One choice can change you. One choice can destroy you.
When I first read the tagline of the two released books of The Divergent Trilogy, by Veronica Roth, I was intrigued. It also didn't hurt that two of my favorite people in the world had told me that I needed to read this series. When the friend who got you to read The Hunger Games before it was a nationwide hit and the little sister you trade books with regularly tells you a series is good, you listen. So I did. I had sort of flirted with reading it since I'd seen the book cover, read the title, and said my famous, "when I get through these other books, I'll read this." My friends just skipped it to the top of the list.
Divergent takes place in a dystopian Chicago. After the world was torn apart by wars, the leaders of this new regime argued over the qualities of humanity that caused the wars and ended up creating five groups that valued the antithetical values of those they believed had caused their woes. There is Abnegation who believe in selflessness, Amity who believe in peace and cooperation, Candor who believe in truthfulness, Erudite who value knowledge above all things, and Dauntless, the brave. Society is split along these lines and every child is raised in whatever section they were born into - until their sixteenth birthday in which they are given an aptitude test and, based on its results, told to choose. The understanding is that being encased by people with similar values to you will breed the same attributes. But people aren't that easy to place into a box.
The novel follows Beatrice Prior, a sixteen year old, starting on the day of her aptitude test. Born into Abnegation, Beatrice has never quite felt selfless enough for that life. What's more, she admires the Dauntless from afar. They both frighten and fascinate her, with their boisterous personalities and their outlandish thrill seeking - shocking for a girl who is taught to keep herself withdrawn so as not to seem as though she is seeking attention. The other Factions don't draw her, but she hates the Erudite, believing that their thirst for knowledge secretly doubles as a thirst for power. But her aptitude test doesn't put her in any of those categories. Instead, Beatrice discovers she is Divergent - she has placed in three different factions - Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite. Her tester tells her that this is dangerous and must be kept a secret. She takes pity on her, hiding her test results and sending her off into the world to make her decision on her own.
Strengthened by her brother's own courageous choice to leave Abnegation, Beatrice chooses Dauntless and is immediately sucked into a training regimen that is designed to eliminate her fear. But as she gets to know her trainers and the other initiates, she quickly discovers she is in over her head. Renamed Tris from the start, she is quickly introduced to the somewhat rigid but helpful Four and the masochistic and frightening Eric - her trainers who have differing views on what Dauntless should be. Initiates Christina, Will and Al become her fast friends, while Peter, Drew and Molly are immediately against her. As initiation carries on, she learns that her life in this faction is on the line as the better she does, the more people turn against her. And behind the scenes, news is floating back from the other factions implying the possibilities of a revolution against Abnegation and run by the Erudite. Soon, it seems that the only person looking out for her is Four. Struggling to find her way in this new world she has gotten herself mixed up in, Tris quickly discovers that the one thing she has been told to hide could be the key to her survival.
While Divergent initially seemed like it would be a stunning retelling of The Hunger Games, by Chapter 2 that train has, overwhelmingly, pulled out of the station. Tris is a sympathetic character in that she is made guilty by her inability to be selfless enough, and any human being with a heart understands that feeling. Her bravery draws you to her and makes her point of view an easy follow. This book doesn't have the political weight of it's dystopian predecessor, but its mythology is just as rich. There is also a strong mystery element in what exactly it means to be Divergent, and that and the feeling of imminent danger upon its discovery is enough to keep you turning the pages. Roth has a sort of lilting, breathless style of storytelling - short but sharp sentences punctuate the piece and are usually the most telling and emotional lines. Each word packs a punch. But by far, Four takes this book and runs away with it. From the mystery behind his name, to his fears, to his reasons for watching out for Tris, wave after wave of mystery follows this character - and much like Tris, the reader can't quite wait to figure it out.
It's impossible not to compare Divergent to The Hunger Games - with its dystopian storyline, placement as a young adult novel, and a movie on the way in 2014, it's not hard to see why - but one shouldn't. The styles of these stories are very different, but are both very strong. Where Divergent comes into its own is in the strength of its mysteries, rather than the broad impact of its ideas. Still, the mentality of this faction-based government is very interesting, and rife with ideas to be mined. Having already read both Divergent and Insurgent, and eagerly awaiting the third edition in this trilogy, I can tell you that my attention is piqued - and yours will be as well.