In her post-apocalyptic Chicago world, Veronica Roth tells the story of a society divided into five predetermined factions. They are Abnegation (The Selfless), Amity (The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest), Erudite (The Intelligent), and Dauntless (The Brave). Upon a person’s sixteenth birthday they must take an assessment to help them determine their aptitude for survival as a member of one of the factions, but that assessment does not have to determine a person’s choice. When Beatrice’s assessment goes awry she is thrown into the decision of either remaining with her Abnegation family or choosing her own more adventurous path. While the assessment usually reveals a strong inclination toward only one faction, Beatrice’s is split among three, which labels her as dangerously Divergent. On choosing Day Beatrice makes the terrifying decision to leave the comforts of home and join the Dauntless, a faction that has always fascinated her. Changing her name to Tris and leaving home are just the beginning of a grueling initiation period that has her in direct hand-to-hand combat, firing weapons, and learning to face her most pervasive fears. Tris turns out to be every bit as brave as the Dauntless would hope, but still maintains her selfless upbringing. When political strife and social upheaval threaten life as she knows it, Tris is forced to be both brave and selfless in finding a way to stop the massacre.
In this book the world building is perhaps the most important element. In creating this post-apocalyptic world the author needed to draw a fine line between a world that the reader knows and understands today and what that world would look like in such a dire situation as depicted in the book. For the setting itself, Roth does an excellent job of using very well known landmarks of today’s Chicago to anchor the landscape in reality while at the same time deconstructing the city in a futuristic time. The scene where Tris and a few other Dauntless initiates go zip-lining from the Sears tower is the perfect example. The realistic knowledge that the tower once stood at 100 resplendent stories in the center of the city is juxtaposed with the future that has the building still standing, yet a mere skeleton of it’s former frame. The initiates understand enough to know that it was once a great place but now see it as a past they no longer understand. Roth uses the same juxtaposition in describing society and government in the book. Our current democratic system of government is mentioned as something that existed in the past, but only enough to understand what has pushed the people to their current system of five factions. It is necessary for the reader to understand our present day system in order to get the full effect of the five faction system in place in the book. In anchoring the themes of the book in the societal dilemmas we face today, the author is able to comment on people and society as a whole through the action of the novel.
I absolutely loved this book. (So much that I ran out to the bookstore to purchase the second book in the series). From the very first scene I was intrigued by the five faction society and the system of government that they hold in place. It is an eerie look into what happens when we place too much power in the hands of one group at the expense of others and how even the most well-intentioned acts of altruism can be interpreted as self-serving and ill-intentioned. I found Tris to be the perfect lead character in that she is very complex. Not only is she brave and unflinchingly curious about the world around her, but she is scared and in awe of what society has become. She balances these two sides of herself in order to make better sense of what is happening in her world. I also really enjoyed the love story that develops between Tris and Four. Unlike some other recent dystopian novels, their relationship seemed to grow organically and did not seem forced or cliche. Much like their characters, the attraction between Tris and Four is complex and original. There is plenty of action in the book and the plot moves forward swiftly. Each chapter ends in a way that left me turning pages long into the night to find out what happens next. I think this book would appeal to a wide audience, men and women, young adult and adult. There are enough deep and thought-provoking elements about society, government, and human nature to warrant a lively discussion in both the classroom and among families.