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'Divergent': The next chapter in young adult fiction hits theaters

Published: Sunday, March 23 2014 9:40 p.m. MDT

Shailene Woodley and Theo James star in "Divergent."

Jaap Buitendijk, Summit Entertainment

Young adult fiction has been around for decades, dating back beyond authors such as Judy Blume and R.L. Stine. But a recent surge of strong young adult protagonists has changed the landscape of American literature and cinema.

“Divergent,” a new film that hit theaters March 21, is the latest addition to the young-adult-book-to-big-screen trend. With other hit blockbusters including the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games series, these teenage heroes have spanned demographics to create a culture that readers and moviegoers of many ages are enjoying.

Based on the series by Veronica Roth, "Divergent” tells the story of Beatrice/"Tris" Prior, a 16-year-old girl who has come of age in her dystopian society and is required to take an aptitude test that will determine the type of lifestyle she will adopt for the rest of her life.

However, when the test results come back inconclusive, showing that Tris has equal levels of several different personality types, she is labeled as “divergent,” which makes her unpredictable and a potential threat to her community.

In the movie, actress Shailene Woodley assumes the role of Tris, an independent, strong and sometimes violent female protagonist that has drawn comparisons to Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games."

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Roth explained she has tried to avoid any parallels with Collins' trilogy in her writing. "'The Hunger Games' did something remarkable," Roth said. "So in that sense, it's a flattering comparison. But you can't hope to replicate that experience. It was unique."

According to the Scholastic Media Room, all three of the critically acclaimed "Hunger Games" books reached No. 1 on the best-sellers lists for USA Today, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The first book in Roth’s Divergent trilogy, on which the new movie is based, spent 11 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2011. The trilogy made up the top three of USA Today’s top five best-sellers, as of Thursday, with "Divergent” at No. 1, “Insurgent” at No. 2 and “Allegiant” at No. 3.

The "Divergent" series also occupied the top three spots for e-book best-sellers for the week of March 15, according to DigitalBookWorld.com.

Utah resident Richard Paul Evans is a best-selling author who ventured into the young adult fiction genre with his novel "Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25." The first book in Evans’ seven-part Michael Vey saga debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2011. The series focuses on Michael, a 14-year-old boy with electrical powers who must rely on his abilities to rescue his mother, who has been kidnapped by a powerful corporation. Evans is currently working on his fourth book of the series.

In an interview with the Deseret News, Evans described the titular character of his books as “a kid who I think a lot of youth can relate to. ... (Michael) doesn’t look like a superhero. He’s just a little kid who is just trying to do the right thing.”

“The young adult genre, in general, has been interesting,” Evans said. “They’ve been a lot of fun. They’ve created alternate realities. They deal with situations that adults are faced with — the challenges of good and evil and trying to overcome obstacles in our lives — and they’ve done it in a safe way. … It does it in a way where we can kind of stand back and learn from it.”

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