I'm stumped how I managed to remain oblivious to the world of Divergent for so long, but that changed a month ago when, in a craving for SciFi, I bumped the DVD to the top of my Netflix queue. As I reclined on my couch, teacup in hand, my friend Joe called and when I told him what I was watching, he emphatically informed me it was a great movie and I'd enjoy it. He was 100% correct. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I watched it two nights in a row. Upon learning from the credits that the movie was based on a book, I checked Audible for an audiobook, and in short order had acquired the entire trilogy.
Written by Veronica Roth and published in 2011, Divergent follows the life of Tris, a 16-year-old girl living in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, hundreds of years in our future. Her dystopian society is divided into five Factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite, each identified by particular traits and societal roles. For example, the Abnegation are selfless servants to the poor (the factionless) as well as government officials; the Erudite are the scientists and scholars; the Dauntless are the soldiers; the Candor are 100% honest, 100% of the time; and the Amity are peace-loving farmers. Tris is born into Abnegation, but on "choosing day," leaves behind that life and becomes Dauntless.
(Side-note: I just discovered the author, Veronica, is three years younger than I am. What am I doing with my life?!)
Divergent lives in the same dystopian family of books as The Hunger Games, a genre that may well be my favorite. My Candor opinion is that while the Divergent book was certainly good, it felt scattered when compared against its cinematic counterpart. What I appreciated about the movie over the book (in addition to an awesome soundtrack) was 1) a smoother, easier-to-follow flow of events, 2) they toned down the violence, and 3) they make Tris stronger and more heroic (for example, her refusal to be kicked out of Dauntless, which strictly speaking wasn't in the book). On the other hand, as is always the case, the book gives much deeper insight into character motivations, which you simply can't capture on camera.
(For a general list of differences between book and movie, check out http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Divergent-10-Big-Differences-Between-Movie-Book-42202.html and a complete list of all the differences at http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Divergent_Book_to_Film_Differences.)
I think one sign of a good book is whether it engages the reader to the point of asking, "where would I fit into this story, if I lived in this book's world?" (For example in Harry Potter I'd be sorted into Ravenclaw). I pondered this question as I listened to Divergent, and came to the conclusion my in-world aptitude test would yield either Erudite or Abnegation. Or, possibly, like Tris, I'd find affinity with both, and be labeled Divergent.
Unlike Tris, I doubt I would fit into Dauntless, although I do admire some of what the faction stands for. An excerpt from the Dauntless manifesto: (lifted from http://divergent.wikia.com/wiki/Dauntless)
We believe in freedom from fear, in denying fear the power to influence our decisions.
We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.
We believe in shouting for those who can only whisper, in defending those who cannot defend themselves.
We believe, not just in bold words but in bold deeds to match them.
One might argue those attributes are rather Christ-like. Which is a good segue here. Something else I loved about Divergent was that Tris's family mentions God, her father prayed before meals, and Tris's outlook on the world is influenced, to some degree, by this faith. At the same time, it's not overt and the author doesn't beat us over the head, it's just a tiny treasure tucked into the pages.
Lastly, I've noticed my mood is affected by the books I read, and Divergent in particular made me more willing to face fears. For example, my friends and I went to ValleyScare on Halloween, and other than my fear of un-enclosed heights on the PowerTower, the rides that used to intimidate me when I was younger, didn't; instead I was all, "yeah, let's do that!" Also I really don't like haunted houses, but I faced that fear as well (even tried asking out one of the cuter zombies for a drink of brainz, but she declined). Knowing my friend Anne dresses as a zombie performer for similar events out in LA, helped me keep focused that these were all just actors doing a job. I digress. Point being, in small ways, Divergent made me feel more brave.
And lastly lastly because I just remembered there was more I wanted to say: this novel carries important social commentaries, which I'm sure are dependent on each reader's individual worldview, but my takeaways were 1) a re-affirmation about how crucial is community (first quote below, which also reminded me of Beggars in Spain); and 2) a reminder about the complexity of society and how it truly "takes all kinds" to run the world - scientists, farmers, peacekeepers, caretakers, etc. No single faction of people has the complete set of skills necessary for a functional community.
My favorite quotes
"To live factionless is not just to live in poverty and discomfort, it is to live divorced from society, separated from the most important thing in life: community. My mother told me once that we can't survive alone, but even if we could, we wouldn't want to. Without a faction, we have no purpose, and no reason to live." - Tris, 27:59
"The houses on my street are all the same size and shape. They are made of grey cement, with few windows, in economical non-nonsense rectangles. Their lawns are crabgrass, and their mailboxes are dull metal. To some the sight might be gloomy, but to me their simplicity is comforting. The reason for the simplicity isn't disdain for uniqueness, as the other factions have sometimes interpreted it. Everything, our houses, our clothes, our hairstyles, is meant to help us forget ourselves, and to protect us from vanity, greed, and envy, which are just forms of selfishness. If we have little, and want for little, we are all equal, we envy no one. I try to love it." - Tris, 38:43
"My natural tendency toward sarcasm is still not appreciated. Sarcasm is always at someone's expense. Maybe it's better that Abnegation wants me to suppress it. Maybe I don't have to leave my family. Maybe if I fight to make Abnegation work, my act will turn into reality." - Tris, 39:50
"We sit at the table. We always pass food to the right, and no one eats until everyone is served. My father extends his hands to my mother and my brother, and they extend their hands to him and me, and my father gives thanks to God for food, and work, and friends and family. Not every Abnegation family is religious, but my father says we should try not to see those differences because they will only divide us. I am not sure what to make of that." - Tris, 45:43
"Would it be worth my effort to try to help her, if I know I'm too weak to do any good? I know what those questions are: Excuses. 'Human reason can excuse any evil. That is why it's so important that we don't rely on it.' My father's words." - Tris, 2:23:59
"I suggest you take this time to formulate a strategy. We may not be Erudite, but mental preparedness is one aspect of your Dauntless training. Arguably it is the most important aspect." - Four
He is right about that. What good is a prepared body if you have a scattered mind? - Tris, 3:14:16
"He is not sweet, or gentle, or particularly kind, but he is smart, and brave. And even though he saved me, he treated me like I was strong. That is all I need to know." - Tris, 6:35:14