Friday, April 11, 2014

Pam Neal's Book Talk: Divergent

Interview by Kristin

Pam Neal is our young adult librarian extraordinaire.  Pam is known for her ability to match people, especially teens, to books.  This is the first of several blogs devoted to the popular world of young adult literature.  For the uninitiated, here’s a quick blurb on Divergent:

The world has changed.  After a catastrophic war, the surviving leaders made a decision to restructure society.  All individuals were placed into factions, societal groups which put their talents to the best use.  The Abnegation are the Selfless—they live a plain lifestyle and are also trusted to govern the entire society.  The Erudite are the Intelligent—those who seek knowledge to support the betterment of the world.  The Candor are the Honest—seeing everything in black and white, seeking openness to promote a perfect society.  The Amity are the Peaceful—working together and farming to feed the population.  The Dauntless are the Brave—the protectors of the city.  In this society all 16 year olds are given an aptitude test on a certain day of the year, and then choose their faction in a ceremony the next day.  Most stay with the faction they were born into, but some feel the call of another group.  There is a training period for all initiates and they must pass through the challenges before they are full-fledged members of their faction.  If they fail, they live factionless on the outskirts of society, a fate almost worse than death.

Abnegation-born Beatrice (Tris) is 16 years old, and it’s time for her choice of a lifetime.

Kristin:  Thank you for talking to me about Divergent.  I know Divergent is such a popular book right now and that your teen group has really liked it.

Pam:  All of my teen groups have read it.  From tweens all the way up.  That’s why when I took the kids to the movie, there were 59 of them.

Kristin:  You are a brave woman.

Pam:  Well I had other parents!  It’s good to make the comparisons between the books and the movies.  And when you take kids to the movies that have read these books, they’re going to let you know if they don’t like something.

Kristin:  What makes this one special and why is it worth reading?

Pam:  I liked it and I think my kids liked it because it’s dystopian and in this world in the future you have to live in these factions.  You have to live within that faction and you cannot go outside of that realm, or you become “Divergent”.  Divergents threaten the system because they don’t want you have to have a mind of your own.  The faction aspect made this one a lot different.  Now there was some violence, but not nearly what you had in some of the others.  So I think the concept of the factions kind of set it apart.  Of course all these  future dystopians are so negative.  I mean, it’s a negative world!

Kristin:  It seems like founders of the society were trying to set it up as a utopia, but obviously it didn’t work.

Pam:  Right, and so it’s everything just negative, negative, negative in their world.  And I liked the relationships between the kids.

Kristin:  How do you think that your teens related to the “faction before blood” thing?  Is that part of striking out and finding their own identities?

Pam:  I think they had a hard time with the factions at first.  Before all of them read the books, we took the faction quiz to see what faction they would be in.  I gave that to every one of my kids, and of course most of them would find out that they’re not clear cut in a faction, that they are divergent.  When the factions start unraveling, I think they kind of expected that.  But the concept was interesting to them because I don’t think they’d ever thought of that before.  I’d never thought of that before, “Hmmm, let’s put us into a category.”  Because I’ve never fallen into a category!  So I thought the categories were interesting.  Abnegation the selfless, Erudite the intelligent, Dauntless the brave-- Dauntless really caught their attention-- then Amity, the peaceful, which is, if you look at it, the hippies of the sixties.  And Candor, everything’s black or white.  I like the way that in the movie they dressed everybody according to their faction.

Kristin:  And that was described in the book.

Pam:  I liked the way they did that.  I thought it was neat and the kids thought it was too.

Kristin:  So obviously we don’t want to give too much away, but Beatrice, or Tris, and her brother Caleb were both born into Abnegation, and it’s pretty obvious early on that Tris is drawn to Dauntless.

Pam:  It’s really funny when kids read the books—I’m older, but I was never drawn to Dauntless.  There would be no way I would be Dauntless, absolutely none.  Watching some of these kids read it, I would see which way they were drawn to certain things.  Of course I know they painted Dauntless (so that readers would) to be drawn to Dauntless.  I was never drawn to Dauntless, but Tris is, and her brother is drawn to Erudite.  I thought it was interesting how the parents came from different factions too.  I think Four is a very interesting character.

Kristin:  And of course he’s very attractive, in print and in the movie.

Pam:  Yes, I thought the two of them together did an excellent job.

Kristin:  Once you know a little bit more about where he came from, it makes sense that they’d have that attraction to each other.

Kristin:  Will the teens read the rest of the trilogy, Insurgent and Allegiant, in book club?

Pam:  We’ll go to the movies, but this series takes a big turn.  Insurgent—very popular.  Allegiant—very controversial, especially for a young adult series.  I thought Insurgent took Divergent to another level and I enjoyed it.  Then you hit Allegiant which really hits the controversial level.  I liked Divergent better than The Hunger Games because I liked Tris’ character.  I liked Divergent also because it just keeps moving.  Mainly though, I like Tris and Four.

Kristin:  So the characters?

Pam:  I thought it was very character driven.  I was a little bit disappointed in the movie because they didn’t develop the other characters as well.  They left out Uriah, who was one of my favorite characters.  But he’ll have to be in the second movie.  I think Veronica Roth hits Tris’s growing stage.  Tris grows from this little girl, very cowardly in a way, to what she wants to be and I think she does a very good job at that.

Kristin:  Right, because she’s really been groomed to be selfless and only allowed to look in the mirror once every six months. I liked that they carried that over to the movie.

Pam:  I do too.  I liked Katniss in the Hunger Games, but Katniss, to me, she was always right there, always fearless.

Kristin:  She was more of a born leader and was already going out there to provide for her family so it wasn’t as much of a change.

Pam:  But for Tris there was a huge change.  And I think that the kids like that.  I think it’s one of the very few books that I’ve done with all the groups.  It never ceases to amaze me: 43, 44 years I’ve been a librarian with teenagers, boy if they don’t like something, they don’t like it, and they tell you.

Kristin:  It’s good that you’ve got them talking to you.  What other series would you recommend?

Pam:  The Giver by Lois Lowry.  The Giver set the stage for a lot of these dystopians.  It won the Newbery prize.  I did The Giver with kids, and I did A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle because that sets the stage for a lot of these dystopians also.  See, the kids today don’t realize that The Hunger Games was not the first dystopian.  You had Brave New World and you had 1984.  You had quite a few.
Kristin:  It’s all new to them, it’s their generation.

Pam:  The movie I’m interested to see next is The Fault in our Stars by John Green.  Oh, I love that book.  So I’ve decided to alter my whole summer to have a John Green summer.  Except for my tweens—they want to do Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Unwind is phenomenal.  And you talk about bringing up a lot of questions!  I just loved The Fault in our Stars.

Kristin:  That should be a good movie though.  I think the writing was very good.

Pam:  Being a librarian for as long as I have, that’s probably one of the best books I’ve read for kids.  I’m glad young adult literature is huge now.  It’s at its peak because lots of adults are reading it.

Kristin:  It is appealing because they tend to be shorter, and they get to the point faster.

Pam:  And they are building good characters that you can identify with.  So it’s really good.  Legend by Marie Lu is another series. The books are Legend, Prodigy, and Champion.  Those characters are good.  Another good one is The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  I did that with my tweens.  The Maze Runner is a modern day Lord of the Flies.  It is excellent—it’ll grab you.

Kristin:  Thank you for talking to me today—it’s always enjoyable to hear you talk about books.

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