A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dystopian teen novel is the first of a trilogy. It includes the markers of the genre, including fantasy violence, a fractured society, Big Brother-esque monitoring, as well as romance. The 16-year-old protagonist chooses to live in the "brave" faction, where members routinely try to out-do each other physically and recklessly act like daredevils to prove their fearlessness. The initiation process is brutal and bloody, and kills or seriously injures a few characters. Violence escalates as the end of the book approaches, culminating in a blood bath. The romance is sweet and progresses from lingering looks to a few kissing sessions, but there's no sex and characters express fear of going too far, too fast. Like The Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior is a strong, generous, and beautifully flawed female protagonist.
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What's the story?
In the Chicago of the distant future, society has willingly segregated itself into five "factions:" Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the kind), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). All 16-year-olds take an aptitude test revealing their true faction and then choose one to join -- regardless of which one they were born into. When Abnegation-born Beatrice Prior's results are inconclusive, her tester informs her she's a "divergent" and should never mention her results to anyone. Believing herself too selfish to be any good in Abnegation, she chooses Dauntless, where she rechristens herself Tris. During the dangerous bloody Dauntless initiation process, she develops feelings for her handsome, mysterious instructor Four, who never fails to challenge her to perform her best, even as others grow jealous of her unexpected skills. And Tris beings to realize being a Divergent has both advantages and disadvantages.
Is it any good?
Roth, who wrote the book as a college student, has earned a tremendous amount of first book buzz, and the hype is well-deserved. She uses some devices that fans of dystopian novels will recognize -- a compartmentalized society, a misfit protagonist, dangerous secrets, and a cliffhanger ending -- but still manages to create an unstoppable plot that's remarkably original. Tris is a refreshingly smart and self-possessed 16-year-old protagonist, and readers will fall in love with her leading man right along with her. But the romance, while as swoon-worthy and fluttery as you'd expect from a teen novel, is actually secondary to the book's deep messages about identity and controlling societies. This is an impressive and provoking start to what should be a fascinating series.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why so many books are coming out about teens growing up in dangerous futuristic societies, like Matched or The Hunger Games. Is the dystopian genre becoming overcrowded? What does this book have in common with other books you've read?
What did you think of the level of violence here? Does the fantasy setting make it easier to handle -- or are there details that you found disturbing? Is violence in books different than in other media, like movies or television shows?
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