Before I get too far, I want to point out that this post contains spoilers. If you plan to read the Divergent trilogy and want to be surprised, stop reading this and come back when you are finished. I’m assuming that most of you reading this will have read the books, so I will keep my plot summaries short.
Like the Hunger Games trilogy, Divergent is first person, present tense. This works well for this story in that it gives a certain urgency to the narrative. I found myself cursing Veronica Roth for keeping me up much later than I should have been with her page-turning writing style. Although the story was predictable at times, I thought it was a fun read.
While Divergent lacks the depth of YA series like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, it is still worth the read. It raises a lot of questions about what makes us who we are. In Divergent, we come to find out that people are valued based on their genetic purity. Tris, Tobias and their friends find out the truth of their existence in the third book. In the past, the government attempted to eradicate violent tendencies in the population by manipulating characteristics on a genetic level. This backfired and led to experiments being set up in cities like Chicago where people could be brought back to a more genetically pure state after several generations.
Roth sets this up in a way that makes the reader ask why we are the way we are. Is it socialization? Is it genetic? I suppose it’s the old nature vs. nurture debate. But it got me to thinking about the eugenics movement, which started in the late 19th century. The basic idea of eugenics was encouraging people with desired traits to reproduce thereby creating more people with desired traits. Conversely, this meant discouraging those seen with “less desirable” traits from reproducing. Who determines what is considered a less desirable trait? The eugenics movement considered race a trait, and this idea was used as part of the Nazi belief that Jews were inferior. You can probably see that it’s quite problematic when we start judging people in this way. Such modes of thought can be used as the basis for oppressing and even killing people.
In Roth’s world, those who are not genetically pure are seen as more expendable than those who are. Ultimately Roth’s main characters succeed in creating a world where genetics don’t determine one’s destiny. In fact, we learn that the notion of genetic purity is flawed. In Roth’s world, we see that our destiny is shaped by the choices we make about what to do and how we treat others. Teens are given limited agency in our society, yet here they are in this trilogy ripping apart the theory those in control operate under.
My biggest issue with the books is that it all wrapped up too nicely. Yes, it was a bold decision to kill of the main character at the end of the third book, but things seemed to smooth out too easily with the release of memory serum at the bureau and a rebuilt society. Tobias seems a bit unsettled at the end, but it still seems like things have calmed down with the rest of society. Unlike many readers, I liked the way Suzanne Collins ended the Hunger Games trilogy, and I guess I wanted something as unsettling as that for Roth’s books. I wanted things to still be uncertain. In Mockingjay, the third book in Collins’s trilogy, we feel like things could get messy again a few years down the road. At the end of Allegiant, it feels like the world could go on happily ever after.
Toward the end of Mockingjay, Katniss asks Plutarch, “Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” He responds, “Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated … But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction” (379). Although a moment later he leaves her with the idea that we could be “witnessing the evolution of the human race,” and maybe things will be better, we are still left with this idea that society could slide back into its old ways. I guess this is what I was looking for in Roth’s books. I don’t think recovery happens as easily and neatly as things end in Allegiant.
Aside from being dissatisfied with the ending, I quite enjoyed the trilogy. My only other complaint was how the third book was narrated by both Tris and Tobias. At times it was hard to differentiate between their voices because they sounded so similar. I had to keep flipping back to the start of the chapter to see who was narrating.
Even though I was disappointed in the third book, this trilogy is a good summer read and probably something you could get through in a couple weeks. I have not seen the movie yet, but I am looking forward to watching it when it comes out on DVD soon.
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I welcome the opportunity to discuss these books.
If you want to read the books mentioned in this post, click on the titles to be taken to Powells.com to order them, or visit your local independent bookstore. Because I was an English major and can’t resist a good bibliography entry, here’s the one work I quoted from in this post:
Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. Print.