Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Date Published: 2011
Ranking: 2 stars out of 5
Blurb (taken from Goodreads): In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Why I read it: I read this book because I’ve heard a lot of students raving about it, and wanted to be able to discuss it with them/ incorporate it into lessons to raise participation levels in the classroom. Apparently I forget my tendency to dislike books pushed upon people at school (unless, of course, I am doing the pushing. Then I am just fine with it!)
My thoughts:I was decidedly underwhelmed by this one. It had plenty of good ideas, but far too much inconsistency and silliness for me to properly enjoy it.
The book is set in an isolated city (apparently Chicago) where society is divided into 5 cult-like factions. Military members of the Dauntless guard the outskirts; the only people allowed out are the Amity, who farm the surrounding environs. In any case, people seem remarkably incurious about the wider world. What’s important is your place in society, determined by your faction – so naturally this critical decision is decided on your 16th birthday, and once made can never be changed. Riiiight.
I quite liked the idea of the different factions, although they frequently verged into the unbelievable. Each is described as having their own traditions, style of dress, and possible career paths. For example, the Abnegation never celebrate birthdays, the Candor dress only in black and white (because ‘that’s how they see the world’) and the Erudite provide the scholars & scientists of society. However, this is taken to ridiculous extremes – especially with the Dauntless, whose defining characteristics include dressing entirely in black, having a love affair with piercings and tattoos, and jumping off buildings wherever possible. Roth occasionally lampshades the Dauntless’ confusing style – they’re meant to be military, so why, exactly, are they covered in impractical piercings? And are you seriously telling me that one fifth of society are wandering around looking like punks? – but for the most part she treats it as standard. Also, it frequently seems like the entire Dauntless unit is run by teenagers. There are brief mentions of adults, but they rarely feature in the novel. Maybe they killed off all the elderly because their tattoos were sagging.
Tris was the main character of this novel. A teenager on the cusp of choosing her future, she’s daring and reckless (and apparently intelligent & selfless, although I never saw much evidence of that. In fact, her actions in this book are frequently baffling). I really liked her friendship with fellow-initiate Christina; beyond that, there’s not that much I want to say about her. Most of the book follows Tris’ struggle to be accepted by her faction, and I enjoyed those parts. Again, there are elements of silliness (I’m sorry, but you don’t become a master marksman in a week) but on the whole, it’s pretty fun.
One last thing I want to talk about is the entire concept of the novel – that a rare few individuals come up divergent, meaning they are equally suited for multiple factions, rather than just one – and the idea that this is somehow a dangerous and subversive act. The testing process is carried out with simulations that are supposed to let teenagers know what faction suits them best. However, choosing a faction is ultimately up to the individual. People can remain in their home faction, or not; making decisions contrary to their (secret) test results is perfectly acceptable. So I don’t see why being divergent is such a problem. Yes, it seems to give you some control over simulations (for reasons that make no sense, but whatever). But simulations are rarely, if ever, used in everyday society. So that shouldn’t matter either.
There are a couple of other things that bugged me about this novel, but I don’t want to complain too much. Yes, it had serious flaws… but I still managed to finish it, so clearly it wasn’t all bad. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but rabid fans of YA dystopias though.