Divergent – Veronica Roth

divergentReading level: 9
Series: Book 1 of the Divergent series
Genre: Dystopian, romance
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I did it, you guys. I read Divergent. Despite all the hype, I loved it. In fact, I haven’t been so in engrossed in a book since reading The Hunger Games series. And, yes, it’s a lot like The Hunger Games books. Here are some similarities that I see:

  • Young, female heroine
  • Dystopian society
  • Love interest (though so far there’s no complexities about who Tris loves)
  • Violence
  • War between factions/districts
  • Corrupt government

Now, some people are complaining that it’s nothing new, is too much like The Hunger Games series, is like all the other YA, dystopian trilogies… My response: that’s okay because this book was really awesome! It was truly thrilling, creepy, and romantic. I became a bit disinterested while reading the last 5ish chapters because of the violence and the whole war aspect. The same thing happened to me at the end of The Hunger Games series. For some reason, overthrowing governments and killing the daylights out of tons of people isn’t my idea of interesting.

When I read books now, I think about what I’ll say in the blog post about why students may like or dislike it, if it’s ELL-friendly, etc. I forgot about all of that while reading Divergent. It completely sucked me in. So let’s try to think like a teacher now.

I saw this book in a 6th grade classroom, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s okay for middle school and beyond. Any problems teachers, districts, and parents had with The Hunger Games books regarding violence and teens killing each other, they will have with this series too. It’s pretty gory. But it is YA, so it’s not terribly graphic. There are two iffy parts, though, in addition to the general violence throughout:

1) when Tris is “touched” by those two boys. It’s not graphic or explicit, and it is fleeting. If middle schoolers across the country read The House on Mango Street and/or To Kill a Mockingbird (which I did read in middle school), parents/administrators can’t complain about this scene.

2) when Tris admits to Four that she’s afraid of sex. It’s a really sweet moment, I thought! It highlights both of their fears and vulnerabilities. They stop and talk about it (whaaaa?) and then comfort each other that it’s something they’ll do later, when they know each other more and are ready. Very responsible.

The romance between Tris and Four is pretty adorable. It wasn’t all gushy or obsessive. In fact, it’s the boy who winds up showing more affection and neediness than the girl, which seems to be unusual in books and movies. It was fun to watch their friendship and relationship develop as they helped each other through various difficulties and how Tris (and the reader) is confused about Four’s persona – whether he’s kind or ruthless. It sort of reminded me of the romance between Zane and Tally in the Uglies series in that both characters take care of one another, and their relationship is firstly based on friendship.

I was surprised to find that Scholastic claims this book is at a 9th grade reading level. Maybe it’s because of the names of the factions? In fact, I think the 9th grade reading level is a bunch of bologna because that’s the grade level they’ve given to The Return of the King, and that book was WAY harder to read than Divergent.

That being said, it seems ELL-friendly enough to me. Even if students don’t understand that the faction names define the values of the faction (“abnegation” means “self-denial,” for instance), each faction’s values are explained many times.

And now I join every teen girl in American and wait for the Divergent movie.

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