By now, everyone knows about how American novelist Veronica Roth’s young adult “Divergent” trilogy conquered the bestseller list and how the 2014 feature film adaptation of the first book conquered the box office with three more films on their way.
By now, people have grown quite familiar with the trilogy’s (2011’s “Divergent,” 2012’s “Insurgent” and 2013’s “Allegiant”) protagonist, Beatrice “Tris” Prior, played by Hollywood it girl Shailene Woodley in the film, and how she struggles to fight for what’s right in a dystopian society where people are classified into factions according to their qualities.
What many may not know is that Roth actually started writing “Divergent” with a different narrator, the book’s leading man, Four, played by Theo James. “Four: A Divergent Collection” by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books, New York, 2014, 285 pages) is a short story collection that gathers four e-books (2013’s “The Transfer” and 2014’s “The Initiate,” “The Son” and “the Traitor”) into print for the first time, providing an alternative view of the events of the “Divergent” trilogy, and in effect, is both a prequel and companion volume. That’s because three of the stories occur before Four even meets Tris—and that’s not a bad thing.
When readers first encountered him, Four was a brooding enigma, a quiet young man with deadly skill who disliked using them. It turns out Four, formerly Tobias Eaton, was abused by his father—ironically leader of Abnegation—and had been named “Four” because he only had four phobias, a rarity even in his faction of Dauntless, the bravest person in a group of brave people. But he also refuses to be defined by his faction and sees the same qualities in Tris.
Very much bolstered by Roth’s clean, no-nonsense prose, “Four” shows readers in stark detail why Four is the way he is.
In “The Transfer,” we get a shocking straightforward account of his old life as Tobias, his combustible relationship with his father and his decision to transfer factions: “I am not Tobias Eaton, not anymore, never again. I am Dauntless.”
In particular, “Four” proves to be revelatory for those already familiar “Divergent.” They will find out the truth about so many things they may be curious about. For example, we will see first-hand Four’s first simulation and the insightful experience of Four getting his meaningful tattoo with all the faction symbols. We not only see how but also why. Four explains: “That’s what I really want—to shed all the people who want to form and shape me, one by one, and learn instead to form and shape myself.”
When “Four” finally gets to the events actually portrayed in the “Divergent” trilogy, readers will receive a bracing experience looking at the same happening from a different view, like looking at yourself in a slightly tilted mirror, especially the parts with Four and Tris.
In a very cinematic move, Roth provides three “exclusive scenes,” which are essentially very brief story portions that were originally intended for inclusion in the stories in “Four” but had to be cut due to space constraints.
The book is well written and clearly hews back to some of Roth’s early ideas; it’s like the biggest “deleted scene” of all, and this is no cash grab. The continuing development of the “Divergent” movie machine adds to the impact of this collection.
While the mileage may vary for those uninterested in “Divergent,” all this makes “Four” a rich, diverting engagement for “Divergent” fanatics. Veronica Roth continues to fan the flame of her fandom with this extension of this wildly successful YA franchise, with “Four: A Divergent Collection” acting in clear convergence with the popular narrative of “Divergent.”
Available in hardcover from National Book Store.