Fans of the Young Adult Dystopia genre (YAD for short) should at this point be at least vaguely familiar with Divergent, the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth that tracks Beatrice (Tris) and various other residents of a post-apocalyptic Chicago whose society is divided into five factions, each founded on respect for a particular virtue (Candor/honesty, Abnegation/selflessness, Dauntless/bravery, Amity/peace and Erudite/intelligence.) Divergent, which comes out in movie form on March 21, was released in 2011, while Book #2 (Insurgent) came out in May 2012 and the final book in the series (minus all the BS “extras” Roth will publish over the coming years to reap untold profits from obsessive tweens) was released in October.
It’s always hard to review the second or third book in a series without inevitably giving away some of the haps in the preceding titles. But given the impending theatrical release of Divergent (which I reviewed about a year ago) I would be remiss to not weigh in on the Divergent series in its entirety, which feels* so plainly desperate to capitalize on the popularity of Hunger Games that one almost expects Katniss herself to wander into a scene by accident. (*In the interest of full disclosure, Roth did write Divergent before HG was a thing, and HG itself has been criticized for its similarity to other novels.)
By the time we catch up with Tris and Four (Tris’s instructor turned love interest) in Allegiant, the entire premise of the factions has been called into question, and the residents of Chicago 2.0 have been made aware of a world outside their city. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that controversy emerges over the genetic difference between those naturally predisposed to single factions, and those that are “divergent” (like Tris and Four) whose willful and complex personalities cannot be limited to one group. (It’s worth noting that divergence can also mean immunity or resistance to population-control tactics like serums and fear simulations.) There are myriad political machinations and high jinks in Allegiant — and a hell of an ending — but the meat of the book raises issues of genetic predestination, just as Divergent shed light on the efficacy of valuing certain personality traits over others, or valuing them to an extreme degree.
Roth is partial to these kinds of big ethical questions, and the Divergent trilogy raises them more frequently and forcefully than The Hunger Games, whose main source of injustice remains the same throughout. As a result, Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant have the capacity to be headier material than THG: the books hit on touchy subjects like eugenics and civil war, and rarely do a character’s choices or actions not raise some broader question about What Is Right. But Roth sometimes finds herself in the weeds; in Allegiant in particular I had a hard time keeping up with the frequently shifting alliances, and remembering who was betrayed by whom in the previous two books.
If you’re a fan of YAD books, there’s absolutely zero reason not to pick up the Divergent trilogy post-haste. It’s got all the essentials: post-apocalyptic city life, romances forged in battle, political thought experiments, etc. And it’s going to be a movie, so there’s that. But Divergent also reminds me, by contrast, of the simpler impact of the dystopian greats: 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451. Sometimes less is more.
AUTHOR: Veronica Roth
ALSO WROTE: Divergent, Insurgent
SORTA LIKE: The Hunger Games meets Brave New World
FIRST LINE: “I pace in our cell in Erudite headquarters, her words echoing in my mind: My name will be Edith Prior, and there is much I am happy to forget.”