Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life
In Beatrice Prior’s Dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the knowledgeable). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is — she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are — and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
I’m probably the last blogger/librarian on the planet to read and review this book, but I was waiting for my library to get it in rather than purchase it, since dystopias generally aren’t my thing (I’m pretty sure the copy of Ship Breaker that I got for Christmas is still moldering on the shelf, waiting to be read). It took me forever and a day to pick up The Hunger Games because the thought of reading about kids murdering one another sounded like a really didn’t seem like an appealing one. Dystopian novels tend to be a bit bleak and I don’t really enjoy bleak, but I think it would be accurate to describe Divergent as a kinder, gentler dystopian book that is made all the more brighter by a really lovely bit of romance.
I’ve heard a reviewer or two remark that the concept of separating society as a whole into factions such as the ones found in Beatrice’s world are not very realistic and wouldn’t happen in real life, but I would argue that justifying their presence was not the point of the book. They simply are and Roth does a masterful job of demonstrating that though they might have been created for the good of the society, they have all become corrupt, like anything else that mankind puts its hand on. Furthermore, she reinforces the idea that we are not meant to be so one-sided in our thoughts and deeds. As Four reveals,
I think we’ve made a mistake. We’ve all started to put down the other virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest (pg 405).
It really gets under my skin when people limit the label ‘strong female character’ to those who are physically strong and literally kick butt (case in point — Katsa from Graceling can beat up anyone, but girlfriend is as broken as they come. No way she’s a strong character). It was so refreshing to read about a character like Tris for a change who could accurately be called a strong female character. Sure, she eventually became tough as nails physically and could hold her own with the best of them, but her strength was most evident when she was looking out for others, the very trait she felt herself lacking when she was a part of Abnegation.
This transitions nicely into the point I wanted to make about the awesomeness that is Tris and Four’s relationship. Since they both share the trait of selflessness, it’s natural for both of them to support and encourage the other in their areas of weakness and vulnerability, but neither of them cross that annoying, overbearing line into mollycoddling territory. Four is never tempted to put a protective bubble around his poor ickle Tris because she is small (and therefore weak) and Tris doesn’t once view Four as a kicked puppy after she discovers the horrors of his childhood. They are both very much aware of the internal fortitude that lies in the other, which does much to put them on equal footing in their relationship, despite the disparity in their age and their instructor/initiate status.
Hands down, Divergent is one of my favorite reads of this year, and I’m pretty sure Tris and Four are going to join my select list of awesome literary couples and characters I would like to be friends with in real life.
Keep Your Head Up makes the perfect theme song for Tris as she makes her decision on which faction she will select and as she undergoes the brutal and competitive initiation. She’s always so determined to never let her fellow initiates see any weakness or vulnerability in her, even if in certain situations it might be safer for her to do so. These lines in particular describe Tris well:
Oh feelin’ blind, I realize,
All I was searchin’ for… was me.
Oh oh-oh, all I was searchin’ for was me.
Oh yeah, keep your head up, keep your heart strong.
No, no, no, no, keep your mind set, keep your hair long.
Oh my, my darlin’, keep your head up, keep your heart strong.
Na, oh, no, no, keep your mind set in your ways.
Keep your heart strong.
I heard this gorgeous song by Passenger and I immediately thought of Tris and Four and the self-sacrificing nature of their relationship, especially during the scene where Four takes Tris through his fear landscape and she helps him get through his fears. The lines “And it’s true, dear/If your demons are near and you’re drowning in tears/For you I would build you a boat/Just to keep you afloat/I would build you a boat, my love” are particularly apropos in this situation.
Also, if you ever get a chance to listen to the original recording of this song with the full band Passenger (not just Mike Rosenberg), do so. It’s even lovelier. I downloaded it from itunes, but sadly I couldn’t find a video for it on youtube.