“Divergent” by Veronica Roth (2011)
I make it a policy to always read books recommended to me by students. Think about it. When a student engages in dialogue with me about books, reveals their own preferences and considers recommendations I have offered to them, and then has enjoyed a book so much that they want me to share in their enjoyment, there would be something wrong if I didn’t read it… right?
I developed a book-loving connection with a student in year 7 last year (I’ll call him DK). I wasn’t his teacher, but we had a chat at the staff room door one day about “Matched” – a book he was reading for class at the time. I had only just added the book to our book room and I was very interested to see what students’ thought of it. DK was loving the book and very keen to chat. Not long after that initial conversation, we had a discussion about his ongoing participation in the Premier’s Reading Challenge. From then, it was a mutually enjoyable book chat whenever we both had a chance.
So, late last year I read “Ship Kings” and it occurred to me that DK might enjoy it. When I mentioned it to him, he told me that he had recently read “Divergent” and that he thoroughly recommended it. Soon after, I downloaded it to my Kindle. I lent “Ship Kings” to DK to read over the holidays. He offered to lend me “Divergent” and I wish I hadn’t already obtained it so that I could have said yes.
I can see why DK likes this book. It reminds me of “Matched” and “Uglies” in many ways – two of my favourite books. A lot of critics compare it to “Hunger Games” as well, and I can see the link, but I think it’s wrong to expect a similar book.
“Divergent” is the first book of a trilogy (aren’t they all these days). It is set within a dystopian version of Chicago in which the society is divided into personality types. Reminiscent of Philip K Dick’s “Clans of the Alphane Moon” (1964), this is a story that asks if our personalities determine our paths in life. And given that, in this story, every teenager is given the choice about which faction they will spend the rest of the lives in, it is also an exploration of destiny and loyalty. Most people choose the faction they are raised in. Our hero, Beatrice, is the daughter of a leader in Abnegation. So, when first Beatrice’s older brother, Caleb, and then Beatrice, both choose to leave their parents and join two different factions (Caleb goes to Erudite), it is the start of great disharmony across all of society. What follows is that Beatrice (who renames herself Tris upon joining her new faction, Dauntless) has to survive not just an initiation, but also the many challenges that choosing to be Dauntless represent.
This is a fast-paced and very readable book. I can see why DK liked it and I am keen to move straight on to the next book, “Insurgent”. As with most other popular YA dystopian novels, I am loath to consider it as a teaching text. There is a movie in production and I don’t think that the novel will retain its appeal in the long term. I’m more drawn to books that are a little more obscure and a little less likely to be turned into the next blockbuster. Nevertheless, it will be high on my recommended wide reading list for students across all year groups. I hope DK enjoys “Ship Kings” (a very different book) as much as I enjoyed “Divergent”.