Sunday, April 10, 2011
A New Dystopia Emerges
A dystopia is a strange thing. We want the world to be perfect, without pain, suffering, or oppression, but can such a thing exist? Veronica Roth's new dystopia comes out of a world that hoped to eliminate certain parts of human nature and focus on other parts. Divergent is a story of dystopian Chicago where people think a focus on one great quality of society can eliminate all the bad aspects of human nature. While seeking a utopia, they find themselves living in a dystopia, complete with the control and oppression they sought to avoid.
Beatrice Prior is part of the Abnegation faction- a group of people who devote themselves to selflessness to better the world. Because of their devotion to selflessness, they are in charge of the government, a fact the other four factions aren't always comfortable with. Erudite (knowledge), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (friendship), and Candor (honesty), along with Abnegation, make up the five factions in Chicago. When a kid comes of age in this society, they must choose which faction to join. Most kids follow the faction in which they were raised, but some jump to a new faction. First they take an aptitude test that gives them guidance as to which faction would fit them best, but the choice is all theirs. When Beatrice's brother Caleb chooses Erudite over Abnegation, their parents are shocked. When Beatrice chooses Dauntless and reinvents herself as Tris, her father is devastated, but her mom seems oddly proud. What they don't know is that her aptitude test was inconclusive- leading the tester to believe she was a Divergent. Luckily for Tris, the tester knows how dangerous it is for Divergents and warns Tris to hide the fact vehemently.
Immediately Tris must report to the Dauntless headquarters and before they even arrive, they are tested with death-defying stunts. Whether jumping from a train or leaping from a building, the Dauntless initiates are instantly thrown into the world they chose. When they get to the headquarters, they learn their initiation will consist of three stages and by the end, only ten initiates will remain with Dauntless. The rest will become Factionless castaways- sent to live in the margins of society, a fate worse than death for most.
As Tris continues her training, she gains a few friends, a few enemies, and a particularly interesting attachment to her trainer- a mysterious guy named Four. Training is brutal for the fearless. They must overcome their physical fears as well as their emotional fears before they can be considered Dauntless. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of fierce competition, especially when a girl like Tris keeps coming out on top. But her budding friendship with Four helps her not only realize important things about herself, but also about the world they live in. More and more, Tris feels like something is happening between the five Factions that could lead to dangerous consequences. Together, they must get to the bottom of what is happening outside the Dauntless headquarters, even if it means risking everything they know and love.
This was an A.MAZE.ING story. I could not put it down and read all 500 or so pages in one day. I am sure it will be compared to Hunger Games because it is a YA dystopia in the wake of Suzanne Collins, but that is not enough for this story. It is the kind of story that holds its own in a world of similar stories and will keep the reader engaged and begging for the sequel. I know it is a long book, but I am sure this story will keep even the most reluctant readers hooked.
My only concern for this book is the vocabulary, but it isn't really a concern. Actually, there is something more to the fairly impressive vocabulary in this book. I think this book is not only excellent for entertainment value, but can also serve a greater purpose. The vocabulary in this story is a great starting point for SAT preparation. As a teacher, we all know vocabulary instruction means the most when a student encounters it in context, but it is hard to find a book with enough vocabulary to be useful in preparation for those dreaded SATs... but Divergent does it effortlessly! Unfortunately, what the book gains in vocabulary for older students may preclude it from being a great book for younger students. The vocabulary is very mature and I guarantee the context will keep these words with the student, no matter what. Just make sure the student is ready for such adult vocabulary.
This was a fantastic debut by Veronica Roth. I can't believe she is only 22, but I am blown away by the world she created. It is so original and well-developed, and the characters have so much depth. I love this story and can't wait to share it with my students, family, friends, and colleagues. This is one you won't forget (especially with a sequel in the future!).