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The dystopian future envisaged by Veronica Roth in this trilogy featuring a teen girl hero fighting against a carefully engineered society that deprives people of freedom. By now, with The Hunger Games and Delerium, we are familiar with this format. This time the city is Chicago, and there is at least a passing resemblance between this imagined society and the one in Plato's Republic. The society is divided up into different groups sorted by their natural abilities and inclinations; Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity and Candor. At the age of 16, each child decides which faction to join. Plato's society has 3 groups; the educated aristocrats, the workers, and the soldier guardians. Plato argued that a good society had the 3 groups living in harmony, and categorized the problems that occurred in society when those groups were out of balance. Roth in her book explores what happens when the groups in her society no longer live in harmony, but instead plot to get control.
The main method of control in this world comes from mind simulation, where people are put into trance-like states in which they experience very realistic delusions, while other people are reading their minds and examining their reactions. This mind control can force people to undergo terrible experiences that paralyze them. But there are some people in society who are able to master their fear in the simulations and get control of their own minds. These people are those who have extra mental and emotional abilities and can be in more than one group in society. They are labeled "Divergent" and are considered to be threats.
In her first simulation, Beatrice Prior discovers that she is Divergent and so she has to choose which faction to join. Her family is in Abnegation, and it would bring shame on them if she chose to leave her own faction, and she does not know what to do at the ceremony where she and all the other 16-year-olds make their choices. Thankfully, she chooses the most exciting group, and is put through a series of incredible challenges. She becomes disillusioned by how people use their skills not for the common good but as ways to prove their superiority to others, and she starts to see the alarming signs of how their society is not working well.
Written for young adults, this novel explores interesting themes and has plenty of action. Of course there is romance for Beatrice, and she has to face difficult moral choices. The writing is not as beautifully crafted as that in Lauren Oliver's Delirium series, and the story is not as exciting as The Hunger Games, but it is still a good story. There are significant gaps in the plot and the whole society seems to have remarkably few people in it; the characterization of the main figures is patchy. But there is enough here to hold the reader's interest.
The unabridged audiobook is performed by Emma Galvin who is convincing as the teenage heroine, and who brings plenty of energy to the reading.
© 2013 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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