Books with imagery that sears itself into the consciousness certainly make a lasting impression. Divergent by Veronica Roth is no exception. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, Lake Michigan is a barren swampland, and half the city consists of abandoned ruins. Yet teenagers jet line off skyscrapers for fun. Climbing to the top of a rusted-out Ferris wheel is a game. Unmanned elevated trains run on a continuous circuit forcing would-be passengers to jump on and off at will. Living facilities stationed underground surround a subterranean river whose raging current is known to consume the evidence of accidents, suicides and murders. How is a 16-year-old girl to cope in such an inhospitable environment? She chooses to be dauntless.
Divergent's world is composed of a caste society categorized by personality type. Our heroine, Tris, is born into Abnegation, the society of the selfless and the designated rulers of government. Their self-effacing nature grants them the right to hold the reins of power. However, Tris knows her first instinct isn't to put the needs of others before her own. Upon her coming of age, she chooses to transition into Dauntless, known for its bravery and courage. As an initiate, she is put through three rounds of grueling trials in order to stay among the ranks of the fearless. If she fails, she will be thrown out and left to fend for herself on the cold and windy streets.
Of the three remaining factors, Candor (the brutally honest) and Amity (the peacemakers) pose no threat, but Erudite (the intelligent) desperately crave Abnegation's authority and they'll use their skill coupled with the brute force of Dauntless to seize it. The war mongering begins soon after Tris enters the Dauntless compound. She's ridiculed for her gray, shapeless clothing and her submissive upbringing. She is repeatedly harassed by the initiate transfers from Erudite and Candor as they belittle her by calling her "Stiff," a derogatory slur directed at those from Abnegation. She is beaten, sexually exploited and nearly killed by her fellow bunk mates over the course of the initiation, yet she stays strong gradually working her way up the ranks.
Tris is able to succeed thanks, in part, to being Divergent. A dangerous designation whereby she doesn't fit into any defined classification, instead she shows inclinations toward several. She is multi-faceted, and those in control are out to eradicate all who show these tendencies toward such an inherent display of free will. She knows she must keep her true identity a secret, but she comes to suspect that her instructor, Four, might be harboring the same tendencies.
Yet Tris sees Four as more than just a possible ally, she begins to fall in love with him over the course of her training. Yet she finds him to be excruciatingly unpredictable. He's afraid of heights, yet he makes her stand in front of a bulls-eye during target practice while objects are hurled at her head. He openly flirts with her while drunk, yet won't make eye contact across a crowded cafeteria. He erases the simulation evidence showing her to be a Divergent, yet is less than forthcoming in revealing who he truly is.
But one thing is for certain, Four believes that the goodness within Tris is what makes her strong. His unshakable faith in her ability to protect others through her bravery is only questioned when he begins to see that the cruelty underlying the Dauntless training missions is beginning to take its toll. Tris savagely beats a fellow initiate. She refuses to forgive a former friend for turning on her. She takes pleasure in the injuries of one of her attackers. While Four's total fears equal the number of his name, he does not use this to his advantage when it allowed him to became the top recruit of his own class. Instead, he chose to take on the less glamorous role of instructor in order to help underdog initiates like Tris succeed. She has his loyalty and support, but will it be enough when the head honchos of Dauntless and Erudite are looking to eliminate Abnegation as well as the Divergent? Roth weaves this spellbinding tale to a blood-rending, heart-pumping conclusion. The repercussions of which are sure to be played out in a subsequent sequel.
While it shares similarities to other young adult works like Stephenie Meyer's The Host (the cave-like headquarters), Lauren DeStefano's Wither (the homeless style of living for those left adrift in an urban wasteland) and Ally Condie's Matched (the life changing event at 16-years-old), it still holds its own for depicting the specifics of a world that is more fully realized and for sustaining a level of excitement and momentum throughout.
In terms of characterization, Tris is a three-dimensional character struggling with her faults and dealing with her imperfections. Four takes on more depth as his hidden back story is slowly revealed, and the supporting cast is fleshed out and not too extensive. The best friend, the bad guy, the mom, the dad, the brother are all there, and they fulfill their prescribed roles while maintaining a solid identity. But where Roth excels is in her ability to actualize a scene. Her adventure sequences come to life in a way that ignites the imagination.
Overall, Roth knows how to create dystopian action that literately jumps off the page.
Divergent by Veronica Roth is available for $17.99 at Amazon.com and at VeronicaRothBooks.blogspot.com.
Thank you to Deb for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.
Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.