Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth
For a refresher on Divergent, click here to revisit my review from last year.
There are spoilers ahead. And, well, there’s some sh-t you probably don’t want spoiled, especially with this story, so you may want to click away and come back after you’ve burned through the book which is due out this week. Clear your schedule. Cancel all your commitments. You’ll not be able to leave your house, or wherever it is that you read, until you’ve finished the final page. Then you’ll throw it off the balcony in frustration because, ugh, Veronica Roth (that bitch!) had to make this a 3-installment series... F-ck!
So we pick up right away - Tris and Four, Tobias, along with Marcus, Caleb, and Peter are done at Dauntless and heading to Amity. Where Divergent was about Dauntless, and what it meant to be accepted as Dauntless, and the preparation required to be Dauntless - a singular romance with Dauntless, if you will - Insurgent is where you get intimate with all the other factions. And also the Factionless. Kinda like graduation, right? Tris graduated; her world gets bigger.
Strangely, like many students, as a reader it feels overwhelming. I missed training. I missed the comfort of being contained in one section of the Divergent environment. Of course it’s a necessary plot point, of course Tris can’t stay in Dauntless forever. And besides, to truly understand what’s happening, what happened, what will happen, Tris, and we along with her, must go through a crash-course in Faction Orientation, if only to be able to fully appreciate the faction peace that was just destroyed that resulted in this civil war. On a very basic level, it’s a simple morality statement that no one side is perfect. The more complicated and ambitious objective is to understand why. Are we brave enough to confront the truth about ourselves? Or will we shut it down to avoid having to make a decision about whether or not we’re capable of change? This is why I find it so infuriating that books like the Divergent series marketed as YA are dismissed by dumb adults fixated on age. I would argue that Divergent and Insurgent carry more emotional and literary weight than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
But Insurgent is not perfect. In having to cover so much ground conceptually to flesh out her landscape, Roth also has to write through several battles, and a teenage girl’s struggle to accept what she is, the consequences of what she’s done, and find her place in the new reality that she is helping to shape. I mean... it’s a lot. And sometimes it gets a little messy. Certain scenes seem a little too convenient, lacking in the creative sophistication to arrive at the necessary turn in the story without compromising the reader’s investment. Like, it gets a little obvious when they’re all thrashing around at Erudite and suddenly Tobias is breaking free and escaping into a closet with Tris only to tell her a big secret. Because Roth is so good at delivering moments of suspense and twisty “surprise!” shifts in narrative, it makes her weaker and rushed “joining” pieces all that more noticeable.
Similarly, with so many characters to manage now, and many of them from different factions, requiring more attention to their specific attributes, there’s less clarity in the supporting cast. The gaps in Marcus’s narrative I can live with because perhaps they’ll be explained in Book 3. But I wasn’t totally convinced about Peter and his motivations and how, again, he conveniently put on a different coat to save Tris’s ass...because he has a hard time with favours...? I dunno. I feel like if he could outsmart all the Jeanines in the world, maybe he would have fared better in his simulations. Also... Uriah seems a little too, like, not divergent enough to be Divergent. I know Tris and Tobias are super-charged because they’re the leads and all but the discrepancy between the two of them and everyone else who has the divergent gene, or whatever it is that they’re classifying it, appears to be arbitrarily far apart.
Or perhaps it’s just that Tris is so well drawn. So much so that even Tobias’s behaviour seems inconsistent. His relationship with his mother, for instance, I didn’t accept for a minute in that he wasn’t able to predict her sinister motivations...? The woman who bailed on him? Who left him to be abused by his father? I get it that Tris has to be smarter and special-er than everyone. But sometimes it happens at too great of an expense.
But I don’t mean these to sound like major problems because they’re not. These inconsistencies will not take away from the pace of Insurgent and the tension throughout. Roth demonstrated her ability to hook you in Divergent, and that skill is apparent here as well - you are totally, fully, and frustratingly engaged; you will not be able to predict the next page; and where she may take some convenient shortcuts in the story, she certainly does not spare anyone for the sake of a happy ending.
You thought Divergent was brutal?
And then of course there’s Tris. Tris the brave, Tris the super smart, Tris the confused, Tris the liar - over and over and over again. But she is INSUFFERABLE through Insurgent, isn’t she? Necessarily so. Courageously so. She just watched both her parents die. She killed a good friend. She’s in love. She’s running for her life. Who could possibly make the right decisions and say the right things and be appealing under such circumstances? Tris is immensely UNlikeable in Insurgent. She makes promises only to break them, repeatedly. She is rash and selfish.
How would a teenager really behave in a civil war? I guess that’s what Veronica Roth wanted to find out when she started writing. Turns out they’re still incomprehensible. Ha.
Some final random thoughts:
-Thank you, Veronica Roth, for not insulting us with a love triangle.
-So... the final book is meant to be a study on Abnegation then? I feel like we’ve thoroughly dissected the other 4 factions now.
-What is Tori’s brother’s name? Is it Jonathan or is it Georgie? I read both Divergent and Insurgent in review copy form and in Divergent, I swear, she talks about “Georgie” and at the end of Insurgent she shouts out revenge for “Jonathan”. Am I crazy? (I might be because I’m writing this in Toronto and I left Insurgent at home in Vancouver. But I swear Jonathan happens in there.)
-I love that Tobias loves Tris but never feels compelled to “save her”. In fact, he sacrifices her all the time. Because ultimately he knows she can take care of her own sh-t. And when she can’t, he gets MAD AT HER FOR IT.
-I worry that these people don’t shower enough.
-Don’t mind that Caleb turned out to be a dick. I’m down with the fact that he sold Tris out. But if he ends up being altruistic in the end, I will be disappointed.
-It’s supposed to be like The Village, right?
God, why do we have to wait another year? I might swear off books with sequels forever.
Look forward to your thoughts on Insurgent. Please send!
PS. The trailer, the one posted in the open, is HORRIBLE, right? The Canadian one is much less video-gamey and gross.