Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I picked these young adult novels out because of a teen recommendation, and I have to say, I really think they are going to be the next big thing. At first, I was a little put off that they are kind of billed as the next Hunger Games, and indeed there did seem to be a lot of similarities - at first. Then as I got into the first book in the planned trilogy, Divergent, it became evident that this was a very different and unique idea being plotted here: That society could be divided into groups according to our main personality characteristics within that society.  How will society react when we slip the mold or try to become our true, authentic selves?

So the scene is some kind of post-war Chicago. The author does not say what type of war it was or really when it was, but the windy city is partially rubble, partly rebuilt, and partly just livable how it is. So, it is a dystopian novel like The Hunger Games and The Giver. But inside this society, there are five factions. When kids are 16 they decide which faction they belong to according to their own personality traits. They can choose the one they grew up in until they were 16, or they can "jump" factions to belong to one that is more truly their own personality or strength.

The story in both books centers around Beatrice, or Tris, who, on faction choosing day, decides she will leave her parents' faction, Abnegation, for the more dangerous and somewhat glamorous Dauntless faction because her "entrance test" is inconclusive, which is highly irregular. She must then go to train to be brave by facing all of her fears using fictional technology where the kids are injected with something that creates a delusion or scene in which they, in their mind, must face their worst nightmares. What becomes evident in Tris, however, is that she is somehow different from the other kids in Dauntless.Because she has strengths in more than one area, she is considered Divergent, and therefore dangerous to the society because she will not necessarily comply to the rules of any one faction. Although the intricacies of the plot are quite complicated and the metaphors for life and society that are flung around are extremely thought-provoking, there is also the simplicity of friendship and young love. Along the way, Tris makes some very loyal friends, and one in particular who will test her own ideas of love, bravery, selflessness, and self.

I got into a heated discussion one day about The Hunger Games and its appropriateness for children. While I won't go into that discussion here, I just wanted to say a word to those who say those books and the movie are just "about kids killing kids." What I want to ask is this: do we or do we not send boys and girls to war at the age of 18? Do we believe that those kids of 18 see horrible things and may have to kill someone? Of course we do. Is it a "bad" thing to do, therefore, to write a book about kids at war with terrible forces? I don't know where everyone lives, but I live here, and that sounds like real life to me.

But books like The Hunger Games or Divergent can be read in many ways. These two were complete page turners. I read them both in a couple days because they had action, love, struggle, and wonderful characterization. The language is simple, yet the ideas are complex. You can read a book like Divergent for fun, because it is indeed, fun to read. It plays like a movie in your head as the words go by. But most adults would also read it as a piece of literature. We read literature to learn: we should learn about ourselves and our world. If you look at all movies and books at literal, face value and determine that they are merely "good" or "bad" or "violent" or "immoral" you are missing the entire point of reading a book or watching a film. We need to be able to look at literature as it interests us as an individual or it doesn't. Just because I hate a book and can't get through it, doesn't mean that I believe it's not worth reading! All books are really worth reading if you can have fun reading them and learn a little about yourself or your world along the way.

So, try these two page-turners from this hot new YA author, Veronica Roth. Which faction will you be?