Since the popularity of The Hunger Games there seems to be an influx of dystopic trilogies with older teens as the main characters. The Matched – Crossed – Reached Series by Allie Condie is one example and the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth is the latest.
Contrary to my typical pattern I have picked up the Divergent Trilogy even though the third book isn’t yet published. Veronica Roth is up for a teen choice award for her work and it caught my eye, especially since I had the other two trilogies already under my belt.
In The Hunger Games Trilogy the setting is a post war United states divided into factions based on resource production. Katniss comes from probably the poorest section and is thrust into a political situation that she doesn’t have the education or experience to understand. Her choices are all based on instinct, on her heartfelt ethic. She is buffeted by forces she can not begin to match and her successes are because she is well marketed as one of the people.
The Matched Trilogy is not set in our landscape specifically. Although the world could very well be ours there are no landmarks that indicate it. If Katniss is on the outside the characters in the Matched Trilogy are much closer to the action. The main character Cassia may not initially be aware her Grandfather was one of the originators of the revolutionary plan, but she has been given the training to respond when she does learn the truth. Her skill in this world is to identify and sort patterns which allows her an understanding of the political situation far beyond her age or experience. When she makes a choice it is an active one, based on her understanding of the patterns and her awareness of the pieces that are missing.
The love triangle in this story is much more honest than in the Hunger Games. The triad (Cassia, Ky and Xander) grow up together as best friends. When the day comes to be “matched” with her life partner Cassia is surprised and pleased to find herself paired with her best friend. When she discovers the match was manipulated and she should have been paired with her other friend, the one who’s family is suspect, all three of them have to deal with the feelings and implications of this news.
Disney has the movie rights to this trilogy and we may see it released in the very near future.
Which brings us to Divergent and Insurgent. Again the setting is the United States, specifically Chicago. I struggle with the idea that the Sears tower stands while Lake Michigan is nothing but a swamp, but Ms. Roth knows her landscape well. The first book gives us no real history of the wars that lead to this Society being structured into 5 factions. Like the characters we accept it as a given.
We do learn that the factions were formed to “eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the worlds disarray… Those who blamed aggression formed Amity…Those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite…Those who blamed duplicity became Candor…Those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation… And those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless.”
Beatrice is raised by the Abnegation faction but at 16 all the children are given an “aptitude test” and then they have the opportunity to chose their own faction. The belief “faction before blood” means for most of them if they choose a new faction they will not see their families again.
When Beatrice takes her aptitude tests she finds she is resistant to the mind controlling drug used to create the scenarios. Her test is “inconclusive” which means she is Divergent. She comes to her choice of factions knowing in her heart she isn’t selfless enough to stay with Abnegation. She chooses Dauntless.
It is the skills she learns preparing to qualify for Dauntless initiation that prepare her for her role in the rebellion. Unlike the other books Trice’s role is not to support the rebellion, but rather to stop it. She recognizes the faults in her society but the rebellion plans a tyrannical mind control of the populace by one of the factions. The resistance of the Divergent to the drugs is all that stands in the way of their success.
In the second book,Insurgent the war between the factions is in full swing. Trice struggles throughout this book with both guilt and grief because of her own choices and actions in this war. She also explores issues of trust especially in her relationship with Four, who we learn was also raised as an Abnegation named Tobias. We see more of the roles their family relationships play in the political situation. The issue of “faction before blood” is not as easy as it sounds. Especially not for the Divergent.
We meet the factionless and find they are more than the homeless vagrants we thought they were. In fact the percentage of Divergent among the factionless is higher than anywhere else. We begin to see the advantages of being Divergent outside of the mind control scenarios. We also, by the end, learn more about how both the factions and the Divergent were created.
I liked all three series for very different reasons. They all explore flawed societies and revolutionary change. I liked Hunger Games for its characters. The story of a vastly complicated political upheaval from the point of view of the average folk was very appealing. The way these “little people” had an impact and the way society manipulated them spoke strongly to my understanding of our current political climate.
Katniss is a very talented, intelligent and surprisingly sympathetic character. She has a complicated personality and ethical viewpoint. She is adaptable but determined to hold true to herself even as she is just finding out what that means.
I liked the Matched series for its story. The notion of society being able to find your “perfect mate” is as appealing as it is appalling. The way the revolution ends up using the same tools to manipulate the population that the government used rings true to my experience. The fact that all of the characters have positive and negative qualities, different skill sets and good reasons for the choices they make kept me engaged.
The thing I liked the most about Matched was the role the creative arts play in politics. The society has limited access to art. Cassia is given two poems that are not on the approved list by her Grandfather before he dies. This interest in the arts is what drives her beyond the choices of either the society or the revolution. I also enjoyed the exploration of the emotional landscape of Cassia, Ky, and Xander. The love triangle overlaying the friendship triangle pushes and pulls these characters in interesting ways.
Perhaps it is because the Dauntless are always younger, but in the Divergent and Insurgent books I truly felt the characters acted their age. The struggle between trusting your own instincts and trusting what you are taught by your elders is crucial to this age group. In this series, more than the others, the information our main characters is given is the truth. It is just colored by the perspective of the person delivering the information.
I enjoyed the perspective of the Dauntless. The challenges these young people face as they train for their initiation and their willingness to embrace life is inspiring. That these risk taking behaviors are not always reasonable just adds to my sense that the characters are truly acting their age. Trice notices there aren’t many older Dauntless but she doesn’t bother to stop and wonder why.
Any of these are good teen reads. Each of them takes you deeply into their world and keeps you there without having to make comparisons across the genre. If you liked one series you may find you like them all.