On my trip in July to Arizona, my younger cousin talked endlessly about Veronica Roth’s young-adult science-fiction novel Divergent. Her wall was covered with print-outs stating, “I am selfish. I am brave. I am divergent.” At the time, I rolled my eyes. Yet another author had found a way to become famous; write an unrealistic teen drama and promise a coming sequel. J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins all did the same thing. This is nothing new. I made the mistake of reading Twilight (although I read the books before they were trendy), and I was not about to jump on another bandwagon.
A few weeks later, I found myself preparing for a bus ride to a volleyball game in Florida. I was promised 10 long hours with no internet connection, and I knew that the school work would run out eventually. I pulled up North Carolina’s online digital library and searched for an audiobook that could fill the time. For some reason, I downloaded Divergent.
One hour later, I was drawn into the story of Beatrice, a 16-year-old girl, who defied the laws of her city. In former Chicago, there is a caste system similar to that of India. However, rather than being stuck in the class into which she was born, Beatrice has the opportunity to choose her “faction” at age sixteen. She and all other sixteen-year-olds are even tested to help them make their decision. Beatrice has a problem, however. She was not selfless like her family members, so she could not stay with them in the Abnegation division. She was not knowledge-hungry like the Erudite. Because she was not truthful, she could not live with the Candor. She did not desire the peaceful life of Amity. To be factionless is synonymous with poverty, hopelessness, and death. Therefore, she sought initiation into the brave Dauntless faction.
This is where my love-hate relationship with the book began.
First, Beatrice “finds herself” rather than following in her family’s footsteps. She feels that her decision to leave Abnegation is disloyal to her family, but she does what she believes is best for herself. While a selfish decision was not necessarily improper in this case, Roth does seem to imply that this selfishness was an act of bravery.
Once Beatrice enters initiation by leaping from a moving train, she shortens her name to Tris and begins to question everything she has known. She rejects her dull gray clothing, her parent’s altruism, and her personal resolve. Although she gains her first true friend, Christina, she is often referred to as “Stiff,” and many of the other initiates are truly out to get her. The commencement process leaves no option but for her to be cruelly abused by those coming from other factions. I found myself cringing and twisting in the bus seat as Tris was kicked, punched, and degraded. Of course, Roth included the stereotypical enamorado, but I must wonder if teens would read a book lacking that facet.
There are positive things to be said of this book, however. Tris learns the importance of working together with both friends and enemies. Additionally, Tris strives to overcome her fears and extreme hardship for the good of her entire city. She learns that tradition is not always law. Realizing that the Dauntless leaders have forsaken the initial intent of the faction, she determines to not sit complacent. She risks her life to prove that the loudest voice is not always correct and power is not synonymous with excellence.
Madeline L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Perhaps Roth wrote a teen novel because she has a message that the adult population is not ready to hear.