Pros: thrilling, memorable, action-packed, thought-provoking, romantic, well-written, satisfying
Cons: none, other than having to wait for the next book in the trilogy!
Veronica Roth's debut novel, Divergent, is a dystopian young adult novel with some similarities to the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Fans of that series should give Divergent a serious look. As a huge fan of the Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, I can say that reading Divergent gave me the same level of satisfaction and enjoyment that the other books did. (In case you're not familiar with the term, a dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.)
Divergent is set in a seemingly futuristic Chicago. Society is divided into 5 factions: Candor (the honest), Abegnation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent.) On a specific day of each year, all sixteen year olds decide which faction they will devote the rest of their lives to. Many choose the faction they grew up in, but others select a different faction, thereby separating them from their family and friends.
As a 16 year old, Beatrice Prior must choose her faction. She and her brother, Caleb, have grown up within the Abegnation group, but when she takes a simulated aptitude test, she discovers she has traits that would make her a good fit for at least 3 of the factions. Caleb is not quite a year older than Beatrice, and he must choose his faction on this Choosing Day as well.
Beatrice chooses her faction. (This is no insignificant task; the 16 year olds slice their palm with a knife and let their blood drip into one of the five bowls representing the factions, with all of their friends and family watching.) She heads off with the other new kids to begin a very competitive initiation process, along the way she changes her name to Tris. There is simmering animosity between the kids that were born and raised in the faction and the new transfers. Not all of the initiates will make it into the faction; there are only a certain number of spots, and during the process, the initiates are ranked. (Those that don't make the final cut will be factionless.) Tris surprises herself (and others) by performing well in the tasks and slowly improving her ranking. Because of her simulated aptitude test combined with events that occur during the initiation process, Tris discovers something about herself that she must keep hidden. It could mean danger, or even death, if the truth gets out.
The training instructor for her faction is Four, a boy who is about 2 years older than Tris. He plays somewhat of a rebel to the unyielding Eric, a faction leader, who plays the expected bad guy role. Tris is intrigued by Four, but that doesn't stop her from sometimes going toe-to-toe with him. She makes friends with Christina, Will and Al, and quickly learns to dislike Peter, Molly, and Drew. The moments between Tris and Four are a wonder to read; the romantic inside the reader wants their mutual attraction to be unveiled and addressed, but the author moves their relationship along at a realistic and ultimately satisfying pace.
The initiation process involves a good deal of violence; the initiates must physically combat each other, and the punches, kicks, and ensuing blood loss is described in precise detail. Young readers may find this to be too much. Betrayal and loss are key elements to the story, and Tris (along with the reader) discovers that many things are not what they seem. During the initiation, Tris and the others must face their fears through hallucination-filled tests as well as the brutal physical challenges. While the initiates are going through their turmoil, so is society in general, as there is growing conflict between some of the factions. This conflict ultimately builds into a battle in which the initiates are used as pawns and the future becomes even more uncertain.
Tris and Four seem to be the only people who come to the realization that the each of the factions represent qualities that everyone should strive for, instead of just focusing on the individual ones their factions stand for. This seems unusual to me, but at the same time goes along with the concept of a dystopian novel; the main characters are typically the only ones that come to the conclusion that something in their idyllic world is amiss. Still, it would have been nice if more of the secondary characters had been painted in shades of gray instead of black and white.
Divergent was written by Veronica Roth and published in 2011 by Katherine Tegen Books. It is available in hardcover with a cover price of $17.99 and the ISBN is 978-0062024022. It has 496 pages, so it is definitely not a lightweight. (I read the Kindle version, and just flew through it.) Divergent is the first book in a planned trilogy, and the second book, titled Insurgent, is expected to be released some time around May 2012.
I, for one, will find it remarkably hard to wait for that book to be released. I found Divergent to be utterly charming, as are Tris and Four, and I look forward to delving into their world again. I highly recommend this book, especially to those that enjoy dystopian young adult novels like the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Matched by Ally Condie, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, or the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. Even if you are not familiar with any of those books, however, you might enjoy Divergent just as much. It's a thrill ride of a book that will leave you wanting more.