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A Catch-Up Guide to Divergent

by Jennifer Stubben Hatch

*This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

Now that Catching Fire is leaving theaters, it's time for Divergent, another bestselling young adult novel, to hit the big screen. Divergent is the first novel in debut author Veronica Roth's Divergent series. If you don't remember plot points or (gasp) haven't read it, this catch-up guide will review the most important details and offer ideas for lively discussions with your library patrons.

Inform Yourself (Caution: spoilers ahead!)

The trilogy, in a nutshell:

  • Divergent -- Beatrice (Tris) chooses to join the Dauntless faction of her society rather than remain with her parents in Abnegation. After passing Dauntless initiation, Tris and fellow Dauntless member Four discover an Erudite plot to overthrow Abnegation using the Dauntless as mind-controlled foot soldiers. 
  • Insurgent  --  Still reeling from the deaths of her parents, Tris struggles to unite the factions against tyrannical Jeanine Matthews and her Erudite followers.
  • Allegiant  --  Tris and Four travel outside the fence, where they discover the secret behind the factions that divide their society. 

Key Events:

In a dystopian Chicago, society has been divided into five factions, each of which espouse a specific character trait. The Abnegation value selflessness, the Amity kindness, the Candor honesty, the Dauntless bravery, and the Erudite intelligence. The Factionless live in poverty and perform menial labor. At the age of sixteen, society members choose which factions they want to join for the rest of their lives.
Beatrice Prior contemplates whether she should stay in Abnegation with her family or choose Dauntless, whose members she secretly admires. Beatrice's aptitude test reveals that she is not aligned with any single faction, making her dangerously Divergent. At the Choosing Ceremony, not only does Beatrice shock her family by choosing Dauntless, but her brother, Caleb, chooses Erudite.
Beatrice, who now calls herself "Tris," discovers that if she doesn't earn her place in Dauntless by successfully competing in three brutally challenging initiation stages, she'll become Factionless. Tris performs poorly in the first stage, which pits the initiates against each other in fights. She makes friends with Christina, Will, and Al, but other initiates, particularly Peter, are extremely antagonistic.
In the second stage, Tris's Divergence helps her through a series of virtual reality simulations that test fear. After placing first in the rankings, she is attacked by Peter, Drew, and her supposed friend Al. Tris is rescued by Four, her instructor.
As Tris grows closer to Four, she learns that the final initiation stage will require her to experience all of her fears in virtual reality. Four allows Tris to experience his own "fear landscape," and Tris learns that Four is actually Tobias, the son of Abnegation leader Marcus. Tobias was severely abused by Marcus, and though his aptitude test placed him in Abnegation, Tobias chose Dauntless in order to escape his father.
When Tris visits her brother at Erudite headquarters, she meets Jeanine Matthews, the Erudite leader. Later, Tobias tells Tris that he believes Erudite is not only preparing for war against Abnegation, but is somehow planning to involve the Dauntless. 
On Initiation Day, Tris successfully faces her fears in the fear landscape and places first overall among all the initiates. However, her realization that the Erudite are capable of controlling the minds of Dauntless members comes too late -- that night, she wakes to discover that mind-controlled Dauntless members are being sent to slaughter the Abnegation. Tris and Tobias are both unaffected by the mind control, but they are captured and taken to Erudite headquarters, where Jeanine separates them and orders Tris' execution.
Tris is unexpectedly rescued by her mother, who is soon killed while leading Tris to safety. When Tris finds her father, brother, and Marcus, she tells them they must go to Dauntless headquarters to stop the mind control simulation. When they arrive, Tris's father is killed. Tris goes to the computer room, where she discovers Tobias under a more advanced mind control. Tobias fights her, but he eventually recognizes her voice and regains control of his mind. Together they stop the simulation and flee Dauntless headquarters with Caleb and Marcus. They take a train to the Amity sector, where they hope to find sanctuary while they decide how to fight Jeanine and her followers. 

Key words, people, and places to know:

  • Stiff: slang name for Abnegation members.
  • The Pit: the commons area in Dauntless headquarters.
  • The Hub: the government headquarters, known in the present day as the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, the tallest building in Chicago.
  • Hancock building: the present-day Hancock Tower, the second tallest building in Chicago. Tris and some other Dauntless members zip-line from the top of the tower to the ground during initiation.
  • Eric: a sadistic Erudite masquerading as a Dauntless leader.

Engage Your Readers: Book Discussion Questions

  • Why did Tris choose Dauntless over Abnegation? Do you think she made the right choice?
  • Tobias says his aptitude test placed him in Abnegation. Do you agree? Which of his traits make him a good fit for this faction? Which don't?
  • Which Divergent initiates were your favorites? Why?
  • Should Tris have forgiven Al when he asked for it? Do you think he was responsible for his actions or was he psychologically damaged by the fear simulations?
  • Why didn't Tris' mother tell Tris about her past? How would this information have helped Tris?
  • Was Tris right to let Marcus join her family when they invaded Dauntless headquarters?
  • Do you think it's fair that only members of Abnegation can hold government positions?
  • Do you think Tris is too biased about the Erudite? Do you think it's possible to be a good person in Erudite?
  • What do you think of the dystopian world that Veronica Roth created? What more do you want to know about it?
  • Do you think the factions represent the full spectrum of human behavior? What other factions would you create?
  • Which faction would you choose for yourself? Could you live in Candor and tell the truth all the time? Would you enjoy jumping from moving trains and zip-lining from the top of a tower like the Dauntless?
  • Which faction would be the hardest for you to live in?

Impress Your Readers: Divergent Trivia

  • While Dauntless headquarters and the Amity sector are imagined, many of the settings in Divergent are based on real places. Abnegation sector is in the neighborhoods north of downtown Chicago (aka the Loop), Candor headquarters is in the Merchandise Mart just north of the Loop, and Erudite headquarters is the row of buildings on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • A number of well-known movie stars will appear in Divergent, including Kate Winslet (Jeanine Matthews) and Ashley Judd (Tris's mother).
  • In Divergent, Shailene Woodley (Tris) and Ansel Elgort (Caleb) play sister and brother. Later in 2014, Woodley and Elgort will play girlfriend and boyfriend in the The Fault in Our Stars, a film adaptation of John Green's novel for teens.
  • Veronica Roth was a student at Northwestern University (located just outside Chicago) when she wrote Divergent. She was inspired by a psychology class to write about a group of people trying to create fearlessness using exposure therapy.
  • Roth once said she'd jump into a pool of marshmallows if she became a published author. After signing her book deal, Roth jumped into a bathtub filled with 42 bags of mini-marshmallows. The video of her adventure is available on her blog.
  • When asked to pick a faction, Roth used to choose Dauntless, but now she believes that was just wishful thinking and she actually has more affinity with Abnegation.
  • In an interview with New York Magazine, Roth said she wouldn't date Four/Tobias: "Too many secrets, not enough jokes."

Advise Your Readers: Book Recommendations

Are your patrons clamoring for more romantic, action-packed books like Divergent? You can find recommendations for Divergent and other books like it -- such as The Hunger Games, The Testing, and Matched -- inside NoveList.

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Jennifer Stubben Hatch is a librarian and former staff member at NoveList. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.