Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

I'm sure we've all seen the types of teenagers who make up the main characters of Veronica Roth's Divergent series: broody, troubled, angry, and egocentric. I'm sure we've all been one of those teenagers at some point. Roth does a good job of portraying that side of teenage life, the despairing side. But the act has begun to grow tiresome. Her main characters, Tris and Tobias, don't seem to have any other side to them, both easily provoked to violence. Still, I can't help but notice a psychological depth here that's not seen in other similar teenage dystopias. Throughout this second novel, Insurgent, Tris is not only fighting a brand new enemy, but she's fighting inner demons of guilt and post-traumatic stress. Yet again, like the first novel, I find elements pushing me away while other elements are simultaneously drawing me in.

For those who have not read the first novel, Divergent, what I have to say from now on will be a spoiler.

At the end of Divergent, the erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews, unleashed her secret weapon, an army of Dauntless warriors under the control of a simulation serum. This serum does not effect the Divergent, such as Tris and Tobias, for unknown reasons, and so a force of people are able to fight back. However, Tris is forced to kill her good friend Will, who would have otherwise killed her. The guilt of this act eats at her through the entire novel, and even trickles into the next one. She grows to the point that she can no longer effectively handle a weapon. This seems like a convenient plot device, but it's also a peek at the psychological trauma caused by war. Roth may not probe this with much depth, but at least it's something.

Tris escapes along with Tobias and Tobias' abusive father, Marcus. From this escape we get glimpses into the two factions largely overlooked in the first book: Amity and Candor. In Amity, there's a maddeningly slow political process where people slowly think out and discuss problems and then must decide unanimously. Their leader is Johana Reyes, who is a somewhat important character. Candor is similarly wimpy, led by the spineless Jack Kang. Tris and Tobias eventually get back together with old Dauntless friends, and Tris in particular has to face the uncomfortable position that she just killed the boyfriend of one of her closest friends, Christina.

Insurgent is not as good as Divergent. At least in Divergent there was some "guessing" as to who Tris would end up with. Now that Tris and Tobias have become a couple, that guessing is replaced by broody, controlling relationship problems. For instance, Tris has kept it secret from Tobias that she killed Will, because it was such a traumatizing experience. When she inevitably shares this, it's in front of other people. This angers Tobias because he feels they shouldn't keep secrets from one another. Tris of course points out the hypocrisy in this statement because he had kept plenty of secrets from her. This theme becomes an obsession over the course of the rest of the series (what I have read so far) - the theme of lies. But the question is whether a secret is truly a lie. Everyone has a need to keep a secret or two, and sometimes sharing a secret, even with your closest lover, is not wise. And demanding that your partner share their every secret is controlling and abusive. Not that every relationship in a novel should be the best relationship ever, but when the novel seems to portray this relationship as desirable rather than destructive, that's a problem.

I can't help but feel that, by the conclusion of this novel (and being nearly halfway through the third one), there is a sense of sameness, of repetition, and maybe Roth is trying to drive something home with this repetition, but if she is I don't like the direction she's going. There's a simplicity to the way the series views life, views conflict in the world, as though it can all be explained in a few sentences. Matters aren't deeply developed, and neither are characters. Nobody truly jumps out of the pages, and as more characters are introduced, I can't help but feel they differ very little from one another in their lack of introspection. They all seem to accept some simplistic view of society without question. That's true of everyone. Many characters rush headlong to face problems without consulting somebody else, and they end up making poor decisions. That seems true of this book as well, that perhaps with a little more consultation and thought, it could have turned into something much more.

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