Sunday, February 17, 2013

Divergent and Insurgent Reviews

I'm getting reading to teach a three and a half week elective on dystopian literature. Before I even know what that genre meant, I always was a fan of dystopian novels. I adored The Giver as a girl and obsessively read Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. I got back into the genre when The Hunger Games came out, which I loved. After that I got really into Wool (I'm reading the 8th part of the series now), but there are so many young adult books out now that fit into the dystopian theme. I've been disappointed with a lot of them though like The Maze Runner series (although I apparently gave the first one at least a good review at the time; my memory is soured by the horrible fourth book) and the Matched series. But my co-worker raved about these two books so I finally got around to reading them to get ready for my class next week.

Divergent is the story of Beatrice Prior, who lives in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where society is divided into five factions based on the characteristics they most admire: Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite and Candor. Beatrice is in Abnegation, the group that is supposed to be extremely selfless and therefore are in charge of the government. Beatrice, however, feels dissatisfied with her life. At the age of 16, all children are put through a test to show which faction they are best suited for, but then they can choose the faction they wish to join, although to be truly accepted, they must get through initiation.

During her test, Beatrice has a strange experience. She does show aptitude for Abnegation but also for Dauntless and Erudite. This makes her a Divergent, a dangerous presence in the world. She is told to keep her Divergence a secret. On choosing day, she decides to defect to Dauntless, a shocking decision for someone from her Abnegation background.

The Dauntless are a wild, chaotic group who thrive on physical and mental challenges. Beatrice, or Tris, as she calls herself when she moves to Dauntless headquarters for initiation, is smaller than many of the Dauntless and not as strong. The first part of initiation is physical, and she struggles to keep up. However, her Divergent nature, and the help of her close group of friends, assist her in surviving to the second stage, which focuses on mental strength.

There are only 10 spots open for Dauntless initiates so the competition is fierce and violent. One character is eliminated when a butter knife is driven into his eye. Another commits suicide. There are shockingly violent physical fights and lots of gun use, which surprised me a bit. Tris develops a few close friendships but also a strong attraction (which she does not realize is an attraction at first) for her trainer, known as Four. Over time she learns his background and they develop a sweetly adorable but also very intense relationship that took me back to memories of my own first boyfriend. Tris struggles to survive the initiation throughout Divergent. One of my friends said she was a bit of a Mary Sue, which is true, but clearly it wouldn't be much of a story if Tris wasn't able to overcome all the challenges she faced with her hidden talents and abilities. Maybe I was comparing this story to Matched and The Maze Runner, but I thought this was a way better written story and so I enjoyed it much more.

The author, Veronica Roth, also wrote a short story called Free Four, which tells a specific moment from Divergent from Four's point of view. That's definitely worth reading. It comes in some special edition of Insurgent.

I didn't like Insurgent as much as Divergent, but it was still entertaining. SPOILERS AHEAD!!! At the end of Divergent, Tris is initiated into the Dauntless. However, tensions have been bubbling between Erudite and Abnegation for a while. The Erudite teamed up with Dauntless and injected transmitters into their skin that activates at the end, turning the Dauntless into sleepwalking killers. They go to Abnegation quarters and just start killing everyone they find. Due to her Divergent status, Tris is not affected by the transmitter but she is discovered and brought before Jeanine Matthews, the head of Erudite, who is desperate to get rid of Abnegation to prevent them from revealing some life changing information to the rest of the factions. She also wants to study Tris and Four (aka Tobias, who is also Divergent) to develop a transmitter that the Divergent are susceptible to. In the course of escaping, Tris ends up killing her friend Will, which traumatizes her completely in the next book.

So in Insurgent, the brave, stubborn Tris that I liked so much became more introspective and surly, much like Katniss in Mockingjay, which drove me a bit crazy. A wedge is driven between her and Tobias. The factions are a mess and Tris is constantly sending herself into stupid situations. This book mainly focuses on the war between Erudite and whoever is willing to team up against them - the remainders of Abnegation, half of the Dauntless (the other half are traitors who ally themselves with Erudite) and the factionless, a growing population who are without faction and essentially appear to be homeless but actually show their true side during this book.

The ending reveals an explosive, game changing piece of information to the main characters, so the third book (due this fall, I think) should be exciting.

Overall, I liked both of these books a lot and definitely recommend them to anyone who likes dystopian fiction. I will definitely be recommending it to my students next week. Two of my friends who liked the book also recommended Delirium so that'll be on my list soon!

Divergent at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Insurgent at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Free Four at amazon and Barnes & Noble 

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