Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth's novel of a dystopian society living in the vicinity of Chicago will inevitably be compared to The Hunger Games. How can it not be compared? Strong female protagonist thrown into a coming of age situation meets strong male protagonist.  Strange chemistry forms a close bond. Danger, murder and mayhem ensue , a bit of romance ignites things, teens take control of their destiny and fight the political elite, teens discover things about themselves and their society that transforms them. It's all there, plus the ending that so obviously leaves the reader with the knowledge that there's 'more to follow'.

This may sound cynical or snooty, but I don't mean it to be that way - just stating the facts cut and dried. This book is one more in the extremely popular sub genre called dystopian novels. The story moves along and the story line is set up in such a way that it makes it rife with conversation topics that can help reading groups, literature classes, or families sort out and debate big issues and emotions. The problem that I have with the book is there is no subtlety. Everything is right out there in your face, as you read. Relationships form quickly, the big questions are right there for all to see and not tease out, events unfold quickly, Tris (the young protagonist) is the voice of the plot and her telling is rushed and almost cold, despite her moments of high emotion. I'm unsure if this is a function of Roth's need to have her main character move the story along at any cost because there's so much more to tell (in later books) or if she developed the character this way to reflect the character's personality trait that makes her seem a classic Dauntless faction member.

That statement leads me to address one of the elements of Roth's story that intrigues me - her choice of factions within her dystopian society. There are distinct groups in her society that serve very specific functions in keeping this culture functioning - Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and the factionless. Each group with a capital letter serve specific needs within society. They are caretakers or defenders or providers or truth-tellers and judges or technology geeks and builders. The factionless are the people that don't fit any one group. How does one fit into any one group? That's one of the big questions the reader grapples with in this novel. That question, alone, would keep a group discussing the social theory of conformity and self-determination and free will, and the merits of non-conformity, personality development, the psychology of social development, maturity and personality change, etc. for an age ... which is why this book series is destined to be on many a middle and high school reading list for a while ... or at least until the next big thing gets published that grabs young readers' imaginations.

That last statement leads me to a question I asked myself - I wonder what got dropped from the reading lists of middle and high school literature teachers when Divergent made the list - do classes still read A Separate Peace or Bridge to Terabithia or To Kill a Mockingbird or Great Expectations ? Hmmm ... they're all still big sellers, they all deal with 'coming of age' issues, they all target big social issues, but I wonder who is reading them and how old the average reader is when picking up the book?

I will probably pick up the next books in Veronica Roth's series to see where she takes this society that she's created. I'm curious to see if she can wrap things up for the characters while satisfying my curiosity about the bigger world around this society.  Chicago is a pretty small blip on the Earth's surface ... what's happening elsewhere while our divergent personalities are breaking loose and establishing a lifestyle of their own during dangerous times in their little culture? What are the next big questions? How does a burgeoning Divergent group govern itself? Is there a back story that will come out?

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