Allison's Book Bag

Young and Already Famous, Author Veronica Roth

Posted on: April 1, 2014

In her mid-twenties, Veronica Roth is already a famous author. She is a novelist and short story writer known for her debut New York Times Bestselling Divergent trilogy. Roth wrote the first book in the set while on winter break in her university senior year. Her career took off with the success of her first novel; the movie rights had been sold to Summit Entertainment before she graduated. The first book in the series was released as a movie this past March and is my featured book to review on Wednesday.


Born in New York, Roth has also lived in Hong Kong and Germany, but raised primarily in Illinois. She was the youngest of three children. Her mother was a painter, who divorced when Roth was five years old, and later remarried a financial consultant. The family lived in the Chicago area.

According to Wikipedia, Roth’s maternal grandparents were concentration camp survivors, whose religious convictions pushed Roth’s mother away from religion. Roth learned about Christianity while attending a Bible study during her high school years, and stayed with the faith.

One of the most Frequently Asked Questions about Roth is how long she has been writing, to which Roth replied since she was too old to play pretend or about twelve years of age. She told Publisher’s Weekly that after reading Ender’s Card by Orson Scott Card and the entire Animorphs series a number of times, she also knew that genre and age group she was headed for. “I never had the same enthusiasm for an adult book that I do for young adult literature. I have a deep respect and love for this genre and these readers.”

VeronicaRothAs to about the Divergent trilogy came about, a few sources seemed to inspire it. On a long drive, Roth saw on a billboard an image of a person leaping off a building. For Publisher’s Weekly, she recalls, “I wondered why someone would do that. At the time, I was also taking Intro to Psych and we were studying the treatment of phobias by repeated exposure to fears.” While Roth tweaked that idea, she also found herself grappling with legalism and rolling her eyes at self-help books. In other words, as she writes on her blog, “my writing was informed by what I was exposed to in the real world.”

From those musings came the underlying concept of the Divergent trilogy, where citizens are divided into five factions depending on their beliefs, passions, and loyalties. When the main character, Tris forsakes her Abnegation family to become a Dauntless, she must confront her deepest fears, guard an ominous secret, and, incidentally, leap off a few buildings. HarperCollins reports that while a student, Roth often chose to work on the story that would become Divergent instead of doing her homework.

Roth told Publisher’s Weekly that she started writing Divergent from the perspective of Tobias, Tris’s mentor and love interest. But Tobias’s voice didn’t feel quite right. So she switched to a strong-willed female narrator. “I knew that Tris would not be nearly as compelling if she was perfect. Her flaw became her lack of compassion.”

On her blog, Roth explains that when she finished Divergent, she realized that the whole time she had been picturing Tris’s city as a dystopian Chicago. Consequently, Roth began to work more and more of Chicago into her manuscript. She also took the opportunity to explore the city which she has  lived next to for most of her life. After that, Roth also took her characters to other parts of Illinois. As she wrote about the long drive through miles of empty land, and how the sky hit the fields at a straight line, Roth came to realize there was something stunning about that emptiness, and how much of the sky you could see, and how huge the clouds looked.

Apart from writing and reading, Roth likes to cook. Roth also likes contemporary art, fashion, and poetry (Edna St. Vincent Millay is a favorite), among other things. On the academic side, she’s also interested in biology, psychology (especially as it relates to brain chemistry, group dynamics, personality, and personality), and theology.

While having readers react to the Divergent trilogy has been a delight, Roth also had to overcome the initial anxiety of being in the spotlight. She is married to photographer Nelson Fitch. They reside in the Chicago area.

I used to say that I would choose Dauntless, but I’ve recently come to believe that’s just wishful thinking (who doesn’t want to think they’d be able to jump off a moving train and zipline off the Hancock building?). Really, when it comes to my aptitude and my affinity for a peaceful life, I think I would choose Abnegation. (I also tend to gravitate toward the factions/groups that no one else gravitates toward, so that could be part of the reason.) Also, selflessness makes you brave, right? So I’m really just covering all the bases.

–Veronica Roth, Frequently Asked Questions

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