“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution…”
– Revolution, The Beatles
It’s about evolution through revolution.
Divergent – and particularly Insurgent – are novels powered by complex sociological and political speculation. But the brilliance of this saga is that all of those deeply thought-provoking themes are condensed down into one intimate storyline, which revolves around Beatrice “Tris” Prior, a 16-year old Chicagoan living in a future society that is divided into five factions that are dedicated to nurturing very different virtues: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent).
Here is some of the post-apocalyptic backstory, from Divergent:
“Those who blamed aggression formed Amity…
Those who blamed ignorance became Erudite…
Those who blamed duplicity created Candor…
Those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation…
And those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless.”
In Insurgent, the peace between the societal factions is crumbling, the hordes of factionless are unifying, and the entire city is poised for an all-out war. Tris, who is a Divergent – a rare person with aptitude in more than one faction – understands that Divergents, and their abilities, are somehow intimately tied into the motives behind the discord. Together, with a small group of insurgents – which includes her love interest Tobias “Four” Eaton – Tris attempts to uncover the highly guarded truth that is at the center of the conflict. When villainess Jeanine Mathews, the Erudite leader, begins killing off young Divergents, Tris decides to give herself up in order to save innocent lives – but she only succeeds in becoming a guinea pig for Erudite scientists. And once the testing is complete, she will be executed…
But even as Tris and Tobias fight for their lives, the looming question throughout is – what is outside the fence? What is beyond the city?
This was a heavy book – both in terms of page count (544) and thematic weight. Roth included numerous jaw-dropping plot twists in this novel (especially at the end) and killed off more than a few characters. Middle novels of trilogies are historically the weakness installments but Roth did well with Insurgent. She radically advanced the storyline, included tons of action and adventure, and set the stage for what will surely be fantastic concluding volume. But the thing that I will remember most about this book is the prevalence of memorable one-liners throughout. This was a powerful read and I believe that young readers (14 and up) in particular will not only identify with the plight of Tris and Tobias but will also find the narrative to be highly impactful and thought provoking. Here are just a few examples:
• “Killing you is not the worst thing they can do to you… controlling you is.”
• “The battle we are fighting is not against a particular group. It is against human nature itself…”
• “Sometimes… people just want to be happy, even if it’s not real.”
I’ve read many dystopian novels for young readers over the last few years and Roth’s Divergent trilogy is arguably the best. Readers who embraced Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay) and her heroine Katniss Everdeen will find Roth’s Divergent saga – and heroine Beatrice Prior – just as enthralling.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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