Divergent - the story

Having been hailed as “the next Hunger Games“ Divergent is the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiance) taking place in post-apocalyptic Chicago, where society is divided into five factions. Each of them represents  a different virtue: Erudite (the intelligent),  Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Abnegation (the selfless). At  16 teenagers  have to decide if they want to stay in their faction or switch to another - for the rest of their lives. Tris Prior makes a choice that surprises everyone. Then Tris and her fellow faction-members have to live through a highly competitive initiation process to live out the choice they have made. They must undergo extreme physical and intense psychological tests, that transform them all. But Tris has a secret,  she is divergent, she doesn't fit into any one of the factions. If anyone knew, it would mean certain death.

My Divergent Journal 

Step 1.  Meeting Tris and Four on the pages of the book 

Just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and now I'm ready to see the movie coming out on April 3 (here in Italy). What is it with these YA novels? I know I’m definitely not the intended demographic but… 1. They are fun 2. They are well written 3. I like them.
With Divergent, I don't know what it was exactly,  but  I couldn't stop. The book is  rather well written though  predictable once you've read other YA - dystopian or not - novels. It combines the  toughness of living in a dystopian society with the need to remain human, has a thrilling plot, relatable characters and I liked it for several different reasons.

-          Remarkable ancestors: Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury
It was impossibile not to think of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell or Ray Bradbury while reading Divergent: Urban decay after an apocaliptic war, the dangerous wish to create a perfect society in order to avoid a new catastrophe, the sacrifice of freedom on the altar of order and stability, the possibility of total control on human minds, the dangers coming from an  unscrupolous application of scientific research.

Tris:  the fighter

After Katniss in The Hunger Games or Clary in The Mortal Instruments sagas, it is clear. The new hero of popular literature is the brave, strong-willed, resourceful young woman. Quite a cliche now, a new stereotype, but one I like. This is due to the fact that the majority of teen readers are girls and also to the female authorship. So Beatrice Prior, Tris, has so much to share with Katniss and Clary – see her independent temper, her physical and mental strength, her not being defined by the relationship with a  love interest  - but she  is also different from them.  She is divergent, not easily categorized, not easily manipulated or controlled, hence a danger to the system of the five factions.

Four:  strong and fragile at the same time

With Four, Veronica Roth  has created a male hero which blends strength and fragility. The new teen heroes are often broken souls who hide their vulnerability behind a mask of self-confidence, toughness, if not aggressiveness. Four doesn’t hide his own flaws nor his fears  from Tris, once he understands they share quite a lot. He doesn’t want to be just one thing: he wants to be brave, selfless , intelligent, honest and kind. If he achieved all those qualities,  he would be a dream man, but … well, he must still work on kindness.  Four, like Tris, is divergent, that is a danger to the  system. However,  he can beat Tris only for his greater physical strength and his experience. Though an initiate,  Tris is already as strong as he is at conquering her own fears, or even stronger.  Are you even human?, he asks her.

        Romance and adventure

I love when a thrilling, gripping story is based on adventure but doesn’t neglect romance. This is indispensable to a desperate romantic soul like mine. Tris meets Four and is immediately stirred by his charming looks though her sexual attraction to him will soon become one of the fears she has to control and conquer. It will be part of her “fear landscape”. This is due to the fact that Beatrice is from Abnegation and her education has been quite reprimanding and chastising,  she is inexperienced and doesn’t know how to cope with all those new emotions Four's only presence provokes in her. Anyhow, this is not an extraordinary problem, any ordinary teenager can relate to Tris as for that.

Step 2.  A lesson for my students and looking forward to watching the film

I've just finished reading the book. Guess what?   I’m sure my students would love the movie and, maybe,  some of the girls who regularly read, could even try the book in the original language.  I must surf the Net and find materials about and from the book as well as about and from the movie to create activities for a lab lesson. Easily done:  an excerpt from the book, a review of the movie (which had been released in the US meanwhile) will do for reading comprehension activities, then a trailer and some clips for the listening comprehension tasks.

So much was said just with looks and stares  
This is the result I'll use these activities with my 3rd year students (16 year old boys and girls) who seem  to appreciate both YA fiction and  working in the lab. After the lesson, they'll know what dystopia means, will have learnt about the five factions, and  have the task (among others)  to imagine which one they would be willing to belong to.

Step 3. Watching the movie  

"The fate of the world depends on the courage of two"

I didn't read much about the movie, neither before it was released nor after. I only knew it starred Shailene Woodley as Tris (never seen her in anything apart in TV ads  for an American TV series I’ve never actually watched) and Theo James  as Four (well,  he  was someone I had seen and remembered from Downton Abbey season 1 and A Passionate Woman).  Now, after watching it, I am only sure of this:  I liked it very much,  it was a very good movie.

I was driven to the nearest theatre (70 km) by my nephew,  who likes this kind of books and movies too, just on the day Divergent came out here in Italy (3 April 2014).  It was tense, well acted, well directed, on the whole a brilliant job. The teenagers (girls!)  in the theatre were so excited , but they were really well behaved: no annoying giggling or loud comments and I was so grateful. As for me, I was there studying each fragment, line, expression and trying to compare everything to the book for most of the first part.  I hate when I watch a movie like that, though. Fortunately, I simply forgot to do the same while watching the second part: things got more and more complicated and frightening so I let myself be totally caught by the emotions. I was oftern breathless and relatively glad I knew what was ahead, it made me feel quite reassured.

I must admit this movie was perfectly cast. Chemistry between the main actors was great, the leads were both definitely convincing as Tris and Four. You could notice even their shivering  and flinching, so many of their hidden thoughts were clearly readable on their faces. So much was said just with looks and stares in this movie! All the other actors were brilliant too, though I expected something more for Peter, Al and Christina. They had,  maybe,  less space than I expected.

Divergent readers won’t be disappointed, anyway,  by what they will see on the screen. The very few, slight changes won’t puzzle them.   I think that the movie is as fierce and  daring as the book, though some production decisions cut out few of its most violent,  bloody scenes (the initiate girl falling down after leaping out from the train in motion, Edward stabbed in the eye,  are the missing ones I could notice).  

To see Kate Winslet to play the severe, scheming leader of the Erudites was a pleasant surprise, since I especially remember her for her romantic leads, Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility or Rose in Titanic. She is good as the scaring leader of the blue faction.

Visually stunning and with a good soundtrack, this movie is one of the few YA sagas adapted for the screen in the last few years,  which hasn’t failed in the process. It’s been welcomed so positively that film 2 and 3 are already in  pre-production.  And I am happy for that. Well deserved.

Which faction would I belong if I lived in the world of Divergent? Not to Dauntless, that’s for sure. Pity I’d miss the chance to meet Tris and Four, but I really couldn't survive one day there. What about  you? Which faction would you believe you'd fit in? Or you feel like you'd be divergent?      

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