Divergent is the story of a young woman named Beatrice Prior – although she soon shortens her name to the more tough-sounding Tris – who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in a city that once was Chicago. The population is now divided into four houses based on different values, and as Tris makes the difficult transition from her original faction of Abnegation, which values selflessness, to Dauntless, which values courage, she is faced with the greater difficulty of being divergent – meaning she can fit into more than one faction – in a society that hates people like her.
This book has the fun aspect of sorting people into groups in a Harry Potter-ish manner. There are hundreds of quizzes online to sort yourself into factions; I’ve gotten Erudite – the smart ones- each time, although they do end up being the villains of the story. The book overall has a distinct Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games feeling. The story follows Tris’s journey from an introverted and quiet Abnegation girl to the Dauntless woman that she has always wanted to be. It is really fulfilling to see her journey and I spent the second half of the book being proud about who she had become. This is definitely not a feel-good story however: the initiation process into Dauntless is cruel and unusual with the constant threat looming of being cut and left Factionless. Tris and the friends that she makes face extreme pressure to perform, which leads to a tear-jerking moment when my favorite character, the sweet and simple Al, cracks and betrays Tris. At her refusal to forgive him, we see a new side of Tris and it gave me second thoughts about her moral integrity. I think this many be intentional as throughout the novel, there is ample evidence that Tris is not supposed to be a perfect protagonist. Another key part of the novel is Tris’s relationship with Four – named thus because he only has four fears – who is originally her instructor. Although it starts somewhat like a naughty student-teacher romance, I like how Veronica Roth weaves it into a relationship of mutual respect based partly on their shared experience of both transferring from Abnegation into Dauntless. I also enjoyed how Roth doesn’t let Tris become a damsel in distress and actually chooses to have Tris save Four once the Erudite-lead brain-controlled army begins their attack. The equality and respect within Tris and Four’s relationship is notable and refreshing to see in a YA novel.
Of course this is just part of a trilogy – here’s the details on the Divergent Trilogy listing the three books in the series plus the short stories.
Roth is not one to leave us with a happy ending, however. I was a puddle of tears when Tris lost her father and mother in rapid succession and was then betrayed by her Erudite twin brother. I guess no dystopian, bleeding heart protagonist would be complete without becoming an orphan in some tragic way. Tris, however, proves to again be an unusual and somewhat unsettling personality when she makes a decision that costs an innocent friend his life. It was at this point – which is practically one of the last pages of the book – that I honestly started to think that I didn’t like Tris as much as I thought I did. She is definitely a more selfish character than I thought, although she herself admits that in the opening of the novel. Whether you like her or not, she’s a fascinating protagonist and Veronica Roth creates a terrifying yet riveting world for her to exist in.