Whew!  I’m exhausted. I just spent the last week in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago. It was brutal. Divergent is the story of Beatrice Prior, a sixteen year old girl who has grown up in a society divided into five factions – each dedicated to a particular virtue.  Beatrice as been raised Abnegation, a faction dedicated to selflessness, but now she is of age to choose her own faction.  Unfortunately for Beatrice, the aptitude test designed to help young people choose, has come back inconclusive.  She is not fully suited for Abnegation, nor any other faction.  She is Divergent.  Beatrice doesn’t know what this means. She only knows (thanks to a warning from Tory, a kindly, albeit cryptic, test administrator) that being Divergent is very dangerous.  After covering up Beatrice’s test results, Tory admonishes her not to tell anyone she is Divergent.

This makes choosing a faction very difficult for Beatrice, who has never really felt she belongs among the selfless Abnegation.  On choosing day, Beatrice surprises herself  and her parents by choosing Dauntless, the faction devoted to bravery.

Most of the book is devoted to Beatrice’s (who renames herself Tris once she joins her new faction) training to become Dauntless.  Initiates who fail training must live Factionless – a fate worse than death in a society that places “faction before blood.”  Initiates must undergo weapons training, hand-to-hand combat training, and worst of all, fear simulation exercises in which trainees are injected with a serum that cause hallucinations of their worst fears.  While all this is going on, poor Tris must deal with injuries, homesickness, sadistic roommates, and a growing suspicion that Dauntless leaders might be hiding something.  It is Tris’s handsome trainer, Four, who first suspects what Tris is hiding.  Lucky for her, he is a good guy, and he has a thing for her. Like her test administrator, he helps her hide the fact that she is Divergent.

Eventually things escalate, and Tris and Four discover the truth about Dauntless.  Together they foil Dauntless’s plan, but not without a bloody battle.  And not for good.  I guess I’ll have to read the sequel, Insurgent to find out what happens next.

While violence and sexual tension might make some parents squeamish about this novel, Divergent has the potential to open some very fruitful discussions about bravery and sacrifice – something many of today’s teens know little about.

LANGUAGE

There might have been a few four letter words, but not enough to make the language a disturbing factor for me.

VIOLENCE

Oh my, yes.  In this novel we are treated to descriptions of brutal beatings, near drownings, a guy getting stabbed in the eye with a butter knife.  I’m not a complete weenie when it comes to violence, but this book was just exhausting.  It was like one long action movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t put it down, but I’m not sure it’s the right book for my sensitive eleven year old.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Since this is a teen novel, it’s no surprise that a romance blossoms between Tris and Four.  They only kiss, but there is a sensuousness to their relationship that might not be appropriate for younger readers.  This book is by no means steamy, but she definitely likes him for more than his eyes.  Also, in one of her fear simulations, the fear Tris must face is sex with Four.  She fears intimacy.  She faces it by saying no, and after the simulation, he assures her that he does not have experience in that department either and that she is under no pressure. Of course, I would have preferred he said he does’t believe in sex outside of marriage, but I guess that’s just too much to hope for in a modern romance – even one for teens.  I just hope Tris and Four don’t  take it to the next level in the sequel.  I definitely felt like the author left that door open.

SUPERNATRUAL ELEMENTS

There are no supernatural elements in Divergent.  However, in one of her near-drowning scenes, Tris recalls the waters of her baptism.  I thought that was nice.  Also in the acknowledgments, Roth’s first thank you is to God and His Son for her blessings. This bodes well for a chaste sequel!

WHAT TO DISCUSS

Divergent is a dystopian novel.  What other dystopian novels are popular for kids today?  (The Hunger Games, Among the Hidden, The Ugglies, Matched…)

Was the violence too much, or did it add to the story by helping readers imagine what life was like for Tris and the other Dauntless?

To join Dauntless, Tris must, for all intents and purposes, leave her parents forever.  What does this say about her?

Tris is not terribly sympathetic to some of her fellow initiates.  Is Tris a likable character?

What role dose forgiveness play in this novel?

What is the role of self-sacrifice in this novel?  Selflessness?  Selfishness?

What is bravery?

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