Over the last week I have been reading the ‘Divergent‘ series of novels by Veronica Roth. My thirteen year old daughter is a fan of the books so I’ve been wanting to read them to keep slightly in touch with her world. They are easy reading and have a reasonably absorbing story so it was nice to tune the world out for a few evenings.
The setting of these stories is a dystopian future after wars over ‘genetic purity’. The United States government has set up mass human experiments to see if they can cultivate a ‘genetically pure’ race. The protagonist is a 16 year old girl who receives combat skills training and sets out to save the city. The books are not as violent as The Hunger Games but there is still plenty of killing and a similar revolutionary storyline. A friend did make the valid point that if all the kissing was omitted the series would have been better and a book shorter.
By reading all three books in a week I became quite immersed in their fantasy world, reading rather than checking social media, the news or email. Now I am experiencing an odd mashup of the lingering story world with my social media and various blog feeds which are highlighting the massive refugee and human rights crisis in both the Middle East and Asia, along with poverty and corruption in our own nation. I’m glad I’m not a teenager.
When I was sixteen I read ‘1984‘ by George Orwell, that was in 1986 but it still disturbed me to my core. My head was filled with Cold War fears, heightened by the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in July 1985 and strong anti-nuclear sentiment. The idea of Big Brother and widespread mind control did not seem so far-fetched. The books we read can influence how we interpret our world.
My daughter was born in 2001, only months after the devastating terrorist attacks of 9-11 when we all wondered what sort of violence the future might bring. She is growing up in a world of astonishing technological flux, constant interconnectedness, increasing extremes of poverty and obscene wealth, and increasing violence. It should not surprise me that teen fiction has also become violent and revolutionary.
The Divergent novels portray a world with a privileged elite and downtrodden, poverty stricken underclass kept in place by manipulative rulers. You don’t have to look far to see the hideous real versions of this caricature. What disturbs me is where to place myself; I’m clearly not poverty stricken and am far from bottom of the social heap. Does this make me one of the manipulated masses? Or am I ‘divergent’, aware even within a mind controlling hallucination that this is not real, that I am in a manipulated environment and have to make choices now that I am aware.