This young adult dystopia comes as close as any to the nail-biting survival tests of The Hunger Games, with a little bit of the flavor of Ender’s Game thrown in as a bonus. I won’t say this book is as good as either of those, but it makes a good approximation.
Beatrice Prior lives in Chicago of the future, where most of the skyscrapers are now empty husks, and where the populace is divided into five “factions” depending upon how they believe society should be run: Candor (those who value honesty above all else); Abnegation (the selfless); Dauntless (the brave); Amity (the peaceful); and Erudite (who believe in pursuit of knowledge as a panacea for the world’s evils). When children reach the age of 16, they undergo a “Choosing Ceremony” to select which faction they prefer, which need not be the same faction as that of their family, although it is thought of as somewhat of a disgrace if a child rejects his or her family’s faction. But the main important consideration is that they be committed to one faction or another, and not be “divergent.” The selectees leave their families that very night to become initiated into, and trained by, whichever faction they choose.
Beatrice and her brother Caleb (also 16 although they were born almost a year apart) were brought up in Abnegation, and they will attend the same Choosing Ceremony to determine their futures. In exploring the post-ceremonial lives of Beatrice and Caleb, the reader climbs with them onto a rip-roaring ride through terror, helplessness, and a considerable amount of violence. Beatrice in particular finds herself over and over again in a classic zugzwang situation, which is the essence of her particular dilemma as a “divergent.” But life, now scary and unpredictable, is also rewarding and exhilarating for both siblings, as they discover the true meanings of fairness, sacrifice, courage, peace, and the power of the intellect to effect both good and evil.
Evaluation: Summit (the studio behind “Twilight”) picked up the rights to the film before the book was even released, which should alert you that this is one dystopia that actually lives up to its hype. The author, aged 22, wrote the book during her senior year in college. I don’t know how her other grades came out, but I’m hoping she got an A if she took creative writing.
Note: This is only book one of an intended trilogy. [But I didn’t need to say that, right? Because it’s sort of become a sine qua non of “YA Dystopia”]
Published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011