I say yes!
Suzanne Collins penned the wildly successful Young Adult Hunger Games trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay). I read the series at the recommendation of my friend Tess, and had a “lost weekend” gulping it down, one book after another. The talented Jennifer Lawrence made a giant splash as Katniss in the 2012 movie. (Sequel to come out November 22.) The young, strong, complicated female character leading a force for change in a dystopian world resonated strongly and drove the series to the top of bestseller lists.
Now it’s deja vu all over again with Veronica Roth’s YA series, featuring Tris – a young, strong, complicated female character leading a force for change in a dystopian world. I just finished Divergent, have downloaded Insurgent on my Kindle, and rumor has it that the third book in the series, Allegiant, is coming out later this month. And just as with Hunger Games, there’s a Divergent movie coming out soon. (Shailene Woodley as Tris.)
The premise of Divergent: It’s sometime in the future – probably the near future – and society is divided into five factions. Beatrice Prior (Tris) and her brother Caleb have been raised in Abnegation, where the people put the good of others ahead of their own good. The Erudite are the intellectuals. Amity are the friendly, congenial bunch. Candor cannot tell a lie and value truthfulness above all else. And then there’s Dauntless, who value bravery. Every year, the 16 year olds for each faction are tested and told their aptitude for the various factions. Then they choose their faction. There’s no requirement to choose the faction for which you have an aptitude. If you choose to leave the faction in which you have been raised, you are leaving your old life, your friends and family behind, for it’s “faction over blood.” Each faction has its own responsibilities, and the careful balancing of roles is meant to facilitate ongoing peace. Abnegation – the selfless – are the decision-makers for society as a whole, trusted to put the good of all before their own.
The fly in the ointment: there are some – a small number – who have a facility for more than one faction. These are the Divergent. Tris is one, and unusual in that she could belong equally well in Abnegation, Dauntless, or Erudite. She chooses Dauntless. And then there are the factionless – those who fail the initiation for their selected faction, are exiled for some reason, or prefer not to conform. As with the Hunger Games, the well-ordered universe in Divergence is actually deeply flawed. The peace will soon be shattered.
Divergent is, in equal parts, coming-of-age story, political thriller and fantasy, with a strong thread of teenage romance thrown in. Despite the mayhem (and there is a lot of it!) parents have little to fear. I’m more than halfway through Insurgent, and in-love-and-might-be-killed-any-moment Tris has not done more than smooch with her two-years-older boyfriend.
Here’s what I like about the series: Well-written, interesting characters, good description, some plot innovations, lots of forward momentum. There’s a touch of Harry Potter here – the special skills are not only physical, but in some sense, magical. Plus, Roth does a good job of making you care about the characters, so when a character fails or dies, you care. Not quite as much as you cared when Rue died in the Hunger Games, but still, a lot.
Still, I’m not sure Divergent and Roth’s subsequent books will have what it takes to eclipse the Hunger Games series. Book sales are strong, movies are on the way, and the internet is hopping with that very question… but generally, discussions are focused on the financial success of the films.
For the reader, the question hardly matters. Pick it up. If the first few pages appeal to you, you’ll probably be rushing through it, page after page, to see what happens next. And that’s the point.