06 April 2015

Divergent by Veronica Roth



     We can all agree that teen romance is stupid, right? I mean, I figure if you disagree with this you wouldn’t be reading my blog anyway. So, I feel like I can just say we all agree that teen romance is dumb and should go away, forever.
     Now that I have that out of the way, I need to say I read the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. In fact, I read it a week or two ago and I’ve been thinking about what to say in this post ever since. The thing is, it was really really good. I am loathe to say it but I think it might have been even better than The Hunger Games. There were some real Christian themes and very good discussion topics.
     That being said, this is an adult book. The romance is waaaay too erotic for kids. In fact, it’s too much for teens. I’d wait until you know for sure your teen is a serious Christian and very mature (think 17 and up) and then give it to them. Now, I don’t really know because I’m not a mom, but that would be my guess. This is actually the only bad thing about this book. It makes me doubly angry because the rest of the book is so good, if the romance wasn’t so erotic it would have been perfect. Though there are no actual descriptions of sex happening and though one could read the book and never know if the characters had sex it got close enough that I didn’t care for it. The romance is also between teenagers which (as aforementioned) we all think is stupid. So, this is actually going to be the last thing I’ll say about it.
     So, I dislike giving too much away which is why I often shy away from the description of the book, but it’s a dystopian series (my favorite!) set in a future where humanity has wiped out more than half of itself. In order to ensure that this doesn’t happen again society has split into five factions, each cultivating a different virtue. Beatrice, the protagonist is a sixteen year old girl raised in the faction called Abnegation. They cultivate selflessness, but Beatrice knows her own selfish heart and thinks she won’t be able to fit into her family’s faction. (This all happens in the first few chapters, if not the very first one so I don’t think I’m giving too much plot away) Later on in the book and for the rest of the series the reader watches as man’s attempt to better himself ultimately fails.
     The series isn’t a Christian series, but the themes are striking. I find it lovely that a believer can write redemptive literature without explicitly saying, “And then Beatrice accepted Jesus into her heart and everything turned out better after that.” This is a book that can appeal to believers and unbelievers, but believers will naturally pick up on certain aspects.
     Ok, I said I wasn’t going to mention the romance again, but I realize that I have to. One of the big themes of the book is forgiveness. And it is most blatant in the relationship between the two main characters. If you can for a moment pretend they aren’t kids, the romance is actually quite mature. They don’t stay starry-eyed about each other all the way through the series. I was particularly blown away by this quote, “I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.” What a great description of marriage. Love is not a free-fall or a lack of control, love is a choice you make every day. The same applies to family relationships. There are some broken familial ties and though not all of them get fixed (yet another realistic aspect of life. We don’t always get all the loose ends tied up this side of heaven) the forgiveness shown is remarkable.
     The theme of sacrifice also is strong in the books. People die in this series. Everything from suicide to murder to laying your life down for your friends is explored. Each death is treated with respect and thought. Not all of these deaths are sacrificial, but some are. There is quite a bit of a discussion of what is worth dying for and I think Ms. Roth and her protagonist display a great deal of maturity in the right way to look at death and particularly in sacrificing yourself for others. As believers we know the power of a death to save others (I am posting this the day after Easter so this should all be fresh in your minds), and I think Ms. Roth wants us to think of Christ when we read these books. The sacrificing isn’t always one’s life, however. Beatrice is raised in the faction that values self-sacrifice above all things. Beatrice never ends up despising where she comes from. She actually sees the sacrificial life as beautiful and brave in its own way. She just is all too aware of her own selfish heart to feel that she can fit in there.
     The biggest theme though not necessarily the one I picked up on until I read reviews from other people is the topic of original sin. The entirety of the series revolves around whether or not men can fix original sin, either by cultivating specific virtues or by genetic modification. Each faction takes a virtue they claim can fix a broken world and ends up distorting that virtue. Bravery becomes cruelty and unnecessary risks. Truth becomes harsh and insensitive treatment of others. Knowledge becomes pride. Ultimately men cannot fix themselves. Total depravity.
     I have one last thing to say about the book that is going to be a little cryptic if you haven’t read the books, but it is my own personal axe to grind. I think the ending of the series was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I didn’t cry, but I thought it was genius, and I’ll never understand the negative backlash about it. Ever. Selah. Now, everyone go read it!
     In conclusion there is a website called EpicReads and the author of said website apparently falls victim to the same problem I have. I want to eat what my characters are eating. I actually made an orange saffron cake for Easter this year because I was reading Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone and the characters had a saffron cake. Anyway, in the Divergent series a certain cake is mentioned a few times and really it’s not explained at all, but here is a recipe put together anyway by the fans of the series. I kind of want to give it a shot.

Great quote that all Christians can rally behind:  “You don’t believe things because they make your life better, you believe them because they’re true.”