I read this series at the urging of my 13-year-old daughter Emma, who really enjoyed the first two books and wanted me to read them so we could experience the third volume together when it came out this month. The Divergent series is a futuristic dystopia with a teenaged female heroine, very much in the Hunger Games mold. The organizing principle in this world is that everyone is organized into communities, or “factions,” based not on race or religion but on a single dominant personality trait. The five factions are Abnegation, Candor, Amity, Erudite and Dauntless (I can’t tell you how much it bugged me that three of those are nouns and two are adjectives!!!) with each valuing, respectively, self-denial, honesty, peace, intelligence and courage above all else. Each faction has a specific role to play in society but there is much dislike and distrust among the factions. Teenagers are raised by their parents in their faction and most continue in the faction they were raised, but at age 16 they have to go through a choosing ceremony and some young people switch loyalties at that point and join a different faction, severing ties to their families and their old faction.
This gives the series a convenient starting point — Beatrice Prior’s Choosing Ceremony, at which both she and her twin brother choose to leave their parents’ Abnegation lifestyle behind. It also provides some interesting discussion with young people reading the books: what characteristics define you? can anyone really be summed up by a single main character train? what happens if you decide to leave behind the cultural values with which you were raised?
I found the series fast-paced and enjoyable, and quite easy to read. There were places where I thought the author’s world-building was a little perfunctory (though some of the apparent shoddiness in the first book, like the fact that the entire story focuses on a single city — a post-apocalyptic Chicago — without any reference to what’s happening in the rest of the world, turns out to have a good explanation that’s an important plot point later, so I was able to forgive that). Young fans have had a lot to say about the ending of the third book, in which the author makes a risky and unpopular choice in the fate of her main character. Emma said she was OK with it, but I’m not sure I was — not so much because of how I felt about the characters, but because of how I feel about the conventions of the young-adult genre. I do realize authors have the right to play around with genre conventions and I think I understand why Roth felt this ending was the right one, perhaps the only possible ending, for this story. But I’m still not sure I’m OK with it. You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.