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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DIVERGENT By Veronica Roth. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2011

This is one of the books I got in my goody bag at the last Booktalkers for the year. It is, of course, the Australian edition.

In a future, dystopian world, your friends, job, lifestyle, all depend on a choice you make when you turn sixteen. That’s when you’re tested for the “faction” which suits you – Dauntless, Amity, Candor, Erudite or Abnegation. You’re advised on the basis of this test, but make your own choice, after which you go to live with your faction, possibly leaving your family behind. And even that is uncertain; if you fail training in your new faction, you become “factionless” and get all the dirty jobs no one else wants and live in the shabbiest part of town. The government of the time is made up of Abnegation members, because it was decided some time ago that the job should go to people who don’t want it. This leads to major problems later in the book.

Tris’s family are members of the Abnegation faction, living an unselfish lifestyle dedicated to helping people. Tris’s test results are inconclusive. She learns that she is Divergent – one of the few who don’t quite fit in with any faction. She decides to join the Dauntless, who jump on and off moving trains, get piercings and tattoos and believe in courage. Sounds good, right? And Tris finds she’s very good at what she’s required to do to become a Dauntless member.

But something nasty is going on at the top levels of Dauntless – and Tris has been warned not to reveal her Divergent status if she wants to stay alive…

Things that worked for me: Tris is a strong character, and one who captures the reader’s sympathy. She doesn’t whine and she does show the unselfishness she feared she didn’t have, at the beginning of the novel. The romantic interest, Four, is a decent young man who respects Tris’s strength and has his own problems, so isn't there to lead her, except as her teacher in the initiate training. It’s a good, exciting adventure story, and it is not implied that there’s anything perfect about any of the factions, with the possible exception of Amity, whose members are cheerful and kind and play folk-music in between tasks… And this is only because no major characters in the book seem to be Amity, so we never really find out. Possibly they will play a larger role in the next volume.

Things that didn’t work quite so well for me: the whole notion that a working society could be created based on such simple qualities. And - Jeanine? What kind of name is that for a villain? I was also uneasy with how comfortable Tris was with a gun, once she learned to use it, and even more uneasy with the suggestion that the faction dedicated to learning and reading was so generally nasty, as if we should be suspicious of anyone who lives by their intellect. Maybe we'll find out in the next book that the Erudite don't generally approve of what happens in this volume, but meanwhile, the message seems to be: "If you're smart enough to be in Erudite, you're a slimy, sneaking baddie."

There have been comparisons with The Hunger Games and I can see how this idea came about, but I much prefer The Hunger Games.

Still, there’s enough here to interest both girls and boys, and not many YA books can say that.

And I believe that Tris and Katniss would get on well!


Lan said...

If I were being honest I would say that I hated Tris. She struck me as a really selfish and often cold heroine. I've heard this one praised for it's world building but I had the same problems as you did with an entire faction being pidgeon holed with one characteristic.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I think the ideas behind it were in the right place, like a heart, in that ordinary acts of heroism were most important and that they were very close to the unselfishness of Abnegation.

Tris certainly made her decision for selfish reasons, but I think she developed into a better person. I was far more uneasy with her pleasure in carrying a gun. And when she killed a character whom she had liked and worked with because he was one of the sleepwalking army, and then never looked back, I found that chilling.

Katniss was, in the end, a far more selfless character, who made her decisions for the right reasons.

Which is why I will probably re-read the Hunger Game books and this one is going on to my library shelves for the students to read once, as I did.