Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Allegiant - Veronica Roth

Yesterday, I mapped out all my posts for the rest of the year. This will be the last formal review of 2013, but I have a lot of other exciting things planned! Make sure you are subscribed in some form so you don't miss anything! I promise it will be worth it.

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Do you remember way back when I discovered Divergent? It has been almost two years now. Veronica Roth's debut novel was one of the very first books I blogged about. 

If you go back and read the post, you'll have to forgive, well, just about everything. I was very new to this game. I've come so far and still have so far to go...

A few months after I wrote about Divergent, I covered its sequel, Insurgent. Feel free to go read that post. It's lengthy, but I it sums up a lot of things I feel about the series as a whole.

After reading Book Two, I waited over a year for the release of Book Three: Allegiant. Roth, as all series authors, understands the value of a good cliff hanger. The end of Insurgent was no exception. Thousands of fans subsided on movie news alone for months while we waited for this release in October of this year.

I bought the book in early November and have been picking away at it since.  The fact that it took me over a month to finish....that fact alone should say as much as the words in this review. (WARNING: Spoilers Ahead)

To begin with, I had a difficult time getting into this book. As with Insurgent, Roth jumps right in, offering no help to those who haven't read the previous books in a while. I do not inherently dislike this idea; I appreciate that she trusts her reader to come prepared or at least catch on. As much as I want to be the kind of reader that can handle jumping right in, I simply read too much for that. I admit it, I need a little help. There is not an easy solution for this. I sometimes find it annoying when authors blatantly spell out previous plot lines in new books. It's like reality TV shows that spend half the time recapping what happened the previous week. The best method I have seen comes from Christopher Paolini in The Inheritance Cycle. He puts in several pages as a prologue of sorts reminding you what's happened in previous books and where the characters stand. You can skip it if you are coming straight from the other book, but it's helpful to those of us who need a bit of a reminder. Something like that would have been a godsend in helping me jump back into Roth's Divergent trilogy. After seventeen months away from the series, I struggled finding my footing again; Roth offered no assistance in this task.

Maybe it was that beginning struggle to get invested, maybe it was something else. No matter how hard I tried, I simply never reached a point with this book where I could not put it down. I had the same trouble in the start with Insurgent, but Roth eventually roped me in near the end. Allegiant never caught me up in that wonderful way that good, suspenseful books do. Even the climax failed to hold my attention. I set the book down after what was arguably the most shocking moment of the book: Tris's death (yeah, that happens - I'll get to that in a moment). I simply shrugged, figured Roth would write her way out of it, and went to sleep. Does that say something about me or about the book? I'm blaming the book.

Ok, let's talk about that ending. I have to admit that I never saw it coming. Not many authors have the guts to kill off their main character. Tris's death suddenly made it very clear why Roth had been jumping back and forth between her perspective and Four's from chapter to chapter. A writing choice that had me constantly double checking to see who the narrator was at the moment suddenly made a lot of sense when one narrator no longer had a point of view.

Even with that shocking ending, though, you would think it would have sucked me in at that moment. I should have mourned the loss of this heroine. And yet, Tris and the other characters felt more lifeless to me in this book than previous ones. They felt almost unlikable. I struggled to emphasize with them or their circumstances. 

A lot of this comes down to Roth's writing. When I originally wrote about Divergent, I raved about her writing. I compared it to The Hunger Games. My best friend is a middle school reading teacher and deals with books like these constantly with book reports, etc. She has said from the start that Roth is not a strong writer. I disagreed with her after Divergent; I saw her point of view after Insurgent; I'm solidly in her corner now.

Roth is always telling, never showing. While she has a few good lines here and there, overall, her writing is disappointing. The prime example to me in this book was when Tris and Caleb play a game called Candor before they head into the climax of the book. The game basically just requires them to tell the truth to each other. Roth uses this to tell their motivations and emotions. Tricks like this just seem like cheating to me. Spelling things out so blatantly here and at other points cancels out that respect she had for the reader at the beginning when you were struggling to place characters and events.

All this got me thinking - why did Roth's writing seem so appealing to me after Divergent if now I find so many flaws? I have a few theories. First, I do think Roth has some good writing qualities. She does have some good insight into the human condition, a trait I attribute to her faith more than her depth of knowledge. It's just that these moments are few and far between, shoved in between long passages of painful dialogue. And that can it be simultaneously appealing and repelling? I think Roth writes the way average people talk. We connect to it, but, ultimately, we expect more from our literary characters. We want them to speak in the eloquent, thoughtful prose that never quite makes it to our tongues in time for actual conversation. When they talk like we do, we get it, but it's disappointing.

I also think I found the Divergent trilogy fairly early on in my foray into young adult novels. By now, I have read quite a few of them and can pick out the bad from The Hunger Games or the Harry Potters. When I first picked up Divergent, I think I was so caught up in the newness of the genre that I willingly overlooked some serious flaws. Having been around the block a few times now, I can't skip over those traits now.

Finally, I have to blame Modern Library. I have spent a lot of time this year with some of the greatest authors of recent decades. I really believe they have raised my standard for the written word. Sorry, Veronica Roth, you simply don't compare with Fitzgerald or Wharton quite yet.

Now that I've thoroughly disparaged Roth's work and probably killed any desire you had to read it, let me talk about few of those highlight moments in Roth's writing.

Roth has a great passage where Tris talks about her love for Four, despite their disagreements or relational issues. Thankfully, most of it is an inner dialogue (show, don't tell, please!). Tris and Four seem highly dysfunctional in their love for most of the book. They fight; they lie to each other. In general, I don't find them to be a great match. But Roth puts in this great section talking about how love is a choice, even when it's hard. No one can write this or fully understand this without experiencing marriage or a long-term serious relationship.
"'If we stay together, I'll have to forgive you over and over again, and if you're still in this, you'll have to forgive me over and over again too....I think you're still the only person sharp enough to sharpen someone like me.' ...when people fell in love, they just landed, and they had no choice in the matter afterward. And maybe that's true of beginnings, but it's not true of this, now....I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me."
Of course, if you're having as many issues as Tris and Four, you may want to seek out some counseling to help you make your relationship a bit healthier.

Roth's faith does influence her writing in this book as well. I admire her greatly for being an author who is a Christian without being a "Christian author." The whole theme of Allegiant is very Christian at its core: people, regardless of genetics or upbringing, are inherently evil. Roth subtly gets her view across without shoving it down your throat. Any Christian author out there could take a few notes from her in this area. In the midst of her subtlety, I did appreciate that she threw in one blatant line when Tris is learning what a small piece of the world she lives in:
"as I stare out at the land, I think that this, if nothing else, is compelling evidence for my parents' God, that our world is so massive that it is completely out of our control, that we cannot possibly be as large as we feel."
Not everything in the book sticks to traditional Christian doctrine. While I and many others (if the search terms leading people to this blog are any indication) wondered if Tris and Four slept together in Insurgent, Roth made it very clear in Allegiant that they had not. I'm pretty sure they did in this book, though. Seems a bit poetic considering Tris is dead not even a hundred pages later.

All in all, I cannot say that Allegiant held the same appeal for me as its predecessors. I did not necessarily dislike it, but I certainly did not love it. Kevin, who is reading it now, thinks I am being too critical. He is enjoying it just fine, so there is a strong chance that I could be the lone wolf here. Still, I doubt anyone is going to disagree with the sentiment that Allegiant is the worst of the trilogy.

Pages: 531
Date Completed: December 8, 2013

Have you read Allegiant yet? What were your thoughts? What do you think of Roth's writing?

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