Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
The world of Divergent is a very fragmentedly ordered world. There are five official factions that govern the life of everyone based upon their personality. There are the selfless Abnegation who are the governors, the intelligent Erudite who develop the technology, the truthful Candor who are the investigators, the fearless Dauntless who are the protectors, and the friendly Amity who are the farmers. When children turn sixteen, they’re given a test and then told they can make their own path and choose their own faction.
Beatrice Prior knows that she doesn’t belong with the faction of her family, Abnegation; when it comes time to choose, she becomes Dauntless, the fearless faction that guards the fence, and she has to survive the training in order to avoid becoming a member of the Factionless, the homeless and the destitute who have no community in the eyes of the city. During the testing that leads up to her decision, and during the Dauntless training, Beatrice (who becomes “Tris” for the Dauntless) discovers that she is one of the Divergent, people who seem to be mentally flexible enough to be part of multiple factions. This is important because there are people who are interested in killing any Divergent that they find.
There’s another conflict brewing in Divergent, one that sees the Erudite using their technological might to gain control over the Dauntless and turn them into a fighting force in their civil war against Abnegation. The Divergent can’t be controlled by the technology, so they’re a threat to the Erudite forces and the book ends with the beginning of the civil war that the Erudite start.
Divergent is a pretty entertaining read, in that the action happens quickly so there really isn’t a chance that your tween will get bored reading it. If they’re a big fan of dystopian fiction, they could do far worse than this book. Even if the plot is pretty straightforward, Tris is a great character to root for and as a reader you want her to do well despite the fact that she’s not the biggest, the strongest, or the fastest.
The world of Divergent seems a bit off, as if there is a possible dystopian future based upon organizing people around one defining trait. It seems a little forced at first; but once you get into the book, you accept that this is how they felt like doing it and the story does a good enough job of making you care about the characters that your disbelief can be suspended enough to enjoy the book.
The one problem that comes up in the book is a more subtle one—when you get to the end there’s a big religious shout out which may make you, as a grown up reader, look back over the book and see that there’s probably a lot of intention behind the choices made throughout the story. If you’re a particularly religious family then you’ll probably be comfortable with it. If you aren’t, it’s something you’ll want to be aware of—though its imagery isn’t as blatant as, say, The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Check below for more details on that, but if this is something that’s important to you, you’re going to want to talk to your children about it.
The ending of the book gives you a sense that it’s the first book in a series since they’re leaving on one of the trains that never stop running around the town with a “There’s more work to do.” And in fact the book is promoted as part of a trilogy even though as of this writing only the first two books are available.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Sex and Relationships
There’s a relationship between Tris and Four, her instructor. Now thankfully he’s only a few years older than she is, so there’s not an age thing that could be a warning sign, but there is that power dynamic between a teacher and a student. Any type of physicality between them stays very much in the PG-13 (AA for you Canadians out there) range so there’s a lot of touching, a bit of kissing, and not much else.
Family and Relationship
The family that Tris has is a good one, but there’s a lot of talk in the book of Faction before Blood, which privileges friends and immediate relationships over family. If this is a problem for you, this book isn’t going to go down well. This motto is repeated again and again over the course of the book.
This book fits kinda nicely into that “steal past the watchful dragons” theory that C.S. Lewis wrote about. There aren’t any overtly “Yay Christianity” sections in the book, per say, but you’ve got a war started by the intellectual Erudite using scary unknown technology. Their first target is the selfless monk-like Abnegation who are the only ones fit to rule because they eschew any sort of idea of the self in favor of the community.
There is a faction of Western Christianity, some might argue several, that hold this as one of their personal tenants. The Erudite are very much the enemy, and their cold calculation is what threatens everyone—this book plays right into that wheelhouse.
Violence and Death
There are quite a few moments where people die, and there are a few more moments of violence. There’s a scene where the kid who is leading the pack gets a butter knife stabbed in his eye. Another one where they try to toss Tris over the side of the cliff onto the floor below. There’s the violence when the controlled Dauntless start massacring the people in the Abnegation section of town. This leads to a lot of people being killed, including a moment where Tris has to kill a friend who is under control of the simulation.
This guilt is something that stays with her for most of the rest of the series so it’s a very important moment for the character, as that death gets relived again and again.
There are deaths that just happen—Dauntless do dangerous things, so at some points there are people who die or get hurt just because they’re being reckless. There’s a suicide at one point because Art can’t live with himself after being part of the group that tried to kill Tris.
In short, death happens in the book and it’s rarely pleasant.
Divergent is an entertaining read for tweens who are looking for more in the same genre as The Hunger Games and Uglies. There’s enough action to keep plot-oriented readers interested, and a set of characters that you feel you can care about. This is really a book for your older tweens (maybe 11 and up) because the action and the violence could get to be a little much for the younger ones if they aren’t much into that kind of thing.
Chances are that your tween will finish this quickly and be ready to devour the next book in the series, Insurgent.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Published in 2011 by Harper Collins
First book in a trilogy
Read hard copy