Author Veronica Roth is 22 years old. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago; she’s tall (six feet); and, according to her bio, she’s a Christian. Beatrice, the protagonist of Roth’s debut novel, Divergent, is sixteen years old. “Tris” grows up in a sort-of-suburbia; she’s short and deceptively fragile-looking; and her family is “religious.”
Obviously, Roth and her character share some affinities, but while Veronica Roth used her youth and talents to become a best-selling author, Tris is busy becoming dauntless, brave to the point of foolhardiness.
Maybe she’s an alter ego. And maybe, to psychoanalyze a bit, the recent spate of bold and spirited heroines trapped in a controlled environment in YA dystopian adventure novels is filling a need, for both girls and boys. These books are giving them strong female characters who retain a sense of passion and romance.
In particular, girls who are growing up and trying to figure out what it means to be female/feminist in a post-feminist, maybe even Christian, context, need ideas and role models. Divergent and similar dystopian novels, by placing readers in an alien but relatable environment, are good places to explore the possible choices that confront young women in our increasingly confused and confusing society.
In the future Chicago portrayed in Divergent, the world is divided into five factions. Each faction esteems one virtue above all others. The members of Abnegation, where Tris’s family lives, value selflessness above all else. Those of Candor prize truthfulness; those of Amity, peacefulness; the Erudite, intelligence; and the Dauntless, courage. At the age of sixteen, each citizen must choose which faction to join for the rest of his or her life. Most young people choose the faction where they have grown up and received their childhood training. But the choice for each person is free — and irrevocable.
This world is a society held in balance by the different callings of the members of the five factions. Each faction has its own job. The Dauntless are trained to be brave in order to protect the city as a whole. Those of Abnegation are servant leaders who can be trusted with power because they are sworn to give up the desire for power. The Erudite give advice and expertise to teach and to research new ideas. The Candor provide honest judges and lawyers. And those who are members of Amity are caretakers, farmers, artists, and counselors. As Beatrice considers her decision about which faction to join, she is faced with a secret about herself and her relationship to her community, which may endanger the entire balance of power and responsibility that has become the foundation for a perfect civilization.
Divergent is the first in a projected trilogy set in this world of factions, and balance, and virtues carried to their extreme. The plot follows the pattern of several other recent dystopian trilogies in which the heroine lives in a ordered, controlled community, but, as she grows up, is confronted with the cracks and imperfections in her seemingly pristine and safe way of life. The book is not quite as violent as the Hunger Games trilogy, but still fairly high on the action/adventure/mayhem scale. And the romantic subplot is fun, and certainly tame enough for ages thirteen and above.
The book is not overtly Christian. The main clue that Divergent is written from a Christian point of view is that, in addition to having to fight against the restrictions placed upon her by a controlling and totalitarian state, Tris must also explore the cracks and imperfections within her own psyche. Probably we will see more of this side of the story in the second and third books in the series, as Tris tries to understand herself and form a picture of her own moral code in relation to all of the factions and their virtues and vices. The second book in the series, Resurgent, is due out sometime in 2012.
Image copyright Katherine Tegen Books.