Thursday, May 24, 2012

Veronica Roth Discovers The Divergent

A little more than a year ago, author Veronica Roth introduced a seemingly unassuming 16-year-old girl named Beatrice Prior in Divergent, the book in a trilogy set in the isolated, crumbling, and dystopian city of Chicago. No one ever really talks about how things used to be. They are too busy doing what needs to be done in the present.

The society they have built is rigid. In the hope of averting future wars, the city shrugged off stereotypes associated with politics, religion, and ethnicity in favor of factions that cater to five virtues: candor (honesty), abnegation (selflessness), dauntless (bravery), amity (peacefulness), and the erudite (intelligence). Not everyone is especially suited for one of these five. Those who don't fit become factionless, subjugated to a life of menial labor and poverty.

For Beatrice, while the fear of being factionless is ever present, she has never truly known their struggle. Instead, she faces a struggle of a different kind. At 16, like the children of every faction, and along with her brother of the same age, she must choose which she will dedicate the rest of her life to. But even after making a choice, there is no guarantee of acceptance.

Divergent tackles identity and stereotypes in beautiful and frightening ways.

Although born into abnegation and seemingly suited to the pursuit of selflessness, Beatrice begins to doubt her affinity for the faction that eschews the self and shuns anything that might draw attention to it (mirrors, jewelry, etc.). Since leaving a faction isn't an easy choice, Beatrice hopes a chemically induced simulation test will help her decide.

For most, the choices they make during the test provide a definitive direction. But Beatrice isn't one of them. Her test reveals a taboo result. She is divergent, which means she shows an aptitude for not one but three of the five factions. It also means if her test results are discovered, it could mean death.

There are consequences regardless of her choice. Candor requires a blunt openness and objectivity to expedite judiciousness. Amity is carefree and lighthearted, tending to the agricultural needs of the city. Erudite (pronounced air-u-dyte) strives for knowledge, providing scientists and teachers. Dauntless is fearless, trained to protect the city in time of need. And abnegation leads the government, given their propensity to think of others first.

In the first book of the trilogy, Roth mostly pulls back the veil on three of the factions, abnegation, erudite, dauntless. Abnegation and dauntless provide the most startling contrasts among the three.

A brief insight into a society built upon factions.

Whereas one faction wears shapeless clothing and keeps their hair functionally short, the other adorns themselves in black with attention-grabbing cuts, piercings, and tattoos. Whereas one faction is quiet and meditative, the other is boisterous and prideful. And whereas one faction is welcoming with outstretched arms, the other is cruel in its expectation that candidates sink or swim, live or die.

In Dauntless, perhaps worst than death to some, only a few candidates will be accepted from the complete roster (something faction transfers are not aware of until they have already made their choice). Those who do not edge out their fellow initiates will be tossed out, much like the faction's elderly, injured, or otherwise compromised. There is no use for toothless lions inside their compound.

For any faction transfers, the odds aren't stacked in their favor. Dauntless children are taught to be brave, fight, and shoot all their lives. Faction transfers, on the other hand, may have never even seen a gun let alone fired one with any accuracy. Likewise, most are surprised to learn that at least part of the process to earn their position within dauntless requires sparring sessions that last until one of the two competitors can no longer complete.

With abnegation, any threat of acceptance doesn't come from the outside. The challenge is much more internal as initiates attempt to lose themselves in a selfless existence. Among the factions, their lives seem to be the steadiest — structured and organized as they attend to government assignments or, in some cases, dedicate their lives to caring for the less fortunate and factionless.

Veronica Roth is a breakthrough author with a memorable debut. 

Chicago-born Roth has barely had enough time to do anything since college or her wedding to fill her biography. Her first book, Divergent, was accepted and published by Katherine Tegen Books when Roth was 23. Roth had just finished studying creative writing at Northwestern University.

Based on the recent success of a different trilogy, it seems like only a matter of time before this one becomes a movie. Summit Entertainment has purchased the rights. Red Wagon, a production company, has signed on to the film. Evan Daughtery (Snow White and the Huntsman; Killing Season) has already written the screenplay.

The second book, Insurgent, is out on the market (and already slated for review here soon). The third book is not expected until fall 2013. Although geared for young readers and occasionally romancing the teens in the story, the trilogy is a striking debut with some reservations.

Divergent By Veronica Roth Burns Bright At 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Roth has built a dynamic but isolated world, the most interesting aspect of the book is her treatment of sociology (and the psychology of how people react to it). By stripping away current prejudices and replacing them with new ones, the story is as compelling internally as it is externally.

This also raises questions about whether it really earns a dystopian categorization. Mostly, the characters are interested in saving their way of life from someone with a dystopian vision. Along with that, people ought to know the read is lighter than works that line up with literature (the writing carries the point of view of an immature teen sheltered by abnegation) and ends in the right spot but feels abrupt.

This leaves many questions unanswered in the first book, which Roth picks up in the second. That said, Divergent has a hard time standing on its own. In total, it's easy to tell this is one big story, split into three books.

Divergent (Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth is available on Amazon and the book can be ordered from Barnes & Noble. You can also download the book for iBooks. iTunes carries the audio version, which is read by Emma Galvin. Galvin is an excellent choice as a narrator, delivering just the right balance for a character who is brazenly daring at times and naively doubting at others.
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