"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
February 26, 2013
The Divergent Series: Bravery and Goodness in the Face of Brutality
by Erin Cowles

I’m probably the only one that has been living under a rock and missed this series, but if you haven’t picked up Veronica Roth’s Divergent and its sequel Insurgent, do yourself a favor and start reading.

In Divergent, Tris has been raised in a faction of dystopian Chicago that dedicates itself to living life selflessly. She admires the goodness she sees around her, but she feels that a part of herself just doesn’t fit into that way of life. When the day comes that all the city’s 16-year-olds choose which faction to dedicate the rest of their life to, Tris decides to compete to join the Dauntless, the faction that values bravery.

As she goes through the initiation process, Tris makes discoveries about herself, her values, her family, and her society at large. The next book in the series, Insurgent, digs even more deeply into the rich dystopian world that Roth has created.

I think that Roth’s greatest triumph in this series is that she makes the romance so interesting without making it the central point of the series. Honestly, Four, the oddly-nicknamed love interest, is reduced to side character status by the time Insurgent ends. This series is solidly about Tris’s personal journey, not getting the boy. While you’re definitely rooting for Four and Tris to make it work, what keeps you reading are the lessons Tris learns about courage, strength, selflessness, friendship, forgiveness, and loss.

As is often the case with dystopias, there’s a big dose of violence in these books. The trauma that comes through facing brutality, and the ugly things individuals have to do to put a stop to it, are major themes in this series. The descriptions aren’t graphic or glorified, but if the fact someone in this book gets stabbed in the eye with a butter knife makes you want to skip smearing cream cheese on your bagel for a week, this is probably not the series for you.

Roth is a young novelist. Divergent is her first novel, and she started working on it as a college student at Northwestern. It isn’t perfect. She has some consistency problems with her characters, and the character development was much stronger in the first book. If you try to hold it up to The Hunger Games (a fate no dystopian author can avoid these days), it will fall short, but Collins had already published five novels before the The Hunger Games came out, and Divergent is much better than Collins’ original series. I am excited to follow Roth’s career.

The final book in the trilogy comes out on October 22nd – and yes, you will want to know how much longer you have to wait when you finish Insurgent.

Read this book if…

  • The fact Suzanne Collins’ current WIP is a picture book depresses the snot out of you - not because you’re picturing gruesome scenes from the Hungers Games in illustrated form (it isn’t that kind of picture book), but because you love the interesting questions she asks about how to live a courageous and ethical life when you’re thrust into a brutal world.

  • You’ve had it with love triangles – there’s only ONE romantic interest in this book. Added bonus: he’s a bad boy.

  • You want to explore the costs and benefits of the attributes you value. Roth demonstrates the complexity of the values that each of the city’s five factions chooses to pursue – honesty, peace, bravery, selflessness, and intelligence.

Target audience: Ages 14+. The romance element makes it skew towards girls, but there’s plenty of adventure and mystery to keep boys interested.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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