Veronica Roth, the author of Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, sold her first novel to Harper Collins just weeks before graduating from Northwestern University with a major in creative writing. Not only have her books spent multiple weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and garnered Goodreads' Book of the Year Awards, they have become a young-adult popular culture phenomena and will be made into films. Roth's success has been the kind most authors dream of achieving over the course of a lifetime. She has managed to fearlessly achieve these lofty heights that might cause another person to cringe with anxiety. She did it despite having an anxiety disorder.
Jacqueline Andriakos, writing for People, quoted Roth as saying: "People often conflate fear and anxiety, but they're not the same thing. All human beings have fears because fear is healthy. Anxiety is unhealthy." Fear is a response to perceived or real danger; anxiety is more like worry or apprehension. Sometimes anxiety can be useful--such as having anxiety over an upcoming test that motivates a person to prepare better. Generalized anxiety can be debilitating. Roth wrote on her blog: "Something I have not shared, because I wasn't sure how to share it, is that I am A Person With Anxiety Problems. I have spent many an hour on a therapist's couch. Once I spent several hours breathing into a paper bag, and not just because it smelled nice. Most of that anxiety comes from my constant assessment of other people's opinions about me." Coping daily with anxiety and living one's life takes courage. Roth exhibits a fearlessness one would typically not associate with a person diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
In Roth's first novel, Divergent, the 16-year-old protagonist is coming of age in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago where the population has been divided into five factions in an attempt to create harmony. The factions are: Abnegation, whose members value selflessness; Candor, whose members prize honesty above all else; Amity, whose members exalt peace; Erudite, whose members are ruled by knowledge; and Dauntless, whose members see bravery as the preeminent virtue. All 16 year olds in this society go through a simulation aptitude test to determine which faction they fit. The simulation creates situations in the mind and records how the test subject reacts at a subconscious level. This test is not a mandate that automatically sorts individuals into the various factions; the teenagers must decide for themselves, given information about how they performed, which faction they would like to join.
The book's main character is Beatrice Prior, who chooses to be called Tris. Her performance on the test indicates she does not have a single preference. She shows aptitude for three different factions and is thus what is called "divergent." She is told that it is dangerous to tell anyone about her divergent status because leaders who will view her as someone who is not easily controlled and therefore constitutes a threat. The test result information has to remain secret, and Tris must decide for herself which faction to join. Making this choice alone is stressful. In addition, tension has been growing among the factions. In pursuing their preferred virtue, the groups are losing the ability to understand one another, and the virtues are becoming twisted. Tris' decision is difficult because if she cannot prove herself and be a part of her chosen faction she will become "factionless," which is worse than divergent. If she chooses any faction other than Abnegation, the faction she grew up in, she gives up her family. During her childhood, Tris chafed against the group's value. Because of contention between the factions, leaving the faction of one's birth family is controversial. Tris chooses Dauntless, but to secure her place she has to learn a new set of skills and pass an initiation. Tris finds herself throwing knives, jumping off trains, zip-lining down skyscrapers, and shooting guns. Her initiation is nothing less than a course that forces her to confront all of her worst fears.
Roth started writing the book as a freshman at Carleton College in Minnesota where she began her college years studying psychology. However, from the time she was a child she had written stories. She told Natalie Wainwright, writing for Evanston Round Table, that she had been writing "since she was too old to pretend play." Her favorite young adult author was Lois Lowry. Roth also enjoyed science fiction such as Ender's Game and Dune. These preferences inform her novels, which includes a mix of hand-to-hand combat, political scheming, steamy make-out scenes, and a soul-searching main character. Roth transferred to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, because it has a creative writing program and she wanted to return to Chicago to be near her family. She finished the first draft of Divergent by writing ten hours per day over a 40-day-long winter break. The previous year she had attended writers' conferences and queried agents to start getting her writing published and to understand the publishing world. She never divulged her age to literary agents she met. Janet Potter, writing for Chicago Reader, quoted Roth as saying about her efforts in her junior year of college: "I'm kind of stunned by the unintentional arrogance of writing something and thinking, 'OK, I'll go try to get it published.' It just didn't occur to me that maybe it wasn't good enough."
Roth's struggles with anxiety inspired Divergent. While at Carleton College she learned about exposure theory for phobia sufferers, and this concept inspired the trial Tris has to endure. Where Tris is short, blonde, and "birdlike," Roth is six feet tall with short red hair. The physical differences are not the only discrepancies between the author and her character. In contrast to Tris, who chooses the rough and action-oriented Dauntless crew, Roth stated, "I was the good kid who came home at a reasonable hour and never did anything wrong." according to an article in the Sidney Morning Herald. However, there is a deeper connection between the character and the author. For Roth, writing Divergent was like submersion in her psyche. Tris grows up in a very oppressive society, and Roth was oppressed by inner demons. She told Sydney Morning Herald: "I think anxiety makes your internal environment very oppressive. It makes you unable to do things you want to." Writing about how Tris confronts her fears was helpful to Roth.
Roth did not grow up in an oppressive family context. When she was a child, her family traveled to diverse places such as Hong Kong and Germany, but her parents divorced when she was only five. She was raised primarily in Barrington, Illinois, near Chicago. Her mother, Barbara Ross, is a Chicago Art Institute-trained watercolorist. Her step-father, Frank Ross, is a business consultant for landscaping companies. Roth's anxieties focus on what other people are thinking of her and the likelihood that she will disappoint them. Roth has admitted that her anxieties likely stem from her childhood when her father was absent after the divorce and her mother did everything. She was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "My mum was pretty much managing three children and a job. My dad was helping, but being in the house day in, day out is the challenge of parenting. My mother is very brave, very strong in moments that must have been very hard for her. She never let that pain leak into us." As Roth's success has grown, her anxieties have come more to the forefront.
On one hand Roth fearlessly submitted her material to literary agents to start her book on the process of being published. On the other hand, once her first book was published, she was on a runaway publishing endeavor that triggered her worst anxieties. Her first novel was a huge success. Divergent debuted sixth on New York Times' Young Adult fiction best-seller list in 2011. Roth was unprepared for where her writing would take her. Joanna Volpe, Roth's literary agent, whom she met at a writers' conference in Indiana, told the Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli that Roth's "pitch read like a book report, but the book itself was 'unputdownable.'" Margaret Stohl, one of the co-authors of the Beautiful Creatures young adult fiction series was quoted by Borrelli as saying: "The first time I met [Veronica], a couple of years ago, Divergent had just come out. I already saw that familiar deer-in-the-headlights look, the freight train was bearing down. I said, 'Are you OK?' And she said, 'That's funny. Everyone just says 'Congratulations.'"
Writing the second book in the trilogy took much longer and was much more difficult for Roth because suddenly she had an audience, and they had expectations for her characters and how the plot would develop. Book signings were torture for the young author because she would meet hundreds of people at each signing and worry about the impression she made with each of them. She worried about disappointing fans who might wait for five hours in line to see her and then be turned away because there was not enough time for her to greet each of them. After a sold-out book tour in the United Kingdom that caused her some anxious self-doubt, the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Roth as saying: "Getting only five seconds to make a good impression in a signing line is very hard for me. If I don't say the right thing, they'll be gone, and I'll have no chance to make amends." Coping with critiques and Internet trolls is an ongoing struggle for Roth, especially after the demise of Tris in Allegiant. Many people would reason that killing off the main character in a series with passionate fans would raise an uproar of displeasure; Roth chose to stay true to her vision for her series, killing off the character rather than giving in to her anxieties.
Roth, who has been a devout Christian since a high school boyfriend introduced her to Christianity, is married to photographer Nelson Fitch. The couple lives in the Edgewater area of Chicago. In addition to the Divergent trilogy, Roth has published a handful of stories about the series' love interest, Tobias, prior to the events of Divergent. It is hoped that Roth, who is often described as thoughtful, intelligent, quiet, and graceful, will be fearless in overcoming her inner demons and writing for many years to come.
Born Veronica Anne Roth, August 19, 1988, in New York City, NY; daughter of Edgar Gustave Roth and Barbara Ross (a painter; maiden name, Rydz) and stepdaughter of Frank Ross (a business consultant); married Nelson Fitch (a photographer), 2011. Education: Attended Carleton College, Northfield, MN; Northwestern University, B.A., 2011. Addresses: Agent--New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc., 110 W. 40th St., Ste. 410, New York, NY 10018.
While still a senior in college wrote and sold her first novel, Divergent, 2011; author of two other novels and one collection of short stories, 2011--.
Favorite Book Award, Goodreads Choice Awards, for Divergent, 2011; Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction book award, Goodreads, for Insurgent, 2012.
- Divergent, Harper Collins (New York City), 2011.
- Insurgent, Harper Collins, 2012.
- Allegiant, Harper Collins, 2013.
- The World of Divergent: The Path to Allegiant, ebook format, Harper Collins, 2013.
- Four: A Divergent Story Collection, Harper Collins, 2014.
Chicago Reader, October, 22, 2013.
Chicago Tribune, October 21, 2013.
Evanston Round Table, July 5, 2011.
Sydney Morning Herald, January 25, 2014.
"The Best Books of 2011," Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-books-2011 (May 25, 2014).
"The Best Books of 2012," Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-young-adult-fantasy-books-2012 (May 25, 2014).
"Veronica Roth Blog," Veronica Roth Blog, http://www.veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com (May 25, 2014).
"Veronica Roth Explains Why Shocking Allegiant Death Had to Happen," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/1716300/allegiant-veronica-roth-divergent-conclusion/ (May 25, 2014).
"Veronica Roth," IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4316121/?ref_=nmbio_bio_nm (May 25, 2014).
"Veronica Roth Tells How Anxiety Inspired Divergent," People, http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20798669,00.html (May 25, 2014).