Morgan & Whitney Dish: DIvergent By Veronica Roth

This week Morgan and Whitney Dish about Divergent by Veronica Roth. The debut author's dystopian YA caught Whitney's attention with its compelling premise and multi-dimensional heroine.

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Morgan: OK, I know everyone has been talking about the Hunger Games series forever, but more than any other book I remember reading, Divergent really has themes and characters that remind me of a Suzanne Collins book.

Whitney: You know, while I think it will appeal to some of the same readers who enjoyed the Hunger Games seriesI definitely didn’t read Divergent thinking “This is the Hunger Games, revisited.” 

Morgan: Divergent has several similarities, including a physically small heroine who must face challenges that she is not really ready for, a heroine who is competing against teens that have been trained, since birth, to defeat others. Oh, and the results of failure can be deadly. But I definitely felt that Divergent went a step further. This book is about survival, but the relationships that develop are equally important.

Whitney: I think Roth did a really great job of making this dystopian world her own, and taking her heroine (and supporting characters) to some very interesting and unexpected places!

Morgan: Agreed, especially because the Hunger Games didn’t delve too much into the political ideology behind Collins’ dystopian society. Roth, on the other hand, digs deep into the motivations behind the different social factions that have evolved. Each group — Amity, Erudite, Candor, Abnegation and Dauntless — feel that wars of the past were caused by different (negative) elements of human nature. Thus these five factions have united against those elements to try, in five very different ways, to protect society and guard against humankind’s inclination toward evil. 

Whitney: I think it is definitely a very interesting set-up to have the society of Divergent divided by people’s traits, rather than by where people live in town or who their families are. Instead, at 16 everyone in the society gets a chance to apply to join one of the five factions, including the one that they were raised in. If a person doesn’t want to — or is unable to — join a faction, he or she becomes faction-less, which is a horrible fate.

Morgan: I have to admit that I drew myself a little chart when it came to the factions. They got a bit confusing.

Whitney: You know, I think that the naming of the factions is something that Roth did really well. I had an easy time making word associations between the factions and what they stood for.

Amity (noun): friendship (think: Amicable, easy to get along with)
Erudite (adj.): having knowledge gained by studying (think: educated)
Candor (noun): unreserved and honest (think: candid as in camera, if that helps)
Abnegation (noun): self denial (think: to negate or deny)
Dauntless (adj.): fearless (think: the opposite of a daunting test!)

So in addition to writing a really interesting story, by the end of Divergent Roth has just added five SAT-worthy words to your vocabulary!

Morgan: The heroine, Beatrice, or Tris, grew up as part of Abnegation. She talks about how “the gray clothes, the plain hairstyle, and the unassuming demeanor of [her] faction” are seen as a bad thing by some of the other factions. And just a little bit later we see the Abnegation community through her eyes:

“The houses on my street are all the same size and shape. They are made of gray cement, with few winds, in economical, no-nonsense rectangle. Their lawns are crab grass and their mailboxes are dull metal.”

Whitney: Roth did a really good job of crafting Abnegation, showing how they strive for simplicity so that they can focus their attention outwards, and it enables them to make others their first priority. It’s definitely approach survival, putting the needs of the group (or the rest of society) before your own in physical as well as mental ways. Each of the factions took such a different stance on how to ensure society’s survival but I was really impressed by the way that Roth illustrated that there was no one right answer, and instead every faction was sometimes the target of slurs, or at the very least, prejudice, from the other factions.

Morgan: I was very surprised that the factions had as much animosity toward each other as they did since they obviously need each other. Abnegation serves as selfless leaders, Candor is trustworthy and therefore suited to creating laws, researchers and teachers come from the Erudites, counselors and caretakers from Amity and Dauntless protect everyone. It is weird that the factions don’t have more respect for each other. They keep to themselves, but at the same time they need each other to make the entire society work.

Whitney: I’d think that that right there would cause conflict. Each faction has what I’d consider a downside, and when you add in everybody’s personal agendas within the factions, it seemed like the whole faction system could be the outgrowth of a really clique-y high school. But it is definitely an interesting way to set up a society if everyone agrees with the system, to choose at 16 what group you want to be in for life. 

Morgan: This decision will affect everything — where and how you live, what job you have and who your friends are. I think this is a bad idea because it presupposes that a) 16-year-olds make good choices — which I know I didn’t — and b) 16-year-olds know what they want to do with the rest of their life — which I really, really didn’t.

So our girl, Tris, is 16 and trying to make this really important decision. She starts out as Abnegation, and it’s pretty clear that this lifestyle has always been a struggle for her. But it’s not like the choice to stay or leave is easy, either.

Whitney: I definitely agree that this decision is more difficult for Tris than for most people (or at least I hope it is, for all the other teens’ sakes). Tris has her own problems with Abnegation working against her — the ultimate selfless thing to do if you don’t belong in a selfless faction is to stay in that faction if they need you. Tris’ decision is even more difficult because her slightly older brother, Caleb, will also be choosing his new faction on the same day that she will. And then add this little gem to the top of that pile: the aptitude test that is supposed to help her decide which faction to choose comes back with inconclusive results.

Morgan: Sure they have the aptitude test to help them decide what they want, but this test happens the day before the choosing. They have known this was coming since forever, and have really thought about it. So when they stand at the podium and get ready to make their decision, I really don’t think the test of the determining factor. And remember, Tris tells herself over and over again: “Tests don’t have to change our choices.” 

Whitney: You know, I had the opposite reaction to Tris repeating the phrase to herself. You aren’t supposed to share the results of your aptitude test with anyone, but she and Caleb have that discussion the night before the choosing:

For a moment I stare at him. I have never seen him think of himself, never heard him insist on anything but selflessness.
I am so startled by his comment that I just say what I am supposed to say: “The tests don’t have to change our choices.”
He smiles a little. “Don’t they, though?”

I can only imagine that trying to make your own decision and then getting test results that say something different is like finding out you have lived your life as a lie and you don’t belong where you thought you did. 

Morgan: Standing up there you must choose one faction that will dictate the path of the rest of your life. Now for the big question — which would you choose?

Whitney: Not Dauntless, that’s for sure! Oh my goodness, all of the jumping out of moving trains and the feats of physical strength? I don’t think that I would be an asset to that faction. But, I’d have a really hard time choosing between Amity and Erudite. I think I’d be a good caretaker, but I love learning … it’s a really tough call, what about you?

Morgan: I would not want to live with Candor. Not that I lie all the time, but it is nice to the have option to not tell everyone everything. And being completely selfless all the time would be very difficult for me, so Abnegation is out. I am scared of lots of things so Dauntless would not be a place for me. Those who know me know that Amity would be a joke. Yep, I am Erudite in every way. 

Whitney: I’m not sure that it’s that clear cut. It certainly isn’t for Tris. I mean neither of us had to factor in all of the thought patterns and values that were instilled by our faction of birth, the way that she does. It’s really a case of nature (with some consideration for nurture) when it comes to these teens’ choices of which faction to choose for themselves.

Morgan: It is interesting that Tris' aptitude for more than one skill set gets her classified as a Divergent — which is a giant secret. Being Divergent isn't just abnormal, it's something bad, illegal, wrong. It is like punishment for being special. (Everyone with a multiple skill set just cried a little bit.) 

Whitney: So you are telling me that it’s weird these people don’t like those who are different? I’d like us to take a step back and think about any high school, any clan, basically any society ever.

Morgan: Actually, I agree with you. After I really thought a bit about the Divergents, I realized it is pretty realistic that this would make you an outcast. I mean, even in our society labels are everywhere. Especially when you are young we are put into a lot of “either/or” positions. You are either smart or you are athletic, etc. Kind of like a John Hughes movie (or if you aren’t old enough for that reference — like Glee). 

Whitney: I’m pretty sure that no one here is too young to know The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. 

Morgan: So we’ve got a story that reminds me of a bit of the Hunger Games, a bit of great '80s movies and a bit of our own society. And we haven’t even gotten past discussing the first 46 pages! 

Whitney: Maybe we should stop here, because I am determined to keep this Dish spoiler-free. Really, this story is that good. My one final thought is that I cannot wait for the sequel. Really, Veronica Roth, call me! (Or don’t call me, and instead be busy writing the next chapter of this amazing story.)

You can enter to win Divergent and six other new and upcoming paranormal YA tales by entering in our Dark Days of Supernatural giveaway each week this month. Or you can pick up your own copy in stores now, and while you're there be sure to check out Rachel Gibson's contemporary romance Any Man of Mine which we will be chatting about next week!