntless (her new one).
Watching her meet and evaluate the other teens looking to join this faction is full of information on Beatrice, the other newcomers, and what it means to be Dauntless. Seeing Beatrice’s perception of her parents and their choices change as she learns more was a great way to watch Beatrice mature.
And then, there is the love interest. He’s a worthy character, and the this aspect of the book is balanced well with everything else that is happening.
Midway into Divergent, Beatrice’s story becomes part of a much larger one, where her decisions will affect more than her own life. The action picked up significantly at this point. I’ll be interested to see where this goes in the next book,
I have two small caveats to my enjoyment of this book, things that I hesitate to label as flaws, at least at this time.
First, Divergent is unabashedly a YA book, written for that audience. Although it clearly made sense for the main character to be a teen, I’m not sure that’s true for some of the supporting characters, particularly those in leadership roles. More than that, as a not-so-young adult, I would have liked to see life from a different perspective, to see what it looked like from a more adult point of view. There were many aspects of the society, particularly of the logistics, that were invisible to the teen characters, where I would have liked to know more.
Related to that, there were clearly some holes in the world-building. As I said, the world is a highly intriguing one, and I’m not even sure I should mention this in a negative way. The gaps didn’t bother me at all while I was reading. It was only once I was done, and thinking over the book, that I started wondering more about why the society was structured the way it was. I actually came up with some very intriguing possibilities. If the author takes some of the clues she left and builds on them in future books, I’ll be more than satisfied with this aspect of the story.
Book Club Notes
I read Divergent for discussion with one of my book clubs, and I think it was a successful choice. The club has a balance of people that read YA but not science fiction, those that read science fiction but not a lot of YA, those that don’t usually read either, and those of us that read from both of those genres, including where they overlap.
Everyone enjoyed the book. Those with a background that includes more adult science fiction were bothered by the holes in the world-building, where it wasn’t an issue for others in the group. I shared some of my speculation on why the holes may be deliberate, what I thought might be lurking behind them, but I’m not sure they were convinced.
We spent a good chunk of time on the factions– are they a complete set? Are they sustainable? Are the believable at all? What were they like at the beginning, and how had they changed? Which faction would you fall into? Which would you like to be part of?
We also talked about violence in this book, and in YA fiction in general. Added to some character chat, discussion of the author, and then of some material one club member found about how society is increasingly sorting itself, so that we only associate with those that are like us, and we had a very good discussion.