Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Veronica Roth
(2011, Katherine Tegen Books)

Divergent, book 1

In a world where people are forced to live a single set of values, depending on their aptitude, a young girl chooses a militaristic life, and undergoes their initiation, even though her aptitude lies outside the accepted norms.


-- First reading (paperback)
June 30th to July 6th, 2018


I've already seen the movie twice, so remembered most of what happened in the story before I read about it. But like all movie adaptations, the book fills in a lot of holes. I think it did a better job of giving us Tris' anguish and resolve, as well as a more thorough political awareness. I really enjoyed the interaction between Tris and the other members of her initiation group.

Spoiler review:

Rarely does a movie improve on a book; normally the best a reader can hope for is for the movie to follow the script laid out by the novel, leaving the details and thoughts of the main characters to those who read the book. Sometimes it's better to read the book first, and sometimes it's better to see the movie. In this case, the movie did a good job. Like The Hunger Games, the movie took the story and laid it out visually in all the major details. Unlike the Hunger Games, though, the movie did make some improvements. I liked the digital leaderboards, for example, in the Dauntless initiation, as well as the visualization of the whole environment. It looks so simplistic on the outside, but once they get inside, the guns and targets, the scoreboards and simulation rooms all look more modern than we have now.

I like the structure of the world these people live in, post-apocalyptic Chicago, which is fenced off from the rest of the presumably wild world. I can't figure out why Amity would be outside the fence, though, away from the protection that it provides, even if they have farms. If I recall from the movie, Amity there is inside the fence, which makes more sense to me.

The people of Abnegation, of which Tris is a part, believe in being selfless to the extreme. Erudite believes in knowledge, Candor in truth, Amity in peace above all else. And finally, Dauntless believes in action and conquering fears. Obviously, in the real world, people are made up of these five attributes in different measures. Separating them seems like a strange way to live, as there must be a lot of people like Tris who have trouble living the core values of one faction above all else. I guess they then get kicked out and become factionless.

At the age of sixteen, at the Choosing Ceremony that will determine where they spend the rest of their lives, Tris transfers from Abnegation to Dauntless, and begins her initiation training there. Leaping from a moving train, jumping into a hole in the floor, learning fighting techniques, shooting guns and being intimidated are all part of this process. Not everyone will make it into Dauntless -those who wash out of the initiation program will end up factionless.

Tris hangs around with the other faction transfers, and competes against them and the youngsters who were in Dauntless and chose to remain there. So we get to know Christina, Al, Will and Peter very well, in the way they treat each other and how they act in the training. Tris spends so much time worrying about getting better at training that she barely seems to realize that she's improving. But the others do, including abrasive Eric, who actually pays her a compliment. The author is good at separating the five kinds of thoughts, and then applying them all to Tris. I think the reason she is able to improve so much is that she can analyze the process and understand what is going on. Instead of going into an adrenaline rush, Tris thinks things through like Erudite, and thinks of how others would benefit, like Abnegation. She's a mix of all three.

When the others in her group start washing out, like Edward, who is stabbed in the eye because he's in first place, and Al, who commits suicide because he doesn't want to hurt anybody but feels betrayed by Tris, she feels for them, but continues to look out for herself.

One of my favorite scenes was Visiting Day, when Tris’ mother showed up and Tris realized she’d started in Dauntless herself. It was a real eye-opener for Tris, and I think the author did a good job in making her more confused about probably the only thing she thought she knew for a fact.

The other scene that I really liked was Tris’ visit to Erudite to see her brother. I liked the way they went outside to the statue (a running theme in this series), and how he started to defect. But I really enjoyed the passage where Tris returns, and is confronted by Eric, and Four covers for her by using their pseudo-romance in a way that Eric would believe.

In the second stage of training, she's by far the best at passing the simulations, her fear landscape. Being Divergent, she wakes up in the simulation, and can manipulate it to her own benefit. Four, formerly known as Tobias, the abused child of Marcus, an Abnegation leader, helps Tris through her training, and they begin to fall in love. It's a slow burn, and lasts through the entire initiation training program. When Peter (who stabbed Edward) and Al abduct her in her sleep and try to push her over the edge of the deadly chasm water rapids, Four saves her, and they finally admit their love for each other.

I really liked the way Tris behaves like a leader in strategy in the take-the-flag game, climbing the ferris wheel and spotting the enemy flag. I also like the way she was inducted into the Dauntless-born group, when they go zip-lining, meeting friends outside her group, at a time when those within her transfer group are starting to resent her. In the movie, the strategy game and the ziplining were compressed together for time, but in the book, the zip-lining is something that shows how the Dauntless-born accepted her even before their groups got merged. It also introduced a lot more characters than we get to know in the movie, who will become important in the later books.

We learn a little about the political landscape at a time, as Tris either overhears things or others tell her what they overheard, or, more awkwardly, as the others tease her about her Abnegation upbringing. Jeanine, leader of the Erudite, wants to topple the Abnegation leadership, and it's understandable why. Abnegation believe everybody should be treated the same, so they don't crave power, which is good, but they also impose rules that don't allow comforts and riches, which the other factions crave. Jeanine has been publicly verbally attacking the leaders of Abnegation in an attempt to weaken them.

So when everybody is injected with transmitters at the end of initiation, Tris begins to worry. She wakes up the next morning to everybody silently getting ready for a battle, in the stupor of a simulation. Only the Divergent are still awake, but she follows along so she won't be discovered. The Dauntless soldiers go to Abnegation sector and start slaughtering everyone. Tris ends up shooting Eric in the foot, then her friend Will in the head -dead, just to get away. This will haunt her for a long time.

Tris is captured, and put into a water cage, but her mother rescues her, and dies in the escape. Tris finds the safe house where her father, brother Caleb, and Marcus are staying. Together, they infiltrate Dauntless headquarters, rescue Tobias, and steal the hard drive of the simulation.

I really don’t understand why Four was hooked up to the simulation, apparently running it. The simulation was running way before they captured him. Sure, Jeanine wanted to test the new serum on a Divergent, but why was he in charge of the simulation -after the Abnegation were already nearly wiped out? What was left to do? I seriously doubt it was just to lure Tris to the control center.
That part doesn't make sense to me, as Jenine didn't need Tobias -they are all experts in simulation and computers. It seems like he was only captured to keep him in the story and to create conflict with Tris.

Also, I don't know what Tris hopes to accomplish by stealing a hard drive. The simulation is presumably on a network, and is fully spread out along many hard drives. Surely Jeanine has copies, and can recreate the simulation at any time.

Hopefully we'll find out in the next book.

As with other books that divided the population into different types of people (for example, Quantum Night), I found myself assigning faction traits to my own actions and those of others around me long after I finished the book, which amused me.

There were a couple of things that bothered me about the writing. One was the fascination of everyone biting their nails or the insides of their cheeks. Yes, I understand that they are nervous, which should be a signal that something is wrong with this system. The other was the description of Christina and Uriah as having black skin, where there was no discussion at all of everyone else’s skin color. If it was normal to see people of different colors, why is it necessary to mention it? I think the author could have been a lot more subtle.

When the author sticks to the initiation program, it's riveting and very interesting, especially since the book is first-person from Tris' point of view. When it comes to politics and the love story, it's still entertaining. However, the crisis at the end, with the simulation, was very weak, and I was losing interest fast, as it seemed simplistic.


Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.