Divergent book 1: Divergent by Veronica Roth
A book I’ve been meaning to read since high school. I didn’t read it before because it was “the popular book” and I didn’t do a lot of reading back then anyway, but now I’ve finally gotten to it. Very excited to also watch the movie!
Read: July 31 – August 4, 2023
Book contains: violence, manipulation, death, murder, suicide, suicide ideation
A Slow-Burning Mystery That Still Holds Your Attention
Beatrice Prior is sixteen years old, which means she must now choose her Faction. She could stay with her family in Abnegation, where selflessness is the most important trait, or she could choose something else. However, doing so would mean abandoning her family. Her aptitude test doesn’t help much either. It’s supposed to tell her which Faction she’s best suited for, but hers are…inconclusive. She’s not any of the five Factions. She’s something called Divergent.
This book, like The Hunger Games, is a dystopian series that was incredibly popular during my middle and high school years, though I never got around to reading it. I was looking forward to it quite a bit because even though I never knew what it was about, I had a vague idea (and that one scene from the movie with the water tank) in my head going in. I actually (embarrassingly) didn’t read the synopsis before starting—since that was on the dust cover, which I removed. (I had no idea this was set in Chicago until I read that first line in the synopsis.)
I’ve been enjoying listening along to narrators who are just an enthusiastic about a book as I want to be, so I turned to Youtube to find one. Lit with Ms. Lizz! is the channel I found, and though at the time of my reading this book, she was only up to Chapter 34, I was immersed completely in the book thanks to her reading. Though she was a bit too expressive at times (her voice was so intense that the microphones didn’t pick it up) and she used too many hand motions for my liking, her reading was very good; I would recommend listening along with her if you’re reading this book for the first (or even fourth) time.
The novel is written in first person from Tris’s perspective, and in the past tense. We get a deep dive inside her head, so we know what she knows, and while she needs to offer exposition to explain the world and what the factions are and how society works, it’s done in such a natural way that it doesn’t feel like an infodump—which was a relief. The three Factions focused on are Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite; though Candor and Amity are mentioned briefly, they aren’t the main ones in this book.
Beatrice (who later changes her name to Tris) is the main character, and while she’s very different from me and the characters I usually connect with, I found myself liking her a lot. She plays down her strengths because of her past in Abnegation, which focuses on forgetting the self, and highlights her flaws, but she also grows so those flaws don’t make her seem like Mary Sue (which can happen so easily in dystopia books with a small “fragile” female lead who’s suddenly good at fighting). Her personality flaws are also dealt with in a way that makes you understand her even without justifying some of her “less than noble” actions. What also helps is that she’s a character who’s always trying to do the right thing, even with flashes of personal pride that shine through at times.
Four, a potential love interest for Tris in the Faction she’s chosen, is such an interesting and mysterious character. He matches the “tall, dark, and mysterious” stereotype that’s so popular in these sorts of books, but it also works. The mystery of him is slowly unravelling, and even when he’s been mostly figured out, he remains compelling, which is a strength in the writing—it shows that the mystery isn’t all he is.
The writing is good for this audience. There were no unfamiliar words or insanely formal sentence structure, though a bit of the grammar threw me off at times (words that were repeated from sentence to sentence in a slightly awkward way). Perhaps this problem was just highlighted by the way the narrator emphasized certain words; I’m not sure.
As I mentioned, it was a slow burn mystery. We learn about Tris being “Divergent” right at the beginning of the book, but for the most part, we don’t know much more about it than it’s “bad” and “dangerous”. The book mainly focuses on her passing initiation for her new Faction, and small mysteries arising from that—mainly strange things that Tris notices, like how the city’s exterior fence gate locks from the outside rather than the inside. She’s slowly realizing that she’s in a dystopian world, because, as usual, people living within the system don’t know that they are. There are also other things going on that keeps the reader’s attention even while the mystery of Divergence is played with in the background—like how Voldemort and the philosopher’s stone are introduced at the beginning of the first Harry Potter book, but a lot of the content is Harry going through classes and other misadventures along the way.
Under the risk of being “mainstream”, I highly recommend this book. It’s super interesting and really makes you think about what a “perfect society” would really look like and if it’s even possible (like all other dystopian books make you think). I’d still say it’s not completely a dystopia, seeing as the ending is good instead of bad, but I suppose New Age dystopia gets successful rebellions. (They can’t all be 1984.) Definitely give this series a read.