Another insanely popular teen novel is being made into a movie much to the delight of your reading teens and their non reading friends who are ready to see what their friends have been gushing about for the past couple of years. The goal here is to give you an overview of the book and some talking points with students in a couple minutes of reading. In other words, what you need to know about divergent to relate to students who are fans.
Before we go any further I feel I have to say this again: SPOILER ALERT!
At the core of this book is an interesting social system and a silent mystery. Let’s start with the social system. The society is divided up into five factions that each seek to live into a single virtue as fully as possible. The main Character, Beatrice Pryor (called Tris for most of the series), is born into the Abnegation faction that seeks to be totally selfless and altruistic, but are nicknamed “stiff” by the other factions because of their silence and lack of outward emotion. They serve the poor, do not wear fitted or unique clothing, and are taught to not seek credit or praise.
The Amity are peaceful (read that pacifist) farmers who spend their time in a communal society playing music and begin generally creative. The Candor are honest. They wear black and white as that is how they see the world. They can be harsh because they have no filter. The Erudite value knowledge above all else. Lastly, the Dauntless value bravery and are the city’s guards and thrill-seekers.
Each year, there is a special day called “choosing day” where each person who has turned sixteen in the intervening year gets to choose which faction they want to be in. If they change factions, they leave their families and live in a new area of the city to go through initiation (the dream of many of your teens). If they fail initiation they get rejected by all factions and become a sort of homeless person known as “the factionless” in the book.
The silent mystery is that all of this happens in the city of Chicago; however, the city is basically deserted and surrounded by a wall that the dauntless patrol. The mystery of why is never directly addressed which makes it even more compelling. None of the characters in the book seems to think this setup is odd.
The book begins with sixteen year-old Beatrice going for an aptitude test that will tell her which faction she is most likely to do well in. The tests are administered by a serum that induces a hallucination (called a simulation) controlled by a computer.
After Beatrice finishes, the attendant comes to tell her that her results were “inconclusive” showing aptitude for Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. The attendant warns Beatrice that this is something horrible and dangerous. It is something called being “divergent” and she should never, ever tell anyone.
The teens have a day to decide on their choices based on the results before going to the choosing day ceremony. Beatrice and her brother both choose to leave their faction Beatrice choosing Dauntless and her brother choosing Erudite. Their parents are crushed.
Beatrice is taken by open box car train to the top of a building with a hole in the roof and expected to jump in with the rest of the initiates. She is the first (everyone is surprised a stiff went first) and when she gets off the hidden net at the bottom she is asked to state her name and she chooses the name Tris.
The next huge chunk of the book chronicles Tris’s initiation through three stages where she could be cut at each stage. You meet several important characters here. Tris finds her best Friend Christina in her class of initiates, and over the course of her training she falls in love with her instructor Tobias who is called four (because he only has four fears). Tobias turns out to be divergent as well.
Another important character you meet here is Peter who is a clear villain in the story. He stabs an initiate in the eye and tries unsuccessfully to kill Tris. While initiation is happening for Tris, the rest of the world is embroiled in a controversy orchestrated by the Erudite leaders to discredit the Abnegation leaders who lead the government.
The culmination of the Dauntless training is going through your “fear landscape.” Another serum induces another simulation that takes the student through their worst fears. When the student calms down in one fear situation, the next fear is presented until they finish them all.
Since Tris is divergent, she is aware that she is in a simulation and is able to manipulate them in interesting ways. In her final trip through the landscape she confronts all of her greatest fears: getting eaten alive by crows, drowning while trapped in a glass tank, drowning in the ocean, being burned at the stake by Peter, being kidnapped by assailants, having sex with Tobias (thinking that he only wants her because of her body), and being forced to shoot her own family.
After coming out number one in her class, all the Dauntless are injected with another serum that (they are told) will track them if they ever go missing, but Tris realizes it is going to be used to force the Dauntless to take over the city as mindless drones under the control of Erudite leaders and attempt to kill all the Abnegation.
Since Tris and Four are divergent, the serum doesn’t work on them and they try and stop the invasion. They get captured and Four is injected with something that works on him for a while. Tris is placed in the water tank from her fear landscape and is rescued by her mother who dies during the escape.
Tris rounds up several people to help her take down the main computer that is running the simulation. In that operation she ends up having to kill Christina’s boyfriend will because he is under the simulation. Along the way, her father is killed too. Peter ends up helping her in exchange for her not killing him, and when they get to the control room they find the drugged Four mindlessly running the simulation. He tries to stop Tris, and she refuses to kill him which is what breaks through his simulation and allows them to save the day.
The book closes with all of them board a train to the Amity sector to find the Abnegation survivors.
And there you have it. Divergent not only brings up the brokenness in the world, it explores the developmental task of the teen years as students journey with Tris through the discovery of who she is and her role in the world. And of course, it sets the stage for the next book in the saga: Insurgent. And yes, there is a summary post in the works for it too!