July 6, 2012

Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Published: 2012, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins
Series: Divergent, #2
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Divergent

We both have war inside of us. Sometimes it keeps us alive. Sometimes it threatens to destroy us.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent let off, delving deeper into Tris' journey in her dystopian Chicago world. The second book is just as adrenaline-packed as its predecessor. I do not think that the book suffers from second-book syndrome, but strangely I found myself not as initially enthralled as I was by the first book. I really can't explain why that is, but once I allowed myself to fully reenter Tris' world once more, I was enjoying this story as much as before.

After stopping a disastrous simulation that could have ended one faction's existence, Tris, Tobias, Caleb, Marcus, and Peter are on their way to Amity headquarters for protection. The recent simulation battle is fresh in their minds, as is the knowledge that one faction will continue to fight for a more "democratic" government. Everyone's core values are tested as they prepare for future invasions and as the safety of the Divergent is called into question. And apparently they're a lot more prevalent than everyone was led to believe. As Tris and her friends travel between Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and the factionless compounds, however, they learn that the fragile peace of their world is shattered, and that nowhere (and no one) is truly safe.

This is a war story, plain and simple (even though certain factions and characters may choose to ignore that fact). It's grittier than Divergent by far. In it Roth explores the core values of her characters as they're placed in one unclear situation after another. This reminded me quite a bit of Mockingjay in its evolution, actually. The first time I read Mockingjay, I did not enjoy it. I thought it was too different from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I was unwilling to really interpret the messages that Collins had about war, sacrifice, and justice. After reading some articles on the story and then rereading it, I found my opinion to be vastly different and I think that it was an appropriate ending to the trilogy. Obviously Insurgent is only the middle book in this series, but here we experience conflict escalating into a full-out war nonetheless. I think the writing style and Tris' narration perfectly mirrored how we as readers were supposed to feel. And, yes, Roth definitely addresses those issues of war, sacrifice, and justice.

I really loved Tris' character development in this book. She's just so damaged. She's not entirely likable and makes many stupid decisions, but the beauty of having the book narrated in first person is that I was actually privy to Tris' thoughts. So I could completely sympathize with all of her struggles and personal demons. I've made it clear that I found the ending of Divergent to be a little ridiculous. People were dying left and right. I understand that it's a battle. I get that. But since the ending of Divergent felt extremely unrealistic to me, I was so grateful to realize that Roth wasn't simply going to pass over all of the greater implications in Insurgent. Tris watched people she loved commit horrible acts of violence and die, and she even killed one of her own friends. Tris is appropriately dealing with all the emotional trauma for the majority of the second book. Maybe this makes Tris a weaker character than the girl we initially came to love in the first book, but her emotional struggles are essential in terms of developing Tris into a believable character.

Tris and Tobias' relationship accordingly takes some hits. While I would argue that their relationship was never quite insta-love, the events of the first book allowed them to be in such close and constant contact that their relationship did develop rather quickly. In the midst of war and so many outer conflicts, Tris and Tobias have individual struggles with their beliefs, which, consequently, cause them to reevaluate their relationship many times. With everything else in turmoil, I would have been extremely disappointed with Roth if Tris and Tobias managed to maintain a solid relationship and have each other's backs throughout the story.

In my review of Divergent, I noted how while I found the factions to be really interesting, I hoped that Roth would really examine the implications and effects of such a system. I needn't have worried about that at all, for Insurgent really does take an in-depth examination about the consequences of people rallying around one particular characteristic. The Divergent, while still regarded by some as a fluke and others as a danger, represent the truest form of humanity. Human emotions and values are far too complex to easily categorize by one core trait, as Tris learns throughout the first and second books. She not only realizes that the Dauntless have helped teach her the meaning of self-sacrifice, while the Abnegation have taught her to be brave, but she appreciates that fact. 

I think perhaps part of my initial feeling of unease about Insurgent came from the knowledge that this really isn't a sequel, any more than the Divergent books are really a trilogy. They tell one storyline, focusing on a brief moment of time in our protagonist Tris' life. Insurgent definitely could not be a standalone novel. I'm completely fine with that (after all, I absolutely adore The Lord of the Rings), but I think it's worth mentioning. By their nature, trilogies should focus on some overarching conflicts and themes, but after reading the first two installments, I don't think individually the novels have quite enough separate conflicts. It's not a bad or good thing – just one way that some people choose to write series.

I recommend Insurgent. It is a worthy continuation of Divergent and I loved how it portrayed emotional trauma and consequences in the aftermath of conflicts, as well as how it explored the limits of personal and societal codes of morality. Before reading this, however, definitely give yourself a refresher on Divergent.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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