I’ve always maintained that books are better than movies. Reading the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth recently, after seeing the movies, reinforced that for me. While I enjoyed the Divergent movies, I have to say, the books are much, much better. Here’s why I recommend picking up the original series, if you haven’t already, instead of relying on Hollywood’s storytelling.
Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant are post-apocalyptic or futuristic novels. They take place, for the most part, in a city divided into five factions, which each cultivate a specific virtue: Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (truth) and Amity (peace). One of the things I really liked about these books is the distinct cultures Roth develops within each faction.
While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in the summaries below, it’s also hard to review a trilogy or series without doing so.
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The first book in the trilogy introduces us to Beatrice Prior just before her Choosing Day. At sixteen, Beatrice (played by Shailene Woodley) takes the aptitude test along with all her peers. She must then choose which faction she’ll spend the rest of her life in. Despite her close family ties, Beatrice doesn’t feel like she belongs in her birth faction, Abnegation. Instead, she chooses Dauntless.
Most of Divergent focuses on her initiation into Dauntless. Changing her name to Tris, she finds she is the smallest in her class and must fight hard for her place among the initiates. Tris also carries a deadly secret: she doesn’t really belong to any specific faction, because her aptitude test results were inconclusive. She’s Divergent, but Divergence is dangerous.
During imitation, Tris develops a relationship with one of her instructors, Four (played by Theo James). Together, Tris and Four discover a deadly secret behind the change in imitation policies in Dauntless. Together, they must stand between Dauntless and the destruction of Abnegation.
With the factions in chaos, Four and Tris take refuge with Amity. Their refuge is short-lived, however, as the peaceful Amity refuse to get involved with the conflict between the factions. Four and Tris return to their city, where they discover the factionless are poised to take over the city.
As the turmoil ensues, Tris pursues the rumour of a secret her parents died to protect—or reveal. Her guilt over her actions in Divergent also drive her to suicidal acts of bravery and depression, driving a wedge in her relationship with Four. He faces his own struggles with his childhood memories and his parents’ roles in the clashing factions.
As two groups vie for control of the city, Tris discovers the secret… a secret that will change their way of life.
In Allegiant, the city continues to hover on the verge of war between those who want to abolish the faction system and those who want to resurrect it. In the midst of the struggles, Four and Tris head over the wall to discover the truth revealed in the secret. There, they discover a world beyond their imaginations.
Their city and its faction system, they learn, is merely an experiment—an attempt to restore genetic “purity” after failed genetic experiments. Bad behaviour and crimes are blamed on a person’s genes; those with “pure genes” are thought to act better than those with “damaged genes.” What Tris and Four learn about themselves and their friends drives a wedge between them, with each viewing this genetic theory differently.
As Four and Tris take sides in the genetic debates, their city continues to hover on the verge of war. When everything they know is threatened, Four and Tris reconcile to fight for what they know is right.
This series of short stories from Four’s point of view started me into the whole series. My husband found it for me at the library. Getting some of the backstory—things that happened in Dauntless before Tris joined, which shed further light on the events of Divergent—made me want to read the rest of the story.
It was fun to read favourite scenes from Divergent, written from Four’s perspective instead of Tris’s perspective. And while Divergent and Insurgent are told from Tris’ point of view, Allegiant switches back and fourth between Tris and Four.
The Books vs. the Movies
Reading Divergent made me realize why books are almost always better than the movies based upon those books. Books get us inside a character’s head, to their thoughts and motivations. Movies can only show us a character’s actions.
In the Divergent movie, many of Tris’ actions seem hard to understand. Some of her struggle before her Choosing ceremony is revealed in voice-over, but it’s still hard to see exactly why she picks Dauntless over Abnegation when it means leaving her beloved parents behind. Reading Divergent was like having a light go on. Tris’ internal agony and motivations, as well as a few extra key details, helped me understand the events of Divergent.
Insurgent is where the books began to deviate from the movies (or vice versa). Tris’ struggle in Erudite headquarters is much different in the books than it is in the movies. In fact, I would say the movies downplay the guilt that drives her, as well as the forgiveness and healing she finds.
Allegiant the movie left me confused and disappointed. I really wanted to know how Tris’ and Four’s story ended, and what they found outside the wall. This is where I have to say, the book is waaaay better than the movie. I’m actually not surprised that the third movie was a flop. I feel like Lionsgate took the characters and a few plot points from the book, and then wrote their own story—which obviously wasn’t as good as Veronica’s. (Although apparently Lionsgate decided to split the final book into two movies, and is now turning the last half of Allegiant into a TV movie instead.)
A Christian Worldview in the Divergent Trilogy
A friend of mine, whom I chatted with after watching the first two movies, commented that she thought Roth is a Christian, based on the ending of Allegiant. After watching the movie, I wondered what on earth she meant. There was nothing in the movie that pointed to a Christian viewpoint. After reading the book, I understand her conclusion and agree with it.
There are themes all the way through all four books that point to a Christian worldview. The trilogy is not preachy or allegorical. Rather, like J.R.R. Tolkien, I feel Veronica Roth tells an exceedingly good story with solid morals underneath it.
In Allegiant, Tris struggles with forgiving her brother for betraying her and her parents. She spends most of the book avoiding him, but in a rare conversation, he shares some advice their mother gave him:
“She said that everyone has some evil inside them, and the first step to loving anyone is to recognize the same evil in ourselves, so we’re able to forgive them.”
Big themes throughout all four books include free will, guilt, forgiveness, and sin. The genetic wars, the experiments, and the faction system are all designed to counteract “bad behavior” or sin. Sin is blamed on genetics, rather than human nature, a belief that Tris never accepts. In the final book, her choice to love and forgive her brother mirrors Jesus’ action of love and forgiveness for humankind. (Which may give away the ending of the book, and what Hollywood refused to put in a movie.)
Relationships in the Divergent Trilogy
Another thing I appreciate about the books is Tris and Four’s relationship. Abnegation, the faction in which they grew up, value traditions similar to Christian courtship rather than secular dating. Although Dauntless tends to favour one-night stands and more casual relationships, Tris and Four take their relationship very slowly and seriously.
They also face several ups and downs as they deal with their different perspectives on the faction wars, their actions in the wars, and their childhood memories. Both of them fail to communicate with each other about what they are thinking and feeling, or refuse to listen when one of them does attempt to communicate. At the end of Allegiant, when they reconcile after another big fight, Tris reflects:
I used to think that when people fell in love, they just landed where theylanded, and they had no choice in the matter afterward. And maybe that’s true of beginnings, but it’s not true of this, now. 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.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the Divergent movies is the strong heroine. This is particularly refreshing in the action movie genre, which tends to be dominated by male heroes and a huge lack of any female characters, much less strong or plot-influencing female characters. Of course, the movies cut a few female characters from their plot list, but Tris still has a strong relationship with Christine, her mom, and other women in the movies.
If you have avid young adult readers, I recommend the Divergent series for them. While both the books and the movies contain a lot of violence, I feel that the violence is less obvious in the books because it’s up to the reader’s imagination. The movies tend to glorify some of the fighting (as Hollywood does today). The books also focus more upon the negative impact of the violence, and Tris’ and others’ struggle to end it.
This series would make a great book club pick, for either teens or moms. It’s also interesting to compare plot points between the Divergent trilogy and the Hunger Games trilogy. I’ve seen all the movies for the latter, and the books are next up on my reading list. I find both interesting for their strong female heroines, created worlds, and anti-violence standpoint.
Have you seen the Divergent movies and read the books? What did you think of either movies or books or both?