Our digital and social media producer Rachel Rohr is back from a month-long trip cross-country, talking with young Americans.
Today, “Allegiant,” the third book in Veronica Roth’s best-selling “Divergent” trilogy, hits e-readers and book stands.
The young adult (YA) novels are set in a dystopian future in which society has been divided into factions based on personality types. The book’s heroine doesn’t fit within that society’s limitations.
The third book explores how the society came to be and features an ending that fans have already heard will be shocking. But as Veronica Roth told Here & Now’s Robin Young, she had the ending planned from the very first book.
“I was sure of it from the very beginning, what would do justice to these characters and this story, and I feel very strongly that this is the best possible ending for this book,” Roth said. “And I’m extremely happy with it — even though I know it will be alarming, maybe.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
In the young adult book world, 25-year-old Veronica Roth is one of the youngest and hottest authors. In her "Divergent" trilogy, which is sort of like "The Hunger Games" set in Chicago, the fate of a society rests on the shoulders of a 16-year-old girl who, like all 16-year-olds, must choose to join a faction, even if that means leaving her family behind.
Veronica says she came up with the first faction, the Dauntless, when she learned in a psychology class at Northwestern University in Chicago about exposure therapy, people overcoming fears by confronting them. The Dauntless constantly confront their fears and prize bravery above all. But then Veronica created other factions, and what began as a Utopia becomes dystopia as the factions turned against each other.
A film starring Shailene Woodley is set for release in March, and the last book in the trilogy, "Allegiant," comes out today. What will happen to Tris, our 16-year-old heroine? Veronica Roth joins us from the NPR Studios in New York. And, Veronica, how did you come up with the other factions? There are four more, right?
VERONICA ROTH: Yes. I mostly just asked myself the question: Which virtues would I choose to make these groups revolve around if I were the god of this Utopian universe?
YOUNG: So you have the one faction called Candor, those who are honest, Abnegation, those who are selfless - we mentioned Dauntless - Amity, they favor peace above all, Erudite, they prize intelligence. Children who reach the age of 16 have to choose one?
YOUNG: Where did that come from?
ROTH: I don't know what high school is like for everyone else. But for me, when I was 16, I really did feel like I had to choose the rest of my life because everyone was putting a lot of pressure on all of us to figure out, you know, where we wanted to go to school next or what we wanted to do if we weren't going to school. It was sort of like the decision-making age was shifted back to an age when I really didn't feel like I knew myself all that well. It seemed natural to me to reflect that experience in these books.
YOUNG: And what are you saying about the fact that this is a young woman who does not want to be in the selfless group with her family of birth but chooses the Dauntless who are brave? There's a lot to be said for selflessness. You know, you are living to help others. But that's something that women are often asked to do.
ROTH: Right. I actually tried to write "Divergent" four years before I succeeded in finishing it. But I wrote it from Tobias' perspective. He's our main man.
YOUNG: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
ROTH: And it didn't work. I got 30 pages into the story, and it felt very expected, a little bit boring. But four years later, when I picked it up again and decided to revamp it and see what I can make of it, it occurred to me that it was far more interesting to see a young woman leave this atmosphere where, you're right, she's encouraged to be selfless, which is something that all women, I think, are encouraged to do, to choose something dangerous and bold and crazy for herself. Turning those gender role expectations around was extremely interesting and made the story far more fascinating to me as the writer.
YOUNG: Well, and by the way, we know that men can be selfless as well. But how much did Chicago inspire either the framework of the story, this factionalized society or the terrain? What were some of your inspiration?
ROTH: When I wrote the first draft, the book was not set in any particular location. But as I revise, I realized that it would really benefit from a distinct sense of place and the added reality that that would give the world that Tris lives in. And when I looked at the story I had written, there were these, you know, constantly moving elevated trains and this like marshy used to be a lake place and these rivers running through it, and I realized that I had written Chicago without really realizing it.
So I think it was the trains that really played the biggest role from Chicago in the story because they're almost like a creature. They move constantly, and it's not entirely clear who is driving them. And that really appealed to me because that's been my experience on the L in Chicago.
YOUNG: What do you think it says that young people like yourself and the ones that are devouring your books are so obsessed with this sort of end-times, this dystopian, "Hunger Games," "Divergent" society? What does that mean?
ROTH: I think that's the time when you start to discover that the world is not as pretty and shiny as it seemed when you were a child. So dystopian and futuristic books seem like a way of acknowledging the difficulties that teenagers are encountering, or at least noticing that they exist.
I don't remember who I know who said it, but it was like high school is the ultimate dystopia. I don't know very many people who remember high school with total fondness. And, you know, there's reasons for that.
YOUNG: Well, you alluded to that. I was wondering, is there - was there - I mean, as much as you want to tell, was there something for you, some kind of light bulb - some moment where, oh, the world is what I thought it was, and it - you went down this rabbit hole or...
ROTH: Yeah. I think for me, it was when I was able to see and acknowledge that my parents weren't perfect. It's like a huge coming of age moment. And particularly with one of my parents, a lot of things came to light when I was a teenager that were shocking and required me to admit to myself that even the people who are supposed to love you best and love you the most have secrets and have a whole other life outside of you that is not always rosy.
YOUNG: Well, I don't want to pry, but is it something you can share? Is it...
ROTH: I don't think that would be very kind to the parent that I'm referring to, but...
YOUNG: OK. All right. No. That's - yeah. Mm-hmm. But it was - it obviously set you on this path.
Well, the last book in your trilogy - we often sign nondisclosure agreements to get books ahead of time, but I - we've just never seen this extensive guarding of a book. There's - my name in huge print is on every single page, so I can - there's no way I can copy it or hand it out to anyone. They've done this so that they can trace anything that might be released.
We're not going to - at all - give away the ending of this book, but how closely did you want to guard what happened?
ROTH: I did want to keep it secret for as long as humanly possible, simply because I wanted people to experience the story for themselves and not just be told what happens because I think the process of reading the book is a lot different - it feels a lot different than if you were just told a summary of it.
YOUNG: I tweeted out to many of your different online fan bases, you know, do you have questions for Veronica Roth? And one that came back from one of your fan sites, Divergent Life, they wrote and said: We heard there was a shocking ending. Can you tell us why you did that? As much as you want to, why did you choose that?
ROTH: I, from the very first book, had this ending planned, if I was fortunate enough to write the other two.
YOUNG: Really? You always knew.
ROTH: I knew...
YOUNG: You always knew.
ROTH: Yeah. I knew it was the way it had to go. And someday, I'll talk about the way that this is set up in each book. But I was sure of it from the very beginning, what would do justice to these characters and to this story, and I feel very strongly that this is the best possible ending for this book. And I'm extremely happy with it, even though I know it will be alarming, maybe.
YOUNG: Are you sad to leave this world behind?
ROTH: I am sad. In the middle of writing the book, I was sure I wasn't going to be sad because I was just like, OK, this thing just needs to get done. But now that the day has come, it's very bittersweet. I mean, I'm happy to let go of these secrets and for everyone to know how this story ends, but the series has been special to me. It's changed huge parts of my life. And I have a deep affection for these characters and - I don't know. It's going to be a little - I'm going to have to mope a little bit after this.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, we can't wait to see what you do next. Veronica, thanks so much.
ROTH: Thank you.
YOUNG: And Veronica Roth's "Allegiant," the final book in her "Divergent" trilogy, is out today, which is why a lot of young adults were a little bleary-eyed and maybe teary-eyed. To read an excerpt, go to hereandnow.org.
And by the way, Jeremy, this music was written by one of the millions of "Divergent" fans, Sam Cushion. He just wrote his own score.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
For the book.
YOUNG: For the book.
HOBSON: Wow. They love their "Divergent."
YOUNG: They do. And the real "Divergent" movie due out in March. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.