Thursday, April 10, 2014

Divergent: A Book Review for Cautious Christian Moms

 “But my friend read it and so did her little sister, and their mom thinks it’s fine!"

I have heard this line a time or twenty. The problem is that it doesn’t really help me. I am a very picky and conservative mom. I don’t think my early teenage daughter needs to have her head filled with very worldly older teenage or adult thoughts. Just to make things complicated, though, I am also a very liberal and permissive mom. I don’t tend to censor books as some think I should. I want my kids to learn to process, filter and discuss what they read, rather than simply avoid questionable or controversial topics. This contradictory set of standards leaves me in a pickle every time my daughter wants to read something that is unknown to me.

When she was younger it was easier. I would simply preview most of her books. They were generally quick, easy reads, and I could skim through them easily. Her books now, however, are anything but quick, easy reads and I simply don’t have time to pre-read everything.

So when she wants to start a new series, particularly one that is all over the teenage pop culture scene, I am in a bit of a quandary. This is where I found myself when she wanted to read Divergent, by Veronica Roth. She asked if she could read it and I was crazy busy right then. It was recommended by a few friends and an older teen girl of whom I think highly, so I just blindly gave my consent.

Within forty-eight hours, she was finished and placed the book into my hands, insisting that I read it. “It is SO GOOD!” she declared. She doesn’t always invite me into her world so willingly and enthusiastically, so I vowed to clear some time in my schedule and dug right in.

I discovered quickly that she was right. Immediately, I found Divergent to be clever in its premise and creative in its setting. It was even thought provoking and deep, in a teenage-y sort of way. However, I was shocked to find part way through that it is a kissy book—far more so than I am comfortable with. The strong female lead character is sixteen years old and falls for a boy who is eighteen. Perhaps your daughter is already there, but falling in love for the first time and learning the joys of kissing a boy are not things I want filling the head of my thirteen year old yet!

I kept reading.

By the end of Divergent, the first in a series of three, I had decided to forgive the author for adding in all the unnecessary kissy scenes and move on to the second book, surprising even myself. Without giving any spoilers, the following is my list of reasons:

1. The author is an unabashed Christian. Although she is respectful of faith and religion in the story, I did not realize she is a Christian herself until I was finished with the book and saw her acknowledgements page. The fact that she approaches life through a lens of faith in Jesus means that she lives and works with a sense of purpose that I respect. She and I share a worldview, at least in part. This makes me reconsider everything and question more deeply the reasons behind adding in the kissy parts. For more on Veronica Roth’s faith, check out this article I found on her blog:

2. There are quite a few significant themes running throughout the book, things that are worthy of discussion. Here are a few that I picked out without much effort:
  • We are products of both “nature” and “nurture.” 
  • We are deeply influenced both by how we were raised, and what we choose to pursue for ourselves as we come of age, but ultimately, neither of these things defines us.
  • There is usually much more to a person than initially meets the eye.
  • People who find they don’t fit well into the norms of this world are people fitted for a higher purpose. There is no shame in not fitting in. On the contrary, it is often an indicator of hidden talent or rare strength of character.
  • Girls can and should set limits for how others can touch their bodies. Willingly giving up one’s own personal standards is weak.
  • Selfless giving and serving others are not weak. On the contrary, they require exceptional courage and strength.
  • Bravery is not the same as fearlessness. Bravery is the ability to think clearly and do what is right in the face of fear.
  • A courageous heart is of little value without a purpose to guide it.
  • Selfless giving and serving, along with honesty, courage, a willingness to learn and grow, and the pursuit of peace and harmony are all things to be valued highly.
  • Man’s attempts at controlling the corrupt nature of the human heart are futile and will ultimately fail.
3. I am curious where she is going with the rest of the trilogy. I like the foundation she has set in this first book and hope she builds on it wisely.

4. I don’t know it for sure, but I am guessing that that her publisher required more kissy parts to be added to the story in order for it to appeal to a general, secular young adult audience. She was not writing these books for the shelves of the Christian bookstores, after all.

5. I would rather my daughter know how to pick apart a book, find the things the author is trying to communicate, and take note of the unnecessary scenes—like the kissy parts of this book—than take every part of a book at face value with no filters in place.

I did ask my daughter to allow me to read the second book, Insurgent, before she attacked it herself. She was anxious to get at it, but respectfully handed the book over. I have now finished reading it and there is an even worse kissy scene in that book, but I still passed it on to her when I was through. I will write more on why we are continuing the series and how we will be handling the gratuitous kissy scenes later.

Hope this was helpful. If you think other moms you know might want to read this, too, please share it. Thanks.  

For my review of the second book in this series, Insurgent, click here.


Dan O. said...

I'm not sure I'll be invested in the rest of the franchise, as far as the movies are concerned. Nice review.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review! Those are some great points to talk about with my daughter.
I started reading Divergent a few weeks ago because my daughter said she was interesting in reading it. I told her I would have to read it first. I was hooked! I really enjoyed it. So, I read the whole series. I've laughed and loved and hated and cried.
There are some kissing scenes but I thought they were done fairly tastefully and realistically. In the last book, Allegiant, there were a couple of pages I told her to skip over. She was completely ok with that.
We saw the movie Divergent yesterday, and in my opinion, it doesn't do the book justice at all! The books, as usual, are way better.