“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”
This weekend I read the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. Yes, the whole trilogy. I had a seven hour train journey back from Edinburgh to look forward to after a work thing, my brain was a little frazzled and I’d nearly finished A New York’s Winter Tale so I decided to pick up the first book in the series as something “light” for my journey. Something light? Books should carry addiction ratings.
There are plenty of people out there who looked down their noses at the stories and criticized the writer. Yes, there are editing mistakes that you could point out if you were feeling picky- times where Tris’ memories change between books, the whole Jonathan/George Wu name change thing. And of course, plenty of fans flipped out at the ending. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I will say that these responses miss the point.
Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant are a brave and powerfully written series of books which hold a mirror up to Roth’s concerns about our society and the way it’s headed. Genetics and science aside, I think that a world where people’s identity is defined by the groups that they belong to, their worth weighed up by how well they fit into those groups and society’s widespread suspicion and prejudice towards those who are other or don’t belong is something that everyone can recognise and would be wise to fear. I think it makes the books highly relevant and worth reading.
The author’s unflinching commitment to the brutality of her storyline is impressive and hammers home the cruelty of society both at the micro and the macro level. All the characters are flawed, all of them are human, most of them think that they are right. I like that Four recognises and admires Tris’ strength. I like that she recognises his. I love that their relationship is based on mutual admiration and that there is so much emphasis placed on the need to respect each other. I like that the novels show that life is about the choices you make, both good and bad, and how identity stems from these and how you move on from them.
Yes, people will dismiss it as “just” YA fiction, but there’s a reason that the books are so addictive. There’s a truth and a power in what Roth writes, and I think that everyone could take something away from these books, regardless of their age or “sophistication”. It’s a strong work of speculative fiction.