Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Divergent Series


Divergent has been popping up on my radar for some time now. It's the first in a young adult series, by Veronica Roth, that is still ongoing, and it seems to be fairly popular. I'd seen the cover so many times, I could almost have convinced myself I'd read it, just because it's the kind of book I love and how could I have missed it? But I did miss it...until now. And I'm so glad I finally found out why this book won't go away. It shouldn't go away. It's good. It's epic. I'm not sure it would translate to a movie as well as, say, The Hunger Games (though the film rights have been sold), but it's that kind of a compelling read, written in the same first person present tense as The Hunger Games, and also dystopian, but a whole different kind of story. I really hate when books compare themselves to The Hunger Games, and as I like to say, the next Hunger Games will be something as completely different as that was from Twilight when it appeared, so I guess that rules Divergent out (being similar because of genre only). But it really shouldn't. Divergent is different and fascinating, with edgy, strong characters and strong themes that delve into emotion, or the lack thereof, and what it means to be a decent human in a world where humanity is compartmentalized. In particular, this novel explores what it means to be selfless versus brave.

Beatrice belongs to one of five factions (named for five virtues) who live in a future version of Chicago. Her faction is Abnegation (the virtue of selflessness), but that might soon change. At the age of 16, Beatrice must choose the faction she will live in the rest of her life. Most stay with the faction they've always known, especially since changing factions usually means saying good-bye to family forever. "Faction before family." However, Beatrice doesn't feel like she belongs there. The aptitude tests can help her decide what she's best suited for, but Beatrice's test results just confuse the issue. She has always admired the Dauntless (the virtue of bravery), but is she brave enough to jump off moving trains, fight mismatched opponents in hand-to-hand combat, and defy death itself? Then there's Candor (the virtue of honesty), Amity (the virtue of peacefulness), and Erudite (the virtue of intelligence). It's a world where each faction focuses it's passions on one narrow emotion and contributes to one aspect of society in order to better create a world of peace. But all perfect worlds, as time muddies memory, eventually unravel, the best intentions turning toward selfish pursuit. And when Beatrice stumbles upon a secret worth her very life, she realizes the system has already begun to break.

I love when I discover a book that proves fiction can be edgy without being trashy. This one is very clean (just some kissing on a bed, which I'd never recommend or let my kids do, but which is tame compared to most stuff). It helps that the book doesn't have to get its kicks from, or hinge on, its romance. The romance is slowly incorporated, and the focus remains equally spread among all the other plot points. There's also no love triangle. I don't necessarily mind love triangles, but they are overused as a source of conflict in young adult novels. This book has enough conflict without that.

Edgy and clean are not the only things the book has going for it. It offers a fascinating world and setting with vivid, vibrant storytelling. I will confess, I was a tad skeptical when I realized the book's dystopian setting revolves around five factions based on five virtues. They aren't even the type of virtues you'd expect a society to naturally divide itself into. I was, like, how can you make that interesting? But it works, and I think it works in part because of the characters. The story is narrated by a strong central female character, who is a good role model for readers but also a very cool heroine: an independent thinker and the very opposite of the damsel in distress. The book also explores family relationships and ethics, asking and partially answering some hefty moral questions. This is my kind of story: fully entertaining but also full of the right kind of message.

Not everyone can write a book like that. Though I've found surprising gems in the secular (as opposed to Christian) market, and though I prefer to read secular young adult fiction (partly because I think the preachiness of a novel diminishes its entertainment and value as purely good storytelling), I'm always looking for a book that balances the two perfectly: an amazingly good story with a subtle backbone, holding the story together with a piece of Truth. I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw first thing in the acknowledgments a thank you to God. It's just so rare that an author can write a book I like and not leave a clue (other than the subtle moral bent of the story) that she's a Christian. Just to clarify, this is not a book written for the Christian market. The difference is that the value shows through without the preachiness.

So, after loving the book and then, icing on the cake, discovering the author's worldview, I was very excited about her and went snooping around a bit on her website. She's young, 24, and worked on Divergent in college. She claims to be a Christian, and from what I can tell (since I've only looked at a little of her blog), she is truly. You can read a little bit about some of her beliefs here. This especially excites me because I love seeing Christian authors in the secular market. We need to be there!


Since I am a latecomer to this series, I was fortunate to have a second book waiting to be read after I finished Divergent. Book 2, Insurgent, is fascinating in a bit of a different way than the first (the newness of the concept has worn off, after all), but for me, it worked perfectly to finish one and then start the other because Insurgent literally picks up where Divergent leaves off, no time lapse or anything. I don't want to spoil the plot of Divergent, so I won't say exactly what the sequel is about. The title kind of speaks for itself. One of the interesting things about Insurgent is that we get to see more of each of the different factions and what life is like in each. In Insurgent, Beatrice (known as Tris) is dealing with the fallout of some terrible choices she had to make, so there's some internal conflict, which begins to leak into her interactions with others, particularly her boyfriend, adding to the already extensive external conflicts of a cracking world.

Insurgent tackles a few more big moral questions and also touches lightly and briefly on the subject of God. There is one scene, in particular, that just struck me with its absolute Truth but that could have easily been missed or misunderstood by those who don't share the author's beliefs in God. It contains a simple statement, almost too vague for a Christian, but I thought it was spot-on. Basically, the author, through Tris, declares that whatever happens after we die has nothing to do with us, or at least with our trying. Isn't that the fundamental difference between Christianity and any other belief system? The world believes we have to earn heaven, and Christianity says it is a gift.

I kind of saw the end of Insurgent coming, and it wasn't as big a cliffhanger as I would have liked. However, the third book of the series has a lot of potential to work with, and whether or not you guess the end of Insurgent does not make the book any less of a good one. The whole setting is different from the first, and some might like it less for that. But I think that helps keep Insurgent from being just a repeat of everything we might have loved in the first book. It stands on its own two feet.

According to Veronica Roth's website, her third book comes out in the fall, October 22nd! Too bad I raced through the first two and now have to wait! (Hint, hint to my family, it will be at the top of my birthday wish list this year.) Four stars for each of the books in this series, and bravo to one of my new fiction heroes: Veronica Roth!

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