Last time in the air, I ‘volunteered’ to read The Hunger Games and was pleasantly surprised by the fierce heroine, snappy dialogue and dystopian allegory. Yet even in the strength of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, I could still feel myself sliding past the target-age group, identifying more with secondary adults such as bitter Gale or disenchanted Haymitch (and not to mention distracted by the relentless first-person dialogue and unadorned transitions of the developing writer).
Could I still read the sci-fi, fiction or fantasy literature churned out for young adults anymore, or would I be condemned to the middle-age doldrums of western-drama, mystery-crime, or—God forbid—Christian-romance?
Submitting myself to the ideology of advertisement, I pulled Veronica Roth’s wildly popular Divergent off the shelf and headed for checkout. Recommended on the cover to fans of The Hunger Games and inspired, in the author’s notes, by Ender’s Game, The Giver and 1984, this young-adult, sci-fi dystopian looked like it could hold my attention for at least a few hours.
It did. Apparently, I can still read this literature, and absolutely love it. Divergent is every inch as powerful and thrilling, reading from start to finish as a refreshing, culturally relevant and fleet-footed novel.
With clarity, honesty and intuitive plot, Divergent hits many of the aching muscles of contemporary society, including the anguish of choosing a conviction and lifestyle over family, the trauma and humiliation of sexual assault, the struggle of overcoming disenchantment in beliefs, the distrust of authority and leadership, the abuse of power and surveillance, the fear of alienation from others and the looming threat of technological warfare.
Along with its rich symbolic room for allegories of peacemaking (analyzing different violent and non-violent strategies) and the “None Generation” (contemporary culture’s massive departure from the structural Christian church), Divergent is also a hearty promoter of the “awakened” liberal arts.
Failing a mandatory, virtual personality test—think StrengthsQuest in a thrilling video game—heroes Trice and Four refuse to be categorically labeled into societal work communities based on intelligence (“Erudite”), service (“Abnegation”), honesty (“Candor”), harmony (“Amity”) or bravery (“Dauntless”), and are marked instead in the dangerous, rare category of the undefined (“Divergent”).
With transparent yet tasteful symbolism, the Divergent express all strengths in equal talent and are therefore able to live outside of the limited societal structure, powerful enough to analyze and change a system rather than follow its rules without resistance or question.
For this reason, the Divergents of post-apocalyptic Chicago are outcast and rendered homeless to reduce their threat of disrupting a corrupted system of “peaceful utopia,” one where all unquestioningly follow a set pattern of life and work based on their personality, strength and community manifesto.
Trice, a fierce, bright and courageous heroine who refuses to be daunted by the threats and fears surrounding her, leads a call to action for American youth: your failure to be defined into one category is your strength; your universality gives you the power to be Divergent from the norm.
Isn’t that what the liberal arts is all about? The belief that a multi-faceted human being can be both good and smart, truthful and brave, and use all of these talents in different ways to live a healthy, vibrant life in a diversified, robust American democracy?
For all its wealth of interpretation, Divergent isn’t any less of a novel in itself. Like The Hunger Games, the transitions of the plot could use more work, but Roth’s writing is otherwise active, descriptive and moves more like a subtle third-person than a heavy, hero-dominated monologue.
And of course there’s a bit of romance for the fangirls, with dark, brooding, mysterious Four—but thankfully, the much-older male has a side of compassion and intelligence to his cliché as a “tattooed-hellion,” and the romance stays on the sidelines rather than dominating the plot.
Fans can only hope that the movie, coming in March 2014 and the following two books of Veronica Roth’s trilogy hold the same gravitas, and have as much to offer, as Divergent.
I know that I’ll be picking up the next few as soon as possible, and gladly, because I devoured the first one at the airport.