The International Writers Magazine: Childrens Books
Divergent by Veronica Roth
I suppose The Hunger Games can be blamed for this as well as Blood Red Road and others, but here is another tough girl living in a dystopian world divided into rival factions - forced to make a choice between which faction to join at sixteen. Naturally, given our predilection for violence in society she chooses a brutal clique filled with tattooed kids and nose piercings who leap from moving trains and dare each other to do foolish things like leap chasms and sometimes die in the attempt.
What follows is sixteen-year-old Trish (She was boring old Beatrice at home) choosing to leave her safe Amish style life with the Abnegation for the brutal initiation training of military life in the Dauntless faction. She could have chosen Amity or Candour each with their strengths and limitations. Her brother has chosen to leave the nest as well and for both this means they will have to say goodbye to their mother and father – most likely forever.
Yes this is not quite Hufflepuffland but it’s the exact same principle but on steroids. J K Rowling doesn’t realise what she started. Instead of a sorting hat we have a computer and serum that confronts you with ‘scenarios’ which will reveal your true personality. Trish is ambivalent, the computer senses she is something of a rebel - in other words Divergent. If you don’t chose a faction you become factionless and are forced to drive a bus or clean toilets. (Which tells us a great deal about Veronica Roth’s opinion about bus drivers and toilet cleaners who no doubt clean her house and shun her gaze in awe when she passes by).
Tris joins Dauntless faction - discovers courage and an aptitude to excel in fighting and cunning and makes enemies on the way such as Peter who will literally take the eye out of anyone who gets in his way. He calls Tris a ‘stiff’ and mocks her, but this only makes her more determined.
She also catches the eye of her supervisor, Four, (you change your name when you enter a new faction) who seems attracted to her (despite her long nose), but also treats her more harshly than the others. The main leader of the Dauntless is Eric who seems to be taking the faction down an ever more violent and destructive path. It was once all about bravery and being fearless now it seems reckless and deceit is the key to success.
This is a rather odd world - little explanation is given as to how it came about or why, but of course that isn’t the issue. It’s about Trish discovering her inner strength and then belatedly realising that factions are ridiculous and wrong and someone is trying to disrupt the equilibrium, cause tensions and wreck the peace that exists between all the factions.
Somehow this title has gained the Publishers Weekly and Amazon.com Best Book of 2011. I find this disappointing as there are many other titles better written and much more deserving this year. (Starting with Blood Red Road for example).
Nevertheless stick with Trish through basics and you will be rewarded with a gripping absorbing read. It rather falls apart at the end with automatons and mindless killing. It’s one thing to create a dystopian world but another to believe in it. Tris stands out as very real in an unreal world.
© Sam North Dec 1st 2011
Author of Mean Tide