‘Divergent’ Author Veronica Roth Turns Goodness Into Dystopia

I confess, part of me wanted to hate “Divergent” author Veronica Roth. Not only did she write and sell her first novel before graduating from Northwestern University, she just happened to have been inspired to write a novel that fits into one of the hottest trends in young adult literature. And before it was even out, the movie rights were snapped up by Summit Entertainment. But after delving into the incredibly imaginative “Divergent,” not only did we decide to plan Dystopian Week to coincide with its release today, but we called Veronica and discovered that it was impossible to hate her.

The story depicts a future in which Chicago is divided into five factions—Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor and Amity—whose members have chosen to live solely guided by the one human characteristic they value most. After growing up in Abnegation, whose members try to lead completely selfless lives, Beatrice takes the aptitude test that tells 16-year-olds which faction they’re really meant to be in. Turns out she’s equally suited for Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite, and for some reason, that kind of “divergent” test result is extremely dangerous for her. But danger isn’t something that worries Beatrice, so she ditches her parents’ selfless ways and joins the train-jumping, gun-toting, tattoo-wearing, fear-ignoring Dauntless crowd and changes her name to Tris.

“I think it’s a human tendency that’s been around for a while to try to be as good as possible to prove your worth,” Veronica told us, when we asked her what was behind the book’s premise. “I certainly did it, especially when I was young, to try and prove to people that I was worth something, I would try to keep myself from doing anything wrong. I was trying to be the perfect child. That just created a lot of stress. Also virtue and goodness, as an end unto themselves, when you’re not using them out of love and to do something else, can really become corrupted and evil.”

Which faction would Veronica find herself in? “I think I have more aptitude for Abnegation, because I try as hard as I can to be as selfless as I can, which of course is damn near impossible for almost everybody,” she admitted. “But I think when it comes down to what I actually believe, I think I would pick Dauntless. Because I think courage, especially in the small moments of life, is extremely important.”

The Dauntless initiation process gave Veronica the opportunity to write some very vivid scenes on the El and atop the Hancock building, scenes we can certainly imagine making an easy transition to the big screen. “I was mostly inspired by Chicago,” she said of the action sequences. “The trains are constantly moving and the buildings are intensely tall. When I was trying to think of what kind of things the Dauntless would do, the Chicago landmarks came to mind.”

As Tris goes through the deadly Dauntless rituals, she discovers that corruption and evil certainly exist in her world, and that’s what leads this book into dystopian territory. Veronica herself isn’t quite sure why the genre has become so popular of late.

“I think it’s fascinating to look at a world that an author has created that has sort of stemmed from the world now, and usually dystopian books point out something about our current world and exaggerates a tendency or a belief,” she said. “I think everyone’s a little afraid of being part of a trend, because you get compared to each other. Writers tend to have a lot of camaraderie, and when you’re constantly compared to someone else, it kind of damages that camaraderie, but I think this is a great trend. I’m honored to be a part of it in many ways. I think it’s important to take each book as it is, on its own, but it’s hard for people to do that.”

Will you be picking up a copy of “Divergent”?