Divergent is a popular young adult novel by Veronica Roth, and the first in a series set in the same dystopian universe. It is similar in theme to other post-apocalyptic books, such as The Hunger Games. Divergent follows the character of Beatrice, or “Tris” as she is also known. She lives in a city divided between five factions roughly corresponding to personality types. These factions hold a balance of power that, while fragile, is better than the anarchic alternative.
This setting seems formulaic and is never adequately explained. How did a society in turmoil develop such a strict division of society, and is this division present anywhere outside of the city? The Factions seem to live in an uneasy balance, but how can this balance be sustained when contact between the factions is effectively forbidden? Nevertheless, Roth uses this cheesy backdrop to create engaging characters and to move the plot along quickly.
The characters and their challenges will hold the most appeal to a young reader. Divergent follows the protagonist and her colleagues through an initiation process that brings a cohort of 16-year-olds together, and sometimes sets them into conflict with each other. There is a real sense of satisfaction the reader will gain from discovering how the protagonist grows and adapts. Themes of alienation, fitting in, new environments, and relationship to authority are explored in detail.
All of this character growth is done while the plot builds up to a breakneck pace. I think any reader who makes it past the stumbling first half will devour the second half in one sitting.
This is a book that will appeal to older teens. Sex and violence feature prominently in Divergent, both as part of the setting and as pieces inherent to the plot. It might be too much for younger readers to handle. The themes in general revolve around interaction with and integration with the adult world, and making sense of the rules of society, so a reader of 15 or older will find Divergent speaks to them.
Artificiality of the setting aside, this is an entertaining novel with plenty going for it.