Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011.
Chicago in the distant future is a fractured society whose population has split into five factions according to their values. Those belonging to Abnegation are selfless; Amity members value peace and harmony; Candor is characterized by honesty and forthrightness; Dauntless honors courage; and the Erudite seek knowledge above all. Sixteen-year-old Beatrice knows she must soon take the aptitude test that will reveal the faction which best suits her, but she also knows that the final choice is one that she alone must make and live with for the rest of her life. Once the decision is made she cannot change her mind, and if she chooses to leave the placid, giving life of Abnegation she will be turning her back on her family forever. For in Beatrice’s dysfunctional world faction is stronger than family. To fail the faction is to become an outcast, part of the lowest echelon in society, the factionless. Beatrice loves her family but feels that she is never good enough, never quite measures up to the standards of Abnegation.
Beatrice is surprised to find that her aptitude test is inconclusive… that she is Divergent, having strong tendencies for several factions. She is also warned that to be Divergent is extremely dangerous and no one must discover her true nature, but no one will explain why. In the choosing, Beatrice selects Dauntless and thus begins a new life as Tris… a life of courage, risk and excitement. She is an easy target for bullies among the trainees, but she quickly adapts to her surroundings and excels despite her small frame and Abnegation upbringing. Additionally, Tris is strongly attracted to Four, the mysterious young Dauntless instructor assigned to train the young transfers in weaponry, combat and tactics. But corrupt Dauntless leaders have warped the faction code of honor, and bullying, cruelty and violence is tolerated, even encouraged. Tris’s Divergent abilities enable her to overcome the mind-control simulations the Erudite developed for the Dauntless training and discover a sinister plot that could claim countless innocent lives, including those of Tris’s family.
I confess that I am tired of dystopian fiction, just as last year I wearied of zombie novels. Two years ago I grew sick to death of vampire books. I long for more originality of concept. That said, this was one of the better dystopian novels I have seen since Suzanne Collins’ wildly successful trilogy. Readers will likely wonder, as I did, how Tris’s Chicago became so fractured and what the world is like outside the guarded fences that are locked from the outside. Roth’s first novel is a compelling read that moves quickly through a puzzling, frightening future, and leaves enough unanswered questions to propel readers to the sequel, Insurgent.