I’m embarrassed to say that this is one of very few series where I have actually seen the movies before reading the series – partly because when I went to see it at the cinema in 2014 with my sister I didn’t realise it was also a novel, partly because the three movies that are out so far are all on Netflix, and partly because buying it always seemed not quite worth it. I have, however, rediscovered those amazing things called libraries, and am glad that I can now work my way through this series – although I have to wait for the second and third ones to arrive!
In a world where conflict and human failures have been managed by splitting mankind into factions, which rarely communicate with each other, Tris takes a test that decides where she belongs, only to discover that she is equally split between three factions – a supposedly rare occurrence called ‘Divergence’. When she chooses a faction that isolates her from her family and everything she knows, will Tris survive the intense training and probation period? And why is there so much hatred for her old faction? Life as a Divergent is secretive and challenging – and life in her chosen faction, Dauntless, offers everyday bodily risk and harm.
It is nice to read a teen fiction with a romance that is actually quite realistic. Bearing in mind that Tris and Four are 16 and 18 respectively, the passionate physical love affair that is often portrayed in teen fiction is not appropriate and in fact, when it is written (in other novels), it is dangerous to set those expectations for young teens. Tris and Four have a professional relationship at first, with Four training Tris, which does make their relationship a little taboo as he does hold a position of authority over Tris. However, their feelings and their expression of them are realistic. But Roth takes this further by presenting Tris’ fear of both emotional and physical intimacy as so severe that it comes up in her final test. Four not only accepts this, but respects it, and their relationship develops organically. Too often, these types of romances are rushed because of the situation the young people are in, but Roth protects their tentative romance. This is truly a healthy relationship for teenagers to read, that puts no pressure on them to further their own relationships.
Unfortunately, due to the proximity of Divergent and The Hunger Games being released, it seems almost impossible to write about one without comparing it to the other. Now, I love The Hunger Games, but I have a real hatred for Katniss. Her supposed strength is really only portrayed when she volunteers as tribute, and throughout the rest of the novels she is mostly a victim of circumstance, constantly fighting becoming stronger. She is very whiny and easily manipulate, and I don’t think her character sets the best example. I much prefer Tris. From the outset, Tris makes her own decisions. In Dauntless, male is matched equally against female. Tris fights for her right to remain in her faction, and her motivation is internal determination. Rather than being caught up in events, Tris dictates them, making changes to herself, those around her, and eventually leading the small band of rebels that stops the brainwashing of Dauntless and the eradication of abnegation. Tris is truly a hero for our time – not limited by her gender, her age or her upbringing.
The story itself is fascinating, and it wasn’t any less so for having seen the movies first. I was surprised at how accurately the movies stuck to the books, as often they lose a lot, but despite some clear alterations in events, everything that happens in the book seems to happen in the movies. The creation of the world is interesting. It cannot be defined as dystopian as there is much development and peace, and until Erudite try to take control, peace has been maintained for years. Perhaps the best word is post-apocalyptic – technology has advanced, but a lot of what we take for granted now is no longer present in every day life. Roth creates a vivid world, filled with relevance. It is hard to comment without focussing on what I know already about the sequels here, but it is interesting to see that in what should be a utopia – where human weakness has been weeded out and everyone lives in harmony – there is discord and unfairness. Roth pains a disturbing picture of human kind, where greed comes to the forefront of a reasonable world.
I enjoy the idea of divergent thinking. Relating it to my teacher’s training, this is an interesting concept in which pupils who think more abstractly have better problem solving skills, higher intelligence and more prospects. Tris’ world is trapped into thinking that the factions cannot combine to create a greater way of life. Tris is a one person representation of what can happen when the different worlds collide. Perhaps we can take that into our own lives – and instead of being threatened by those who think differently to us, we embrace it and learn from it.
Overall, Roth creates a fascinating and enjoyable landscape, with a strong teenage female lead. It is an inspiring book to read and I look forwards to completing the trilogy when the library gets them in!