(This post is one in a series about the best books ever written. The first post in the series is here.)
Divergent, the first of the series by the same name from Veronica Roth, is a clear demonstration not only of what youth-focused literature can be but what it should be. Really, most of the other writers in this genre should simply be ashamed of what they’ve been producing all this time. This is a continuation of my assertion that to be a good book it has to teach three different lessons — one about language and how it can be used to shape and create and be creative, one about morality, ethics, spirituality and the like and one about humanity, the world around us, our existence. And this book comes through with absolute flying colors.
The book boldly teaches us a language lesson that books written for young people and in language that is not all that complex can be beautiful expressions of language, not simply everyday words but insightful ways of creating characters out of meaningful patterns of them strung together like music.
I shall be completely clear on this. I believe that this book (and its series) is the best piece of young-adult-focused literature yet produced in any language, be it fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry.
So, as to the lessons it teaches, the first is moral. It clearly demonstrates that those who are different are not to be feared and those who are at the top of the existing structure may not indeed deserve to be seen as better than those at the bottom, that outsiders are the future of society and that integration is the only way to save us.
It then goes on to teach us a historical and educational lesson about the importance of not straying from a coherent and comprehensive view of reality, that when you focus too hard on only one interpretation of the truth, you lose your humanity.
Plot? Again, not really my area of interest but it’s a story split over three volumes that describes the coming of age of a girl who lives in a society that is segregated not on racial or cultural lines but a decision as to the important moral viewpoint — honesty vs intellectual potential, bravery vs compassion. She is quickly seen to be outside the norm of these divided ideas and must hide that fact to be safe from persecution as an outsider, someone who doesn’t fit the mold of cultural stereotype. The rest of the story is simply an exploration of her hiding, self-discovery and eventual coming to terms with the fact that we are all far more complex, except those who are broken and obsessed with only one perspective — in other words, conservatives.
So it’s a revolutionary book, one about standing out not simply because it’s what young people want to do but because it’s right to fight against a system that is hurting people and putting traditional values and conservative adherence to the status quo ahead of actual progress and development and, in many ways, ahead of caring for other people.
It’s an interesting lesson to talk about with a class or friends. And it’s a beautiful work to read, stylistically, linguistically. Not to mention it’s been turned into movies and they’re not at all bad representations of the books in the series. Hopefully we can all put aside the silly notion that young people can’t have deep thoughts on serious moral and ethical issues or on society and read this, keeping in mind that educated adults are born out of thoughtful and open-minded young people.
[Divergent by Veronica Roth on Amazon]