Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I heard great things about this book, and it’s as good as people say. Though it’s over 400 pages, it’s a fast read. It’s told in first-person point of view using present tense, which is usually something I dislike, but it worked well here.

At first, the premise of the book was a little hard to swallow, but I was quickly pulled into the world of factions. The book begins with a coming-of-age event—young adults in each faction must choose whether to stay in their current factions or become initiates in one of the other four factions. Each faction is similar to a tribe, embracing the qualities for which the factions were named: Amity, Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, or Erudite. Beatrice (aka Trice), a member of Abnegation, has learned she is Divergent—in other words, she doesn’t fit neatly into just one of the factions. I won’t give away any more of the story. But it’s filled with action, reflection, friendship, love, loss…

Stylistically it’s a light read, but the content is anything but light. While Trice has to navigate the difficult initiation process, she also discovers there’s a more sinister plot afoot, with factions threatening to join forces and start wars. The imagery is just enough to paint the outlines of a picture while allowing the reader to fill in the rest: I never felt bogged down by descriptions. Many of the chapters are shorter, leading to the need-to-go-to-bed problem of just-one-more-chapter-before-lights-out.

The book will appeal to young adults and adults alike. Some of the elements reminded me of The Giver, one of my favorite books. Others reminded me of The Hunger Games, though I liked the voice of Divergent better. While I thought the premise of The Hunger Games was more believable, I found more connections to our life in Divergent. Let me explain.

On one level, the book is an adventure story. On another level, it’s a dystopia. On yet another level, the book can actually be read as an allegory for the way we live. The factions in the book are designed to control people with a tribal mentality—“faction before blood” is repeated often. Anyone who joins the Dauntless faction, for example, is expected to be brave, get tattoos, use violence to solve problems. Anyone in Abnegation is expected to dress plainly and put the needs of others above the needs of oneself. But a member of Abnegation is not expected to be brave, and a member of Dauntless is not expected to be selfless. Those who are Divergent are able to use traits from multiple factions to become a more balanced (and more successful) human being. Faction leaders see this as dangerous because thinking and acting for oneself makes a citizen harder to control. When I first started reading, I thought the idea of such diametrically-opposed factions was ridiculous. But the more I read, the more I realized it wasn’t as far-fetched as might be thought.

The obvious connection I see if in our country’s two-party political system, which leads to a pep-rally mentality: it’s “us” versus “them.” If members of both parties would compromise, our country would be much more successful. If Republican citizens would recognize the merit of Democrats’ ideas, and Democrats would recognize the merits of Republicans’ ideas, we could have more open discussions, pointing out problems in the government (i.e., corruption, unintended consequences, weaknesses) rather than aiming our efforts at attacking each other. The same thing happens in Divergent. Citizens are not supposed to question the fact that there are factions in the first place. Instead, they are to focus their energies on disliking or making fun of other factions. It’s only people like Trice who can step back and think critically about the flaws of the system rather than be brainwashed into becoming a mindless pawn who acts like a high school student during the Homecoming game. Definitely food for thought.

I usually don’t provide a rating on my blog reviews, but this book deserves five stars out of five. It’s a fast read, and I recommend it!