Do you like the Beatles? Then you can't be friends with someone who likes The Rolling Stones. Do you have an iPhone? Then you can't be friends with someone who has an Android phone. Mac or PC? Republican or Democrat? DC Comics or Marvel Comics? Come on—you can only choose one.
Okay, that's not true: you can enjoy both the Beatles and the Stones; you can be a Republican and still be friends with a Democrat (or even a third-party voter); and you should like both DC and Marvel Comics. But imagine a world where you could only choose one and that one choice would dictate the rest of your life. Your friends, your job, your hairstyle—all of those would be set after you made that one choice.
If you have trouble imagining that world, no biggie: Veronica Roth has imagined it for us in her 2011 book, Divergent. In post-apocalyptic Chicago, everyone belongs to one faction, which you choose when you turn 16. Each of the five factions is dedicated to one ideal, which basically decides everything about its members' lives.
So when Beatrice Prior turns 16 she has to choose to join either self-denying Abnegation, brave Dauntless, knowledgeable Erudite, truthful Candor, or friendly Amity. While Beatrice grew up in an Abnegation family, she chooses to join Dauntless. But joining Dauntless is a lot harder than it seems. "Tris" not only has to fight the other applicants—she's gotta fight her own fears. And when she finally gets into Dauntless, she learns that there's an Erudite conspiracy to take over the city from the Abnegation government.
That may sound complex, but it's pretty easy to get into once you learn a few weird words. At its heart, Divergent is an exciting adventure story in a thought-provoking world. Which is maybe why it's reached bestseller status and won the 2011 Goodreads Reader's Choice Award. Plus there's a movie adaptation, featuring stars like Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. How could you go wrong?
Divergent is Veronica Roth's first book, which may make you feel better or worse about your own accomplishments when you learn that it was published when she was only 22-years-old. It's the first book in a series, with Insurgent (2012) and Allegiant (2013) as numbers 2 and 3. So if you're hooked on Divergent, Roth will be keeping you busy with awesome books for years to come.
Before you dismiss this book as simply another The Hunger Games ("look, teens are fighting in both") or as a retread of Harry Potter ("look, the factions are just like the different houses in Hogwarts"), let's admit the truth: yes, there are similarities. But Shakespeare stole all of his plots from history books and other plays, and he was still pretty good at that writing thing. So let's not write off Divergent as yet another teen dystopia just yet. It's got more to give.
For one thing, everything Tris is going through, you're probably facing, too. It's just her version may be a little more extreme. For example, maybe you have to decide whom to sit with in the cafeteria and whom to hang out with—which is pretty much what Tris goes through when she has to decide what faction to join, except that choice is for life, whereas where you only need to make it through a lunch period. Or maybe you're dealing with the complex feelings of being a friend but being in competition with someone (hello, SATs). Tris knows what that's like, too, since she has to compete with her friends Christina and Will to get into Dauntless. So in a way, this book may look like an extreme version of what you're going through already if you're now around 16. (Though, hopefully, your school doesn't require people to jump off trains.)
But Divergent isn't just about fitting in and making friends at school or in a faction. When Tris has to choose which faction she wants to belong to, she's making a choice about what kind of person she wants to be. Does she want to be truthful or brave or smart or generous or nice? That's kind of an awful question—who says you can't be all of those things?—but it's the kind of question that people ask themselves every day. Long after you graduate from school, you'll be presented with a situation where you'll have to ask yourself: should I be nice or truthful? ("Yes, that dress looks good on you" or "You look as big as a house, so try again.") Brave or smart? Generous or selfish?
It only looks like Tris answers this question once, but in fact, she keeps answering this question all the time with what she does. This is why you'll see adults commuting to big fancy office jobs reading this book on the train. (But, again, hopefully not jumping off that train.) This book asks the big question of the reader: what sort of person do you want to be? Maybe you start answering that question when you're a young adult reading a young adult book, but you'll keep answering it throughout your life.
Veronica Roth's Blog
If you're looking for Veronica's her advice on writing and news on the upcoming movie, look no further.
Veronica Roth's Tumblr
There's some overlap with her blog, plus pictures of her dog, which is really why we liked the book.
Veronica Roth's Goodreads
We promise, we're almost done stalking her, but you can check out what Ms. Roth thinks of other books here.
Veronica Roth on Twitter
Last one, we promise. But we would be remiss if we didn't include her twitter, right?
Veronica Roth Discusses Free Four
Free Four is a short retelling of Chapter 13 from Four's point of view, which we've all been dying for.
We're mostly putting this here for the discussion guide. If, you know, you need more questions.
TV Tropes on Divergent
Check out this huge list of tropes that Divergent has, like Creepy Child and Sacrificial Lion. Then you can go see what other works use those same tropes. Watch out—it's possible to spend hours here. Not that Shmoop would know anything about that.
NPR top 5 YA novels of 2011
If you liked Divergent, you might try these other books.
Starring Kate Winslet, so you know it's gonna be good.
Veronica Roth Answers Some FAQs
There are only going to be three books, so don't bother asking that question.
Veronica Roth with Indigo Teen Blog
This one's got the scoop on Insurgent, but some non-spoiler answers on violence and other fun issues.
New York Times Review
They say there's too much overlap with Hunger Games, but still give it a good review. Do you agree?
Science Fiction Writer Reviews Divergent
Are you tired of non-science fiction authors reviewing this book? Then read this. This is more than just another dystopia, says awesome, young science fiction writer Rajan Khanna.
Veronica Roth discusses books and politics
Watch out for Insurgent spoilers, as you check out this interview about feminism and romance and dystopias.
One Last Interview—With a Chicagoan
The very smart Claire Zulkey of WBEZ (which is Chicago's Public Radio station) interviews Veronica Roth
Veronica Roth Discusses… Vocab
It's more interesting than it sounds, trust us.
Veronica Roth Discusses Casting the Movie
This is exactly as interesting as it sounds. More so if you've ever played "Who would play me in a movie?"
Official Book Trailer
The official trailer for the book made by the publishing house. When did book trailers become a thing?
A Fan-made Fake Movie Trailer
A totally unofficial (but still fun) fan-made trailer for the movie. Do you agree with their casting?
Veronica Roth Interviewed
After the video, you can scroll down to see how people are talking about what she's wearing—because they're totally talking about different factions' fashions.
Veronica Roth Speaks with Public Radio
Here's a short interview with public radio where Roth discusses how she decided to place the story in Chicago, among other book-related issues.
The cover of Divergent, complete with Dauntless symbol.
Does she look more Dauntless or more Abnegation to you?
For those who just can't wait to get a glimpse.