September 2016 Round Up: Divergent

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During September’s book club sessions, Books Unbound participants shared interesting insights and asked thoughtful questions about Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Check out the round up below for main discussion topics, favorite moments, creative project ideas, and answers to questions asked by the public.


Main Discussion Topics and Insights

Fluidity vs. Fixity of Personality

One of the most provocative elements of Divergent is the division of society into five factions. Interestingly, all Books Unbound (B.U.) participants initially agreed that the five factions are representative of all people, and thus, all personalities. I wanted them to really think critically about that claim. I pointed out that Divergents don’t fit into any of the five factions, and I read Veronica Roth’s own statement that “no one fits into a faction perfectly.” I also shared a synopsis of “The Personality Myth” episode from the Invisibilia podcast, which challenges the popular American belief that an individual’s personality is firmly fixed and rooted. Afterwards, we had a great conversation about how personalities can change one choice at a time, and how that can allow B.U. members to realize hopeful futures.

Aptitude vs. Competence

We defined each of these words, and discussed examples of them throughout Divergent. Aptitude denotes natural ability, while competence refers to the ability to do something successfully. We decided that the relationship between the two is complex. B.U.  participants and I discussed how people can have aptitude for something without knowing it until they are put into situations that reveal their natural ability. Tris, for example, does not know that she is Divergent until the Aptitude test reveals her ability to easily control simulations. We also agreed that aptitude is sometimes not enough to be competent at something. In such cases, training and practice is required to be fully competent. While Tris’s natural bravery and love of freedom draw her towards joining Dauntless, she struggles to become a good fighter. Through hard work, she trains her way to being able to hold her own in match.

How Values and Goals Dictate Choices

Aptitude factors largely into Divergent‘s characters’ decisions about who they will become in life. This demonstrates that characters in Roth’s Divergent society value natural ability, and their goals correspond to their aptitude. For instance, when Tris’s old neighbor Robert, who joins Amity, tells her that she should be happy, she responds that “The goal of [her] life isn’t just… to be happy.” When I asked Books Unbound members to share what values guide their goals, one common answer I heard was financial success. We talked about how there is more than one path to achieve that success, but that it is important to establish goals to maintain motivation and hold yourself accountable.

Favorite Moment

My favorite moment was when we decided that we had each separately transferred from different factions at some point in our lives, and become part of the same one: a faction of bibliophiles. One member, a particularly avid reader, shared his story about how being incarcerated was his key to discovering a love for literature, a common refrain among prisoners.

Creative Projects

I wanted members to explore their own engagement with Divergent, so after everyone had read and discussed the book, I assigned them creative projects based on the reading. I gave them three options: redesign the book cover, write a diary entry about an event in the book from the perspective of a character, or write and perform a poem or theme song about the book. They could choose to complete as many as they wanted, as long as they tried at least one. We spent part of one meeting in September sharing projects with the group.

Dialogue Beyond Bars

South Carolina resident and founder of the Literature in Prison program Nancy Mace submitted this question for me to ask Books Unbound members:
“Why do you think the other groups felt that Divergents were so dangerous?”

Resoundingly, B.U. participants responded that Divergents are perceived as dangerous because they’re different, and people are scared of difference. Their ability to manipulate situations could – and does – mess up plans for people who want to control others.

Books Unbound Member Rating

5 out of 5.
(Actually, B.U. participants loved Divergent so much that the average vote was a 9 — and yes, they were totally aware that the maximum score on my scale is a 5.)

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