Rating: 5 of 5 Brains
Warning: Contains Brief Spoilers
Divergent Thinking is a collection of essays on the Divergent trilogy written by a handful of different young adult authors, as well as people who know a lot about psychology or the way different systems in our society work. If you’re not familiar with the Divergent trilogy, you can find the synopsis to book one here. It is a phenomenal grouping that discusses topics such as: fear, how each faction represents bravery in a different way, a mother-daughter interview that discusses the hard decisions for teenagers in life that correlates with the Choosing Ceremony in Divergent, how sorting into factions or groups is natural for human beings, creating the mapped setting of Divergent based on what we were told in the books and what the writer knows about Chicago (where the Divergent series takes place), how mirror neurons in our brains make a lot of what happened in the books realistic, an essay on the Dauntless faction written by a Marine, and how the factionless in the books take on varying roles throughout the series and resemble, in a way, the homeless people in today’s world.
However, while all of the topics were great to read about, there were two essays that took the cake for me. One was written by Mary Borsellino and discussed the importance of family in the Divergent series as well as how that correlates to today’s world. The second was written by Julia Karr and discussed how factions (and groups) can be good, bad, and ugly both in the Divergent series and in society today. Since I found them both so interesting, I figured I would focus on them for the majority of this blog post.
If you haven’t read the Divergent trilogy and plan to, I would strongly suggest you read them before returning to the rest of this post. While I’m not going to spoil nearly as much as the rest of the essays did in Divergent Thinking, I do need to mention some smaller spoilers to illustrate the points of these two essays.
I’ll start with Mary Borsellino. In her essay, Mary shares her thoughts and viewpoints about how the varying family structures and issues in the Divergent series is similar to the family structures and issues of today. In the series, Tris has a loving family made up of a dad, mom, and brother. While she lives with them in their faction, she never has to wonder whether or not she’s loved or if she’s going to be provided for. Her family is always there to teach her, help her, provide for her, and love her. They are there to build her up, not tear her down. However, Tobias’ family is the stark opposite. His family had consisted of a mother and father, but his father was abusive and his mother ran away, leaving Tobias in his father’s “care.” All Tobias knows of family is that they aren’t there to love you, support you, or care for you. Family only leaves you. Throughout Divergent, it’s amazing to see how these two very different family upbringings are shown through the characters. Tris is loving and loyal to Caleb, her brother, even though he chooses a different faction than her. She even goes as far as to visit him, which normally is against the rules once you choose your new faction at the Choosing Ceremony and leave your family behind. Tobias, on the other hand, has no interest in his family. He doesn’t care about his father, and he doesn’t really care about his mother either, all due to his dark past. He struggles with this throughout the entire series, having to war with himself over wanting to care for family but wondering if they will ever deserve it. Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, did an excellent job portraying two stark different family upbringings that mirror today’s world, and Mary Borsellino commends her on that.
However, Mary has more to say on the matter. While Tris’ family is a healthy one, there is also a more or less flaw that Mary points out. They are opinionated – they offer Tris their opinions on what faction Tris should choose at the Choosing Ceremony instead of ever asking her what she wants. The rest of Mary’s essay is devoted to this fact. While it seems simple enough, Mary brings to light all the trouble that this exact problem causes in our world today. When children reach the age of sixteen and have to start making really big decisions and figuring out who they really are, like Tris did in the series, many wind up having a huge fear of their parents. Why is this? It’s because while they want to try new things and figure their values, beliefs, and choices out for themselves, they are afraid that they will receive backlash from their families about deciding to be different than them. Mary says that this is a natural response – parents raise their children on their personal beliefs, of course, and they want to know that their children value those beliefs. While that is extremely important, Mary believes there should be a fine balance between wanting your children to value those beliefs and also offering them room to grow into a different, but still lovable (it’s your child after all!) person.
The next essay by Julia Karr discusses how the factions of the books and the groups of society today can be “good, bad, or ugly.” While it’s easy to see in the Divergent series just how twisted and broken the factions are or become, Julia mentions how it may not be that easy to see in today’s world. Sure, there are bad groups out there, even ugly ones. But what about the cliques in schools? In homeschool group co-ops? What about the different religious groups? What about the groups formed in the workplace, or the stark differences between the social/monetary classes? Julia mentions that everyone, everyone, wishes to be part of a group. That can be true of anyone at any age. However, Julia cautions us – it is important to be careful once you become a part of a group. While being a part of a group isn’t a bad thing, and it can be beneficial, it is when the group starts trying to be manipulative, self-seeking, and discriminating that things can go from good to bad to ugly. In the Divergent series, this is illustrated by two of the factions (which I won’t mention the names of since that would be an incredible spoiler).
In today’s world, this is illustrated by white people discriminating against African American or Hispanic people. It is illustrated by homeschool group co-ops that judge public school children unfairly, or even its own homeschooling members unfairly. It is illustrated by public school cliques telling other students that they’re “not cool enough,” “not pretty enough,” “not smart enough,” as well as many other horrible things. It is illustrated by the middle-class, upper-class, and lower-class being uneasy with each other because they’ve decided to stereotype each other based on their money situations. It’s illustrated by churches threatening that you have to wear certain clothes, join their congregation after a certain number of weeks or months, and follow their rules unless you want to be turned away or become an outsider. This essay was incredible in that Julia Karr took the time to remind us to be careful in what group we choose to associate with, especially since fear of being an outsider is often great enough that we decide to conform ourselves to whatever the group wants in order to stay “in.”
Wrapping up the post, I’d like to give some final thoughts to Divergent Thinking as a whole. All of the essays were extremely informative, and if you like psychology or even just loved the Divergent trilogy, this book is for you. (However, if you haven’t read the series and plan to, I would hold off on this book until you’re done. There is an insane amount of spoilers just because the essays needed to provide proof of their points.) The essays opened my eyes to different facets that Veronica Roth skillfully included in her beloved series, and it honestly gave me a deeper appreciation for her books. There is so much we can learn from the trilogy, between overcoming fear and remembering to be ourselves instead of conforming into what society wants us to be. But if we don’t learn anything else from her series or even Divergent Thinking, there is one thing that Veronica Roth repeats over and over again that she wants us to remember: