A crash course in 'Divergent': The next 'Hunger Games'?

March 19, 2014

Photos from 'Divergent'

1. Why should I care about "Divergent"?

Chances are, your kids have read it or heard of it. It debuted at #6 on the NYTimes Children's Bestseller list on May 22, 2011, and has been a bestseller ever since, reaching #1 in 2012 with 39 weeks on the charts. That's a lot of numbers, but suffice it to say that this is a cultural icon. Bonus: if you name-drop the title or its star, Shailene Woodley, during your next carpool ride, you'll earn one million parenting cool points.

2. What's the basic plot?

"Divergent" takes place in a future dystopian Chicago, where everyone is divided into factions. War was tearing the world apart, so the government decided to do away with individual traits that become divisive. Citizens cannot leave Chicago, and they don't know what exists outside the city walls. If you live in this world, you're sorted into factions at 16. If you choose a faction other than the one you're born into, you may never return home. The factions are:

  • Abnegation: the selfless, who volunteer around the city, run the government and discourage vanity (no mirrors allowed in Abnegation households). They always put others before themselves and seek to blend in rather than draw attention to themselves
  • Amity: peaceful folks who hate confrontation. They work the farms and are urged to suppress the way they feel, because opinions are the seeds of conflict.
  • Candor: these are the brutally honest, obnoxious kids you grew up with in high school. They never think before they speak, but they don't consider that strange: Candor families are not offended by the truth, no matter how harsh.
  • Erudite: the highly educated, intelligent scientists who do research, run businesses and seek knowledge above all else. They love books and libraries more than anything, but come across as eggheads, especially to factions like Dauntless.
  • Dauntless: the equivalent of Gryffindor. These are the daredevils who jump from trains on a daily basis to get to work, protect the city from attack, devote themselves to learning the art of war, and are generally reckless adrenaline junkies.

3. What's the conflict? What are we trying to solve here?

Abnegation and Erudite are at war. As you might imagine, the smart people think they should run everything instead of the selfless people. Some government bigwigs (led by deliciously evil mad scientist Kate Winslet) are up to no good, and only the Divergents can stop them because of their unique moral and physical qualities. Tris joins up with a small band of Divergents to try and thwart the government's mind-control plan and — but wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves! Who is Tris? What does "divergent" mean?

4. Who is the main character, and what does "divergent" mean?

Beatrice "Tris" Prior is the heroine of the story: a former Abnegation who switches to Dauntless at initiation, but has a secret to hide. This girl is strong, stubborn, introspective, occasionally impulsive and doesn't quite know her own worth, much like your own teenage daughter. She discovers her own bravery and inner resolve as the story progresses, necessitating comparisons to "The Hunger Games" heroine Katniss Everdeen. She portrays toughness, grit and bravery as well as a considerable amount of heart — never a bad thing for kids to see in the movies.

"Divergent" means you don't fit into just one faction. This is the worst possible thing — a death sentence, if you're discovered. Complex personalities don't mesh with government-mandated categories. Those rejected by every faction are homeless, fed by Abnegation and relegated to dangerous parts of the city. It's even worse to be divergent. You're seen as a threat to society and must be eradicated immediately.

5. How violent and/or sexually age-appropriate for preteens is this movie?

(SPOILERS below.)

Violence won't get to "Hunger Games" levels: you won't see teenagers stabbing and punching each other (much), but when Tris' rebellion gets underway, prepare for some casualties. No one is safe, not even main characters, but we promise it won't go all Red Wedding on you. As for teenage love stuff, the characters never quite go all the way, though Tris really wants to (with a co-star like Theo James, whom you may remember from his turn as Kemal Pamuk on Downton Abbey, one can hardly blame her). You can take your kids to this movie without worrying about shock or embarrassment, but it may require some follow-up conversations.

Congratulations, you're now prepared to watch and enjoy "Divergent." Grab an extra-large bag of popcorn and watch the saga unfold, starting Friday.

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