While it’s easy to scoff and snipe at the recent explosion of young adult novels making it to the big screen, it’s also a huge mistake to do so. Of course The Twilight Saga is to be thanked (blamed?) for said explosion, but not every YA book slated to get a cinematic translation is Twilight - in fact, most of them aren’t. Case in point: Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series. The planned three-book series is already two books down (that would be 2011’s “Divergent” and 2012’s “Insurgent”) with the final one on the way in the fall of next year (while it’s currently nameless, it would be insane to think it won’t be called “Resurgent”). Summit Entertainment snapped up the rights to “Divergent” before the book even hit shelves (and they also own the rights to “Insurgent,” wily beasts), and now it looks like they’re really getting a move on when it comes to getting their next big series to theaters.
Variety reports (via The Playlist) that director Neil Burger is “in early talks” to helm the first feature, Divergent, which is set to come with a script by Snow White and the Huntsman scribe Evan Daugherty, who was hired last summer. Burger last directed the Bradley Cooper-starring Limitless and he’s been attached to such hot-but-maybe-never-happening properties like Uncharted and a new Bonnie and Clyde in recent months. Though Summit won’t comment on the report, sources tell Variety that Burger “edged out several high-profile filmmakers” for the gig. But if there’s one thing that Burger has got, it’s the energy to direct a film that all but demands it.
So what’s the deal with “Divergent”?
Admittedly, I have an affection for Roth’s series. I’ve read a number of YA books in search of “the next big thing” and in preparation for inevitable film adaptations, and Roth’s is my favorite (behind “The Hunger Games”). It certainly got some elements we’ve come to expect from the latest YA books: it’s set in a future dystopia, it centers on a girl who thinks herself plain, it’s filled with battles and violence, there’s a love story at its heart, and it rests on the revelation of a tremendous secret (interestingly enough, Roth doesn’t even get near to revealing that secret until the very end of the second book).
Set in a future (and mostly destroyed) Chicago, the books follow young Beatrice “Tris” Prior. The world that Tris inhabits is very different from ours, with all citizens divided into five different “factions” around the city. Factions are determined by one major shared characteristic, the sort that determines what kind of people the faction members are and what they do (each faction is responsible for different types of labor and manufacturing that keep the entire society running). Tris is born into Abnegation, who are “the selfless.” The other factions include Candor (“the honest,” and to a fault), Erudite “the intelligent,” and yup, also to a fault), Amity (“the peaceful,” who live lives similar to the Amish), and Dauntless (“the brave,” who are also often the pierced, the tattooed, and the wild).
Though all members of Tris’ society are born into a faction, at each sixteen, every faction member is subjected to an aptitude test that helps determine which faction they are meant to belong to – and then they get to choose in, uh, the Choosing Ceremony. Pre-Choosing, Tris learns that she is (ding ding ding!) “divergent,” meaning she has an aptitude for three different factions: Dauntless, Abnegation, and Erudite. Tris is told never to tell anyone about this, but all of that is temporarily obscured when the otherwise plain Tris freaks everyone out and joins Dauntless.
And that’s where someone like Burger would come in. Just picking a faction doesn’t mean you’re in for life – you need to train and test and prove your worth, or you’re out, a loser, factionless (and essentially homeless forever). The Dauntless are crazy, and the stuff that they put their new recruits through is both emotionally and physically brutal. It smacks of Limitless.
There’s quite a bit more to Roth’s series, and it’s certainly worth a read, but we’ll stop there before I geek out too much over the cinematic possibilities. I won’t even subject you to dream casting (though AnnaSophia Robb or Elle Fanning would do nicely for Tris).
Divergent is aiming to start production in March of next year to make a 2014 release. If Burger does come on, the film would likely be his next.
You can look inside both “Divergent” and “Insurgent” over at Amazon. Need some more YA recommendations? Take a look at some possibilities in our wrap-up from this year’s Comic-Con “What’s Hot in Young Adult Fiction” panel. We’re still pulling for some Scott Westerfeld action soon.