Initiation Day was supposed to be a time of celebration for Tris Prior and her fellow Dauntless initiates, but instead it turned into a nightmare when the leaders of Erudite exercised mind control over the Dauntless members and used them to murder nearly the entire faction of Abnegation. As a Divergent, Tris escaped the mind control, but still had to kill people she knew in self-defense, as well as watch those she cared for die, all but helpless to stop the slaughter. Abnegation held crucial information, and Erudite was willing to kill them to keep it from becoming public knowledge. Now that the horror is over, the factions stand poised on the brink of war. Tris and Four must visit the remaining factions, including the Factionless, to determine where their loyalties lie, before battle strategies can be drawn. If it will mean the end to the bloodshed and the loss of innocent lives, Tris is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good, but when new information comes to light regarding the secrets Erudite now hold, she knows she must fight to make sure it isn't destroyed even if it means going against the person she loves most.
Much like with the first book of the Divergent series, I finished Insurgent with rather mixed feelings. This book and the series in general are reasonably entertaining reads that mostly keep me engaged, but at the same time, they aren't what I would call un-put-downable. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to help drawing parallels between Divergent and The Hunger Games. In large part, The Hunger Games was so compelling, because the menace of The Capitol and President Snow can be felt so intensely. Also, everything is pretty much constantly life or death, and it's very difficult to tell who is friend and who is foe which ratchets up the suspense quite a bit. Any time a character dies, it's with tears and regrets on my part, because I feel like I've gotten to know them as individuals who will be deeply missed. With Divergent, I haven't felt the same kind of menace. We didn't even really know who was pulling the strings until the end of Divergent, and throughout Insurgent, I never felt like Jeanine was nearly as creepy and evil of a villain as President Snow. I don't think enough information was given to support her motivations, and with what little there is, I couldn't help feeling like she was more of a misguided soul who thought that she was doing what was best for everyone through questionable means, rather than a strong villain who is essentially trying to take control of the world - or at least her little corner of it. While there are certainly some life and death situations in Insurgent, I didn't feel them as intensely, in part because Tris generally has a decent sense of who can be trusted and who can't. Also when characters die (and several do), even though it's sad, I never cried or screamed "Noooo!" in my head, mainly because I never got to know any of them on a deep enough level to palpably feel their absence from the story. So while Insurgent, and the Divergent series as a whole, has been an agreeable diversion, it's more like mind candy that just hasn't quite lived up to my expectations thus far.
I would have to say that the main reason I haven't been as caught up in these stories are the characterizations. Tris, our intrepid heroine and first person narrator is a Divergent, which for anyone who isn't following the books, is a person who exhibits an aptitude for more than one of the designated factions within her dystopian society. As a long-time student of personality typing, I think there are certain personalities that are naturally "divergent," and they tend toward being those persons who don't see the world in absolutes, but rather in many shades of gray. When I took the Faction Test in the back of my copy of Divergent, I tested Divergent, and if I'm remembering correctly, I had an aptitude for Amity, Abnegation, and Erudite. I can see how all of those apply to me, but ultimately, I'm simply who I am. I like what I like; I feel how I feel; and I believe what I believe. I don't try to fit into those faction categories; I just do by virtue of who I am. With that being said, there were times when I felt like the author was trying too hard to make Tris (and sometimes Four as well) fit into the faction molds for which they tested as having an aptitude. It was like she was thinking, "Oh, here I need to make her/him do X, so that they seem more like Abnegation or Dauntless or Erudite." In my opinion, Ms. Roth didn't allow their personalities to develop in as organic of a way as she possibly could have, and I think they would have been better for it if she had. I feel like I would have understood them and related to them in a stronger, more meaningful way if that were the case. Instead, it felt like she was focused a little too narrowly on making them behave a certain way rather then letting them behave the way they wanted to. I strongly suspect that this is why both Tris and Four came off as being pretty enigmatic to me. Sometimes they seem hard, and unforgiving, while other times they seem more kind, and compassionate. Sometimes they are strong and fearless, while other times their fears can get the best of them. Sometimes they think outside the box, while other times they are calculating and logical. This made it feel like they were constantly all over the board with their emotions and actions running either hot or cold. In this way, it was like the fact that they were both Divergent seemed like it was almost continually in my face. It was like their state of being ruled them, when they should have ruled it.
As a couple, I feel like Tris and Four are a little too much alike to make a truly good match. They're both Divergent, they're both largely enigmatic, and they think and act a whole lot alike. Their personalities simply aren't as distinct as they probably should be for a successful romantic pairing or even for two main characters in the same story for that matter. Just because they're both Divergent doesn't mean that they can't and shouldn't be different in the way that they act, feel, and think. After all they are still unique individuals, or at least they should be, but to my way of thinking, they don't come off that way. In general, I'm still having a hard time comprehending the reasons for their attraction to one another. In the first book, they didn't spend all that much time together and now that they're in each other's company almost constantly, one would think the why of their chemistry would be more obvious, yet I still didn't feel much of an emotional connection between them. I think the main reason for this is that they're both terrible communicators. They both continue to play it very close to the vest, only revealing what they absolutely have to about themselves and their feelings. I never really saw a good reason for this, especially on Tris's part. I can definitely see how Four might have deep-seated trust issues stemming from his past abuse, but Tris had a good upbringing with parents who loved her deeply. I've said many times before in my reviews, that for me, trust is a major component of a romantic relationship, perhaps equally if not more important than love, yet this seems to be the thing that Tris and Four have the least of, and in many ways, it's to their detriment as both individuals and as a couple. There were many times throughout the story that Tris kept things from Four and to be fair, he did a few times as well, at least to the extent that we know what he's thinking. This was bad enough, but there was one instance where he asked her something point blank, giving her the perfect opportunity to come clean, but she lied, leaving me stunned. Behavior like this is always frustrating to me, especially when there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for it.
As of yet, the Divergent series hasn't shown up on the ALA's banned/challenged books list, which is surprising considering that The Hunger Games has been on it for several years running and the two book series are quite similar. The 2014 list isn't due out until next month though, so anything can happen. As always, I'm anti-book banning, and as a parent of a teenager, I would have no issue with my child reading these books. As with the first book of the series, Insurgent contains a fair bit of violence, which is probably going to be the most troublesome element to sensitive readers. There are quite a number of shootings, stabbings, and fistfights, most of which aren't rendered all that graphically. There is, however, one real-time execution of a prisoner by a prominent character, and a threat of execution made against Tris while she's being held prisoner. There is also a somewhat disturbing scene in which a young boy is shot point-blank in the head right next to Tris, and another scene in which a couple of girls step off a roof while under mind control. I also had rather mixed feelings about how Four goes about putting his father, Marcus, in his place. As I mentioned earlier, several characters die, some of whom we don't know at all and others whom we've gotten to know a little. In most of these instances, the author doesn't linger over them for a particularly long time before moving on though. There is no sex, but Tris and Four share a number of kisses, some more passionate than others, as well as some touching, and in a couple of these cases, their intimacies arouse some sensual feelings within her body. They sleep together platonically for comfort a couple of times too. Otherwise, aside from a couple of mild bad words and a little bit of name-calling (eg. "Stiff" to refer to members of Abnegation), I can't think of anything else that could be potentially objectionable, so in my opinion, the book is appropriate for a mature teen audience.
Insurgent is a book that has both its good points and not-so-good points. In addition to the characterization issues I had with it, on the down side, I still feel like the author's writing style is a little too simplistic for it's intended young adult audience. There just isn't a lot of nuance to it. She often uses simple sentence structures and very basic word choices, which were most apparent in the use of "be" verbs or extremely simple action verbs like "get" when stronger action verbs would have made the prose more vibrant. As with the first book, this one could definitely have used a lot more contractions. I understand that some of the factions like Erudite and Abnegation speak a little more formally, but the Dauntless definitely don't. Tris, being one of them, probably shouldn't have either spoken or thought (since it's all written in her POV) that way. I'm quite surprised the editors didn't catch both of these things, since they seem so obvious. On the upside, where I found the first book to be quite predictable, the author did manage to surprise me with a couple of plot twists toward the end of Insurgent that I didn't see coming. Although the world-building hasn't quite sucked me in as fully as some other books have and it could have had been a little more well-thought-out, I did enjoy getting to know some of the other groups, like Amity, Candor, and the Factionless, of whom we saw virtually none in the first book. Also, the way in which this book ends and the secret that is revealed in its final pages have sufficiently whetted my appetite to finish the series. Overall, Insurgent might not be the best young adult, dystopian science-fiction story I've ever read, but I can't deny that it offers a certain degree of entertainment value for the reader who is willing to overlook its weaknesses.
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