Basilia Weir recounts her journey from Divergent to a Literature degree.
“It must require bravery to be honest all the time.”
That’s a quote from the book that changed my life. Goodreads.com says it’s from page 62, if you feel the need to look it up. Though, if you spent enough time on Tumblr in 2014, you won’t need to.
I feel like, as an English Literature student, my answer to this question should be a work by Brontë or Vonnegut or something. But, in the spirit of that quote, I’m going to be honest: the book that changed my life was Veronica Roth’s Divergent.
I don’t really remember being read to, or reading, as a kid. When I stayed up past my bedtime it was to play Animal Crossing and, until the age of twelve, I couldn’t read without the TV on in the background. The Hunger Games was probably the first book to make me realise that you could have action-packed books with a hint of romance and a bit of politics that weren’t aimed at middle-aged men. However, a few years later, I picked up Divergent because of a coupon, and I really fell in love.
Earlier I mentioned Tumblr. After finishing Veronica Roth’s trilogy, I stumbled upon this online community of people making memes about that and a few other books. I guess it’s called “stanning” nowadays, but back then it was called “fandom”, and it consumed a lot of my time. There was a sort of core canon within the fandom: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments, The Hunger Games, as mentioned, and finally Divergent.
I think I read Divergent in January of 2014, and by March I had eaten through most of the books listed above. From there, I stumbled onto “booktube”: a community on YouTube dedicated to talking about books, typically of the Young Adult specification, and I started reading books like they were going out of fashion. I also started writing (mostly bad rip-offs of the essential fandom texts but, nonetheless, I was writing).
I even wore a necklace with the fandom logo attached, everyday. Google “book fandom logo” if you want to be really, really embarrassed for me.
I guess this is less about Divergent itself, and more about the trajectory it sent me on. I have complicated feelings about these novels now, with two years of a Literature degree under my belt, and a few more years of age, too. Rereading parts of it for this article was… an experience. The framing of the relationship made me shudder, and all of it felt pretty trite. I definitely wouldn’t consider the plot or the prose particularly inspired or even very good, now. But it’s undeniable that I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for Tris and her decision to be both brave and selfless. And you certainly wouldn’t be reading this, either.
All of this is to say that when it’s the first class of an English Literature tutorial, and the tutor inevitably asks us to say our name and our favourite book, I get hives. A) I can hardly say my own name, and B) I feel pressure to name a postmodern, unheard of yet world-renowned book. And yet I think my route into this degree is pretty common. Sure, some kids probably sat in their father’s mahogany-clad study and read Dostoevsky with a glass of Macallan 1957. But plenty of others drew runes in the margins of their notebook and started writing through “Wessa” fanfiction, and I think that’s just as valid.
(Yes, I did have to google the spelling of Dostoevsky.)