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Monday, August 6, 2012

A Therapist's Take on Veronica Roth's Divergent and Dystopian Fiction

I had a friend (waves at Heather) request that I read Veronica Roth's Divergent before singularly dismissing dystopian fiction. So I did, and enjoyed it. I haven't read The Hunger Games, though I suspect that I will now. Even so, dystopian fiction doesn't have much to recommend it to me (besides gazillions of copies being sold in the current trend).

Some Dilemmas with Dystopian

1) The World is Bad Enough Already.

Why would I want to use the little free time I have during which I usually engage in escapism to a better world, to read about a world that is worse? In Divergent, Tris lives in a world I don't want to live in. So how do you get people to read your book? What's the takeaway? Why should I emotionally invest in such a book?

2) You have Lots of Explaining to do.

You have to be a good writer to write dystopian. I have to want to stick it out through the rather lengthy explanations of why the world is now as awful as it is. What catastrophic event happened after 2012? How depraved did humankind get and why? And what's the new regime look like? This takes precious pages...and Roth does a great job.

3) You have to Suspend Readers' Disbelief.

There is crazy, futuristic stuff that happens in these books. Roth's initiation of Tris into the Dauntless faction had my eyebrows raising. Jumping off buildings? Falling into holes? Climbing in and jumping out of moving trains? Beating each other up? Mind-altering drugs? Who would sign up for this? Tris would and did....with a good enough reason that I never doubted her decision.

Review of Divergent

Chicago's population is divided into 5 factions, which weren't random, but rather a steeply ingrained version of high school stereotypes (let's not forget this is a YA novel).

Candor (the honest) = socially incompetent/awkward
Erudite (the intelligent) = nerds
Amity (the peaceful) = hippies
Dauntless (the brave) = jocks
Abnegation (the selfless) = religious folk
Factionless = rejects

Now I realize the above might seem a gross generalization, but as the novel progressed, I was still struck with how Roth accurately portrayed each sect from my own high school. I could relate to the factions, though each were taken to an extreme version I didn't personally recognize.

I imagine each reader was internally selecting which faction they would have joined if they had been 16 and about to undergo initiation. This draws a reader into the story immediately, and of course we wait with bated breath to know which faction Beatrice would join.

The book focuses on Tris' initiation into one of the factions, and an incredible, dangerous secret that sets her apart from the other initiates. Truly, Divergent is a story of a girl trying to find a place where she fits in. She's awkward at first, the equivalent of a girl who would be picked last for any sports team. Eventually she changes, physically and emotionally, to one more accepted and not so easily discounted.

Yet even within in her chosen faction, she's not always likely to do as they would hope she would do, which complicates her life, yet she seems unable to stop. She's still trying to fit in, but her own personality (and secret) make it difficult to do so. She's unique, and being a clone doesn't suit her, which is a nice takeaway lesson for young adults everywhere.

Roth, a Christian, wrote a romantic element in her book that maintains Christian values of purity and chastity while still keeping things exciting. She also addresses family relations that are far from perfect, which come with lasting emotional trauma and fear, competitiveness within friendships, and sibling connections that rise above dissimilarities.

It was a good read, and I'm glad I read it. I hated the way it ended, which essentially meant I immediately logged onto Amazon and got Book Two, Insurgent. You'll do the same if you read this book...but that means Veronica Roth did her job.

Let's Analyze

Have you read Divergent? What did you think about my breakdown of the factions?