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Book Review

This futuristic thriller book by Veronica Roth is the first in the  Divergent series and is published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Divergent is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior lives in post-apocalyptic Chicago where society is divided into five factions: Amity (kind), Erudite (intelligent), Candor (honest), Abnegation (selfless) and Dauntless (brave). Beatrice and her brother, Caleb, must take an aptitude test that will tell them which faction they are best suited for and then choose which they will join. Where they join determines the value they will commit to for the rest of their lives.

During the aptitude test, Beatrice is injected with a serum that simulates several scenarios. She is judged on her reactions to these scenarios. After the test, the administrator tells her the results are inconclusive. Instead of having aptitude for only one faction, Beatrice shows an aptitude for three — Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite — a result the administrator says makes her Divergent. The instructor warns Beatrice to not share the results with anyone because those who are found to be Divergent are killed.

Beatrice’s family belongs to Abnegation, the faction that has run the government since the great peace when the factions were formed. At home, Beatrice’s father tells the family that tension between Abnegation and Erudite is high. Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews has released a report saying that Abnegation leader Marcus’ abusive behavior toward his son Tobias is the reason Tobias left Abnegation two years earlier and chose Dauntless. They all believe the report is a lie. Beatrice has never met Tobias but knows leaving one faction for another is considered a betrayal. Beatrice believes she is too selfish to remain in Abnegation and secretly admires Dauntless, but she knows if she chooses another faction, she will have to leave her family forever.

At the choosing ceremony the next day, Beatrice is shocked when Caleb chooses Erudite. She intends to choose Abnegation so her parents won’t lose both their children, but at the last second, she chooses Dauntless, much to her father’s disappointment.

Beatrice travels to the Dauntless compound with other initiates and renames herself Tris. The initiates are told that only 10 of them will succeed, the others will become factionless or homeless with no place in society. Tris befriends Christina and Al from Candor and Will from Erudite. Peter, Drew and Molly, three others in their group, bully her.

The group’s Dauntless instructor, Four, teaches them how to use guns and knives, and to fight using hand-to-hand combat in the first stage of their initiation. Tris is simultaneously intimidated and attracted to Four.

Tris’ mother comes to the Dauntless compound on visiting day. She warns Tris to stay in the middle of the rankings and to not draw attention to herself because she is Divergent. She also asks Tris to visit Caleb in Erudite and ask him to research the simulation serum. Tris notices that her mother knows her way around the compound and realizes that she is Dauntless-born.

Stage two of Tris’ initiation involves conquering fear. As with the aptitude test, initiates are injected with a serum that simulates a frightening situation and measures the teens’ ability to remain calm or eliminate the threat. Tris performs well during this phase and eventually realizes that she can control the simulation and change the outcome. Four tells Tris that manipulating a simulation proves she is Divergent and warns her that if she does not hide it, the Dauntless leaders will kill her. He deletes the footage of the simulation.

Tris is more careful but still excels at training, getting through her simulations faster than anyone else. By the end of stage two, she is ranked first among the initiates. Other initiates become jealous, and three of them, including her friend Al, kidnap her and try to kill her. Four saves Tris before she is thrown over a ledge.

Tris and Four draw closer together, and Four takes Tris into a simulation of his fears. Tris discovers that Four only has four fears, hence the nickname. Most initiates have an average of 10 to 15. She also discovers that he is actually Tobias, the Abnegation leader’s son and an Abnegation transfer. Four’s greatest fear is of his father beating him and locking him in a small closet. After the simulation, Four takes her to the rapids where he tells her that he likes her, and they kiss.

The next day, Tris is disappointed that Four treats her like everyone else in her group. She fails a simulation, and he scolds her. Tris runs away to the Erudite headquarters in search of her brother. She tells Caleb about their mother’s visit and asks him to research the simulation serum. Caleb is afraid for Tris. He feels something big is going to happen, but he doesn’t know what it is. The Erudite are not happy with the government under Abnegation. As she tries to leave, Tris is arrested and taken to Jeanine, the Erudite leader, who questions her about choosing Dauntless and about her training records. Jeanine developed the serum aptitude tests and simulations, and she is suspicious of Tris’ results. Tris tells her that she transferred to Dauntless because she hates Abnegation and her parents. She is allowed to return to the Dauntless compound.

Four explains to Tris that they must keep their relationship a secret or other initiates will think her rank is based on favoritism and not merit. He also tells her that he got into the Dauntless computer system and found war plans from the Erudite. They realize that the Erudite want to use the Dauntless as soldiers in a war against Abnegation.

Tris passes her final test in the Dauntless initiation, a virtual simulation of all her combined fears, and receives the top rank. Afterward, Eric, the Dauntless leader, injects her with what he says is a tracking serum. He tells her that all the Dauntless are getting it as a precaution.

That night, Tris wakes up to find all the other initiates in her dorm getting out of bed in unison and getting dressed. They are in a trance-like state, and she can’t wake them. She follows them aboard the train to the Abnegation section of the city. She realizes the serum they received contained transmitters, and the transmitters are connected to a mind-control program. The Erudite developed the serum and the simulations, and the Dauntless leaders are working with Erudite. She is not under the mind control like all the other Dauntless because she is Divergent. She finds Four, who is also awake and pretending to be in a trance. He is Divergent as well.

When they get to the Abnegation sector, they see mind-controlled Dauntless shooting Abnegation members in the street. After a confrontation with a Dauntless leader, Tris is shot in the shoulder, and Eric and Dauntless soldiers capture Tris and Four. They are taken to the Erudite leader who tries a new serum on Four, one made especially for the Divergent, and it turns him into a mindless killer as well. Tris is left to drown in a tank rapidly filling with water, but her mother rescues her. She tells Tris where her father and the other Abnegation are hiding. She distracts soldiers so Tris can get away, but in the process, Tris’ mother is killed.

Tris finds her father hiding with her brother and Marcus, Four’s father. They agree to go back to the Dauntless compound to find the computer running the mind-control simulation and destroy it. When they get to Dauntless, they find another initiate, Peter, willingly guarding the facility; he is not under any mind control. Tris shoots him in the arm to get him to tell her the location of the computer. Leaving a wounded Peter with Caleb and Marcus, Tris and her father find the computer room and encounter several guards along the way. Her father shoots them, and in the fight, he is killed. Tris finds Four in the computer room monitoring the simulation. She knows she can’t shoot him or beat him in a fight, so she reasons with him, hoping that because he is Divergent, he will be able to break free of the simulation, and he does. They stop the computer program and remove the data. The Dauntless group, no longer under mind control, realizes what they have done.

Tris reunites with her brother, and Four faces Marcus for the first time in more than two years. Tris warns Marcus to stay away from Four. They take a train to Amity Headquarters to seek refuge.

Christian Beliefs

Tris’ father gives thanks to God before dinner. She notes that not every Abnegation family is religious, but her father urges her not to think about that because it will only cause division. Four has the words “Fear God Alone” painted on his bedroom wall. After Tris is shot and left to drown, she thinks of her baptism as a baby and how her mother gave her to God then. She knows she has not thought about God in a long time, and she suddenly is happy that she did not kill the Dauntless leader who assisted Erudite with the rebellion. Tris’ father tells her to go with God’s help as she faces soldiers guarding the Dauntless computer room. Thinking that Four will shoot her, Tris wonders what death will be like. Will she be instantly in another world and can she be forgiven for all she has done in this one?

Other Belief Systems

After her friend Al’s suicide, Dauntless leader Eric eulogizes the initiate by telling the Dauntless crowd that Al was courageous for leaping into rapids in order to explore an unknown and uncertain afterlife. He asks the crowd if any among them is brave enough to venture into darkness without knowing what lies beyond it.

Authority Roles

Once 16-year-olds choose a faction, they are no longer under any sort of parental supervision. Those who transfer to a different faction rarely or never see their parents again. Dauntless leaders are not selected by age, so Eric and Four, who oversee Tris’ initiation, aren’t much older than she is. Eric is hostile and violent, traits that are progressively working their way into the original, nobler Dauntless ideologies of bravery and courage. Erudite leader Jeanine uses deception and bad publicity to turn other factions against Abnegation. She has the Dauntless injected with a serum that makes them kill Abnegation members without realizing what they’re doing. Tris’ loving parents don’t disown her for changing factions. She discovers her mother has many secrets, including being formerly Dauntless and, like Tris, Divergent. Tris’ mother ultimately gives her life to save Tris. The beatings Four received in youth from his father, Marcus, leave him emotionally scarred and fearful.

Profanity & Violence

The Lord’s name is taken in vain twice. God’s name is taken in vain 12 times with for —‘s sake, thank, oh my, oh and swear to. Profanity used includes h—. Other language used: stiff (a derogatory name for members of Abnegation), hellions, idiot, shut up, jerk, stupid and crap.

As a part of initiation, Dauntless initiates jump out of a moving train onto the roof of a building; some are hurt, and one falls to her death. Initiates must then jump off a seven-story building without knowing what lies at the bottom. Tris goes first and falls into a net. During training, the instructor holds a gun to an initiate’s head because he is not paying attention. Tris has to stand still while knives are thrown at her head; one of them nicks her ear. Initiates face each other in fighting matches and are paired together regardless of gender or size. Two boys fight until one is knocked unconscious. Two girls fight, and when one is beaten so badly she surrenders, the instructor makes her hang off a ledge over rapids for five minutes. A large boy and a small girl are paired, and the boy brutally punches and kicks the girl until she passes out. Tris, angry for being constantly bullied, beats Molly mercilessly during their match — until Molly passes out.

The highest-ranking initiate is targeted and stabbed in the eye by three other initiates while he sleeps. After Tris is ranked first, other initiates kidnap her. They blindfold her, grope her and attempt to throw her over a ledge into the rapids. Four saves her and severely beats one of her attackers. In the virtual simulations, initiates face several of their deepest fears including bird attacks, drowning, shooting family members and kidnapping. Even though the simulations are not real, the teens have horrific nightmares after going through them. Skirmishes break out among initiates who punch each other. Two initiates are almost choked. Using mind control, Erudite turns members of Dauntless into an army that attacks Abnegation and kills several citizens. When Eric realizes Tris and Four are not under the mind control because they are Divergent, he threatens to kill Four. Tris shoots Eric in the foot to stop him. Tris is shot in the shoulder and left to drown. Her mother rescues her by shooting and killing several guards. Tris’ mother allows herself to be shot and killed so Tris can get away. Tris is forced to shoot her friend Will before he kills her. Tris’ father removes the bullet from her shoulder with a knife. Tris shoots Peter in the arm to get information from him. Tris’ father also dies because he sacrifices himself to save her. He kills several soldiers before he dies.

Sexual Content

Tris sees two initiates kissing in the dining room. She is embarrassed because Abnegation does not condone public displays of affection. Al likes Tris and tries to put his arm around her, but she rebuffs him.

Tris comes out of the shower wearing only a towel and encounters Peter, Molly and Drew in the dormitory. She barely has time to grab her dress before Peter pulls her towel away. Although she is able to hold the dress in front of her, they see her naked body from the back and laugh at her. After Tris is ranked first, other initiates kidnap her. They blindfold her and grope her before attempting to throw her over a ledge into the rapids.

Tris and Four secretly begin a dating relationship and kiss. Tris and Four sneak out to see Erudite headquarters at night, and while they are on the train, she straddles his lap, and they kiss. Christina tells Tris that she and Will kissed and are now dating. During Tris’ final test of her fears, a virtual simulation, she is placed in a situation where she and Four are alone in a room with a bed. Four kisses and begins to undress her, and Tris realizes she has a fear of intimacy. She tells virtual Four that she will not have sex with him in a simulation. After the test, she asks Four about his expectations of her because he is older than she is and more experienced. She tells him what happened in the virtual test and that she is not ready for sex. Four tells her that he is just as inexperienced as she is, and someday, if she still wants him, they can take their relationship to the next level.

After Tris is declared first among the initiates, she and Four kiss in front of everyone in the dining hall. In the train ride on the way to the Amity headquarters, Four tells Tris that he loves her, and he kisses her.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments

Alcohol: Four is seen with a bottle in his hand and appears tipsy. Alcohol is present at a wake where some of the initiates drink. People are drunk at dinner and at various celebrations.

Bullying: Tris is bullied for being Abnegation and pushed around because she is shorter and thinner than everyone else. She is often called a Stiff, a derogatory nickname for members of her home faction.

Lying: Tris lies to her brother Caleb when she tells him she was sent home early from the aptitude test because she got sick. When their mother asks if they know who got sick and was sent home early, Caleb tells her no. After she is rescued by Four, Tris tells her friends she does not know who saved her. Tris lies to her friends about the results of her aptitude tests. She lies to the Erudite leader about her reasons for joining Dauntless and her feelings toward her parents. Four lies to Eric about why Tris went to the Erudite headquarters. Tris lies to her friends about her whereabouts when she spends time with Four.

Smoking: A crowd from Candor smoke outside the building prior to the choosing ceremony.

Suicide: Al performs poorly in training and becomes increasingly depressed. As his ranking is lowered and Tris’ rank improves, he helps Peter and Drew kidnap her in an act of desperation. Al apologizes to Tris for his participation in the kidnapping, but she does not accept it. He commits suicide a few hours later by jumping off a ledge into the rapids.

Tattoos: The Dauntless routinely get tattoos and piercings. Four has several tattoos on his back; Tris gets three tattoos and accompanies her friends as they get their own tattoos. Eric has several tattoos and piercings. After Tris realizes her mother was Dauntless born, she notices a small tattoo under her mother’s arm.

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