I have made it a habit to read certain kinds of popular literature for one main reason: to be able to have intelligent dialogue with other readers for evangelization purposes. This has proven helpful in quite a few instances when arguing against such literary trash as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Nobody likes to hear that their favorite book is from the Devil from someone who hasn’t read it; so it gives me some credibility. I have also been pleasantly surprised when I come across some popular literature with merit, i.e. the Eragon series, The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. I know some of you would like to argue with me about those last two, but we’ll save those for another time. In any case, I decided to give Veronica Roth’s Divergent series a try to see what all the hype is about.
The books are set in a dystopian Chicago, where everyone must live in one of five Factions: Abnegation, Amity, Erudite, Dauntless, and Candor. If you do not live in one of these Factions, you are factionless and, therefore, homeless. Each person at the age of sixteen is subjected to a simulated test to determine to which Faction he most belongs. If you are selfless, Abnegation; kind and peace loving, Amity; intelligent, Erudite; brave, Dauntless; honest, Candor. When Beatrice Prior, the heroine, is subjected to this test, she discovers a dangerous truth: she is Divergent. Not only can she manipulate the simulation, but she qualifies to belong to more than one Faction. Divergents are uncontrollable and therefore hunted down by the government. As a result, Beatrice defects from her born Faction, Abnegation, and chooses to join Dauntless. After joining Dauntless, she meets Four, the handsome and mysterious trainer for the new Dauntless initiates. What ensues is a love story intertwined with Bourne Identity adventure type suspense.
I’ll start off with its good qualities. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first two books. Roth is not a complicated writer and she knows how to tell a very action-packed and suspenseful story well. It’s an easy read and something I could not put down for very long. The love story between Tris and Four was actually quite well done. The author emphasizes time and again that true love is choosing to love another person every single day, no matter what life throws you, or how many times you must forgive them or you disagree. The theme of self-sacrifice and familial love were also well illustrated.
However, Roth failed to make a good story great. I was pleased to read in Roth’s Acknowledgments that she is a strong Christian. Don’t let that fool you. There were a few subtle clues in the first two books that threw up some red flags. Although Tris and Four do not sleep together for quite some time, they eventually do (they are 16 and 18, by the way)… and the sexual tension was a little too much for my taste. It reminded me of the emotional teenage porn that is Twilight—it was not explicit, which is good, but it was enough to make me skip pages (and gag a little). The author also made an ever so slight reference to a possible homosexual in Tris’ group of friends.
The third book, Allegiant, sort of ruined the whole series for me. It was much slower than the first two in the beginning, and I almost stopped reading because I was so bored. And when it finally got better, it got worse. The ending of this series left me questioning Roth’s moral standing on chemical warfare, the dignity of human life, euthanasia, and homosexuality. Her arguments against genetic manipulation were sound in that every human being should have equal rights regardless of genetic makeup. But I was confused as to whether or not she valued human life in the end. Good individuals had dignity, but evil did not. It was supposedly permissible to erase the memories of hundreds of people. A ‘brain-dead’ individual was taken off life-support, which seemed to be brushed over and not clarified as to whether or not it should/should not have been done. The homosexual couple in the third book was much more obvious and the fact that they were deemed ‘genetically pure’ was not lost on me. The list goes on and on. As a whole, the series left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I’m not sure Roth, herself, is clear on where she stands on a lot of these issues, but maybe that was the point—to make herself and her readers think, but not very clearly… Roth’s moral code, which seemed black and white from the beginning of the series, turns dark grey.
The movies, adapted from these books, have already taken a downhill turn. The first movie Divergent was well done, and the second movie Insurgent was terrible. The movie-makers left out several crucial characters in the first movie, which forced them to change a lot of the story from the second book, making the second movie very boring and watered down. As I have lamented before in an earlier article, it is difficult to properly adapt books to film.
In my opinion, Veronica Roth had a great idea that she didn’t allow to grow to full fruition, and she manipulated her Christian beliefs to fit a popular agenda. My advice would be to skip the movies entirely and go straight for the books. As a whole I would say they are an entertaining read, but be wary and ready yourself for disappointment.