Thursday, December 13, 2012

Divergent and Insurgent—Veronica Roth



He is not sweet or gentle or particularly kind. But he is smart and brave, and even though he saved me, he treated me like I was strong. (Divergent, 288)

People, I have discovered, are layers and layers of secrets. You believe you know them, that you understand them, but their motives are always hidden from you, buried in their own hearts. You will never know them, but sometimes you decide to trust them. (Insurgent, 510)

After having been on the receiving end of what I would consider some wonderful reading suggestions (The Hunger Games, The Song of Ice and Fire series), I wanted to be the one – the first one – to find something awesome and tell everyone I know about it. I decided to stick with the Young Adult genre, with the assumption that this is a genre that most of my friends are generally not gravitating toward.

Like The Hunger Games, this series is set in a dystopian future, and has a strong female character as a lead. Unlike The Hunger Games, and many other YA series, there is not a love triangle. Which is not to say that there is no “love interest” drama happening. There absolutely is. But there’s no “Peeta vs. Gale“ or “Edward vs. Jacob.” Nobody has to take sides in that regard.

While I don’t feel that this series is on the same level as The Hunger Games, I do feel that it’s worth reading.

At an undisclosed time in the future, society has been separated into five factions: Erudite, Abnegation, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless. Funnily enough, the members of each faction personify that particular “trait” – all of which are clearly related to words that are part of our current everyday vocabulary. (Abnegation may be less familiar for some folks – from dictionary.com: the act of relinquishing or giving up a right.) Not only are the factions separated by these particular traits, they are also separated geologically. They also all have distinct rituals, practices, and religions.

In Divergent, we meet Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who has grown up in the Abnegation factor with her mother, father, and older brother Caleb. Being not quite a year apart, Tris and Caleb go for their aptitude tests (their faction placement tests) during the same year. When finished with her test, Tris’s test proctor seems concerned about her results. Tris is told, in whispers, that she is Divergent. Unlike the great percentage of people – almost everyone – she is not destined for just one faction; Tris would fit in with, and has aptitude for, any of three factions. Which means that on her sorting day, when the youth announce their new faction to their old one in a public ceremony, she has a difficult decision to make: stay in Abnegation with her parents, even though she has never felt completely at home with the selfless, demure lifestyle OR leave her parents behind and join another faction that allows her more freedom.

During the choosing ceremony, since they go in revere alphabetical order, her brother is called first. Tris is shocked when her brother chooses Erudite as his new faction. This makes her decision even tougher. Even though she may have felt inclined to transfer to a new faction, now she feels like perhaps she should stay with her parents. But she doesn’t. She chooses Dauntless.

Although the young ones have now selected their new faction, or stayed with their old one, that doesn’t mean that they are automatically accepted into the fold. Every faction has a period of initiation. The initiation period for the Dauntless recruits is especially vigorous, as they are the daredevil, what some would call reckless, faction. There are those who die on the way to the Dauntless location. There are those who fail early on, and become “factionless,” a shameful, homeless, disconnected section of the population.

At the Dauntless complex, Tris meets Four, Eric, Al, Will, Christina, Uriah, Marlene, and many others. She feels much more at home with this group of “reckless” teens, and tries to fit in – against all her Abnegation instincts – by getting tattoos and adapting her clothing. She is taught how to fight, how to shoot a gun, all of the good stuff. Four, a Dauntless member is a few years older than Tris and is assisting with her training. During one of her simulations, Four discovers that Tris is Divergent; while in the simulation, she is aware that she is in a simulation, which is a sign of being Divergent. He only knows this because he is also Divergent.

The story continues, and of course there is some love business happening with Tris and Four (who it turns out, Tris actually knew before she came to the Dauntless party). And there is inevitable drama when the Dauntless recruits learn that only ten of them will be allowed to stay – only ten of all of the recruits, which includes those who have grown up as Dauntless, and those originally from other factions. All the typical teen/dystopian future drama that you would expect. Then, one day, the world as they know it falls apart. What results is the final quarter of Divergent, and essentially all of Insurgent, as Tris and those working with her attempt to find a way to put the world back together again.

These books were quick reads, as I finished each of them in less than the time of a plane ride from San Francisco to Miami. It was refreshing to not have to see a love triangle emerge, although I suppose there is still a third book, so there’s still time. I appreciate with this book, as with some other prominent YA fiction (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games) the unapologetic way that Roth kills her characters off. I felt the same way about Rowling and about Collins: that’s the way the world works in actuality – when people die, they stay dead. I felt like so many other young adult novelists were unwilling to let their readers experience that sense of heartbreak, but I think it’s very important not only for the development of the still-living characters in the novel, but also for readers’ perceptions of reality. Novels already do a great job of skewing that. I actually liked the use of obvious, explanatory names for the factions. It made it easy for me right away to understand the restrictions of this new world. I related easily to Tris, in her desire for strength, her desire to do the right thing, but the struggle to know what that might be. I do feel that, if there are girls/women out there who do not relate to Tris, there isn’t a great deal of character development of other women in the series to allow you another character to connect with. This is understandable, however, as the series is told in the first person, from Tris’s point of view.

The end of Insurgent gives you a tiny taste of what started the factioned society. It makes me excited to see where we go from here, and leaves me with expectations of maybe seeing more of where we’ve come from. I definitely recommend this book a fast-paced, moderately engaging read.

These two books are part of what is meant to be a trilogy, with the final book being released sometime in fall 2013. Apparently Summit Entertainment bought the rights to the first book in October of this year, and have already cast Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) as Tris. That should be interesting, if it ever ends up actually happening.