Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Insurgent - Veronica Roth

I have been raving about Divergent to everyone I meet for months now.  Mid-Hunger Games pandemonium, I kept recommending Veronica Roth's dystopian novel to those who enjoyed Suzanne Collins' series.  The first book captured my captured my attention and, honestly, is what ignited this whole dystopian kick I have been on lately.  I do not think I had even finished Divergent before I was questioning Google about the existence of a sequel.  Luckily for me, book two was released at the start of May.  Despite a valiant, though futile, effort to wait for my fiancé to catch up, I succumbed to my need to read this weekend and tore through Insurgent in a matter of a few (very busy) days.  I read at Kevin's softball game; I carried the book around with me during my sister-in-law's college graduation festivities (Congrats, Kristen!) and read at every moment it wasn't rude; I even read 200 pages in the car, a reading location I tend to avoid for fear of nausea.  (Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

I will be the first to say it.  Insurgent has a slow start.  It is definitely advisable to read Divergent soon before you start the sequal.  Roth does not spend the first few chapters catching you up.  Instead, she jumps right into the moment with Tris and Four.  The chaos after the attack on the Abnegation has momentarily subsided, but our heroine's internal chaos is still writhing.  The first half of this book reminded me a lot of Collins' Mockingjay in that Tris is suddenly afloat in a sea of emotional confusion.  She, like Katniss, refuses to open herself up to even those who care most for her.  Besides, Four is keeping secrets of his own.

I don't want to go through a whole recap of the book, so I will suffice it to say that Roth muddles through a few chapters before we are really sure what all is happening around the fallen city.  In her defense, if Roth was attempting to portray some of the confusion and lack of knowledge that Tris is experiencing, she succeeded.  Still, the reader eventually catches on and it becomes very enjoyable to follow Tris and Four around to the various factions that we really only had small mentions of in the first book.  As they discover Amity, Candor, and even the factionless, Roth's creativity and imagination are evident.  It is easy to see, and to understand why, she had fun exploring the personalities and traditions of each faction.

Still, the first half of the book seems to be a struggle between a writer and her words.  A substantial reason I enjoyed Divergent as much as I did was Roth's way to make a simple statement become profound.  There were several moments in reading the first novel that I sat back, analyzing what she had just written, and admired it for its elegance and simple truth.  She made observations about human nature that resonated with me.  Yet, these were missing from the first half of Insurgent.  I could tell she was trying, but they just were not coming.  In retrospect, I think that Roth's voice as an author is tied to that of Tris as a character.  When Tris is struggling to understand her own self, Roth's writing can be a struggle to connect with.  Nevertheless, as our heroine grows, so does our author.

The last third of the book was a stark contrast from those first few chapters.  Each page is action-packed and well written.  One complaint that I had about Divergent is that I felt the ending was rushed.  Roth does not make the same mistake twice; or, perhaps, we as readers are more prepared this time.  Surprises and betrayals abound as the faithful Dauntless and the factionless take on the traitor Dauntless and the Erudite.  Finally, as we all should expect from novels of this genre, we are left with a colossal cliff-hanger ending.  Roth tantalizes us with a revelation that the entire governmental structure and establishment of the factions were the experiment of a war-torn world.  Greater yet, one of Tris's ancestors helped to conceptualize the whole ordeal.

As I said, the later part of the book far outpaces the beginning.  It was not until the end that I truly remembered why I enjoyed Roth's writing so much in the first place.  Her comprehension of the human spirit is exhibited in the complexity of the characters.  In this world, as in our own, there are no simple people.  Insurgent could be described as Tris's journey to understanding that very issue.  As the stakes grow higher and higher, Tris begins to see more than one perspective and to understand that everyone believes their own actions to be justified.  People are not exclusively good or evil.  Relationships can be messy.  The "right" path is blurred in our limited vision.
"And while he has done cruel, evil things, our society is not divided into 'good' and 'bad.' Cruelty does not make a person dishonest, the same way bravery does not make a person kind.  Marcus is not good or bad, but both." (418)
Tris comes to recognize that this contradiction is not an individual matter only, but extends to the factions.  Each faction is quick to declare themselves superior and scoff at the vastly different lifestyles embraced in other faction.  Yet, each has their place and their value, as well as their shortcomings.
"I am collecting the lessons each faction has to teach me, and storing them in my mind like a guidebook for moving through the world.  There is always something to learn, always something that is important to understand."
These sentiments underscore Roth's own faith.  In her dedications, blog, and interviews, Roth makes no attempt to hide the fact that she is a Christian.  While her beliefs do not take center stage in the series, there are familiar messages tucked between the lines.
"[The peace of God] isn't about you...It is a gift.  You cannot earn it, or it ceases to be a gift." (440)
"I am tired of being Tris.  I have done bad things. I can't take them back, and they are a part of who I am. Most of the time, they seem like the only thing I am."
If that last quote is not the cry of a broken sinner, I do not know what is.  To me, Roth's Christianity is the explanation for her understanding of the human experience.  It is the reason her characters are complex and why morality can seem gray at times.  She recognizes that there are not always easy answers to complicated situations.  I am hoping that the third book will really explore sin nature further, as this society which was created with the hope of humanity healing mankind has all but destroyed itself.

Insurgent does have more adult content then its predecessor.  The violence is graphic.  Tris and Four, now in a relationship, are much more physical.  Roth does hint that they are sleeping together, although she never comes out and says it.  Nothing is out of place, but I would not shelve this book in a middle school classroom.  For many reasons.  The LA times review of the book was entitled "Not Just for Kids."  While I am certain their intent was to show that adults will enjoy the read as well, it speaks just as clearly to the fact that Roth is dealing with heavy issues.

Despite the rough start, I set this book down fully satisfied and pleased that I purchased it, rather than testing it through the library first.  I still plan on recommending the series to any Hunger Games reader who is looking for the next big thing.  Sadly, we will have to wait until the fall of 2013 for the next book.  Roth has made it very clear that she does not want to rush the writing process and give the readers anything less than her best (*cough*cough* - Suzanne Collins).  In mean time, I can only hope that the rest of the world finds these books as engaging as I have.  To borrow Roth's own words: they are not perfect, but they are alive.
"It reminds me why I chose Dauntless in the first place: not because they are perfect, but because they are alive. Because they are free."
Pages: 525
Date Finished: May 22, 2012 


  1. I read the first book and thought, Eh. Then I watched the first movie and with fifteen or so minutes left, shut my laptop. It was just kind of boring. So today I saw Insurgent and I loved it! I still don't want to read the book though, which is strange for me, but I think I'm going to stick to the movies on this one. There are just too many Hunger Games parallels. Watching the movie with a friend who is as familiar with Hunger Games as myself made it fun. We'd say things like, "Just like Peeta," or "Mockingjay?" because there were just too many similarities. When it was revealed that this was all an experiment we both said, "The Maze!" Obviously Tris and Four are very different from Thomas and Theresa, but the parallel was still there. I'm excited about the last movie! If they split it into two parts the suspense might just drive me to the novels.

    1. While typically I would never suggest sticking to movies and not reading the books, this might be the ideal series with which to do that. For me, the books got increasingly bad. Interesting first one, mediocre second one, third one is awful. So, no matter the suspense, don't read the third one! Ha! Interesting that you liked the movie Insurgent so much. I didn't really like the movie Divergent, so I was planning on just writing off Insurgent. But...you have me intrigued again now.