Okay, so obviously, if you haven’t read Allegiant, DO NOT READ THIS POST. Unless you have absolutely no intention of reading it, in which case spoilers aren’t really going to affect you one way or the other. But seriously, pretty much the entire post is made of SPOILER.
How this is going to work: I want to evaluate the responses I got to the survey, but I also want to talk about my own responses to the book. So. The questions are going to be written in bold, the gathered responses will be discussed straight out, and my own responses are going to be italic. And just as a warning, this will be a very long post.
If you were living in the city, what faction (or lack of faction) would you choose?
Unsurprisingly, Dauntless won out by a large measure, almost twice as much as any other faction (40%). Next up, and fairly evenly matched, were Erudite (24%) and Amity (21%). Abnegation followed at 11%, and Candor came in last with 6%. There were a couple of fluke answers (again, the Star Wars, and one that thought I was asking if they’d choose to have factions or not), but I have to admit, I wasn’t shocked by Dauntless winning out. Part of that is our main characters coming from or choosing that faction- we naturally sympathize with our main characters, project our values or virtues onto them and vice versa, but we tend to cling to that even against honest assessments of our own characters. What did surprise me was that Abnegation came ahead of Candor. Selflessness is a difficult concept to live up to, and honesty-especially the frequently tactless sort of honesty Candor espouses- can seem a great deal easier.
I’d love to say I’m the type of person to choose Dauntless- not the cruelty, not the recently enforced and inescapable hierarchy of brutality, but the courage and the resourcefulness and the sense of protection that strength can offer to others, that appeals to me. More honestly, however, I’d have to say Erudite. There’s something very safe about knowledge. Even when we’re overwhelmed by how much we don’t know, even as our understanding of the world makes us feel very small and insignificant, knowledge and its pursuit is still a very safe place, like we can run from all the problems in the world so long as we can only find a way to research and produce an answer.
What is your favorite book of the trilogy?
The response was fairly overwhelmingly Divergent. The third book got several votes, and there was a lone call for the second one, but for the most part, it was decisively the first.
For me, it’s also the first one. The first one was something fresh and amazing. It introduced a distinct world with the factions, but also introduced an element of choice. Tris was a character who didn’t know her own strength, who would be forced by her own choice into a series of circumstances that would not only test that strength, but also force it to either grow or break. The language irritated me a little-it felt a little formal, a little (unintended pun) stiff, very much a product of an MFA program, if that makes any sense. That feeling intensified through the second book, and even more into the third book, and the sense of audience expectation, of strain, even of the stress of writing under a deadline, also manifested into something that felt like it needed a great deal more editing. Of the three, the first was by far the tightest in story and character.
From 1 to 5 stars, how would you rate this book?
Excluding the outliers, as an average across the gathered responses, it came to about 3.6, which is actually pretty on par with the larger spread. On Goodreads, for example, across 38,694 ratings, it has a 3.78 average. (By outliers, by the way I mean the Star Wars and the number with so many digits I’m not even sure I could read it out loud) From those nearly 40K ratings on GR, it splits out to: 13,223 5s (34%); 11,275 4s (29%); 8435 3s (21%); 3827 2s (10%); and 1924 1s (5%). (Compare this to the feedback on Amazon, with 2,395 ratings and an average of 2.8).
Also interesting to note is the difference between that and the average for the first book. Granted, Divergent has been out for two and a half years, so it’s had time to garner a lot more ratings, but on the whole, those rating are also a great deal more positive. On Goodreads, Divergent has 446,070 ratings and an average of 4.38 (5/231,618/52%; 4/122,488/27%; 3/43,715/10%; 2/10014/2%; 1/3792/less than 1%).
I find that interesting mostly because it supports the numbers of which book of the trilogy was each person’s favorite. I’m honestly not very good at the whole data analysis thing, one of many reasons psychology and sociology were struggles for me in school, but I like when the numbers don’t make me feel like a complete idiot.
My initial response was a 5, but that was mostly out of a knee-jerk reaction to the ending. After thinking through it a bit more, I would probably go for a 3.5 or a barely-4. It was a fairly scattered book, in my opinion, in need of much tighter editing, and the science felt specious and rushed. The characters felt rather inconsistent and there were a lot of things that were dropped. I think what it really comes down to is that I spent most of the book bored. For me, the ending is what saved it, both as a book and as a trilogy.
Who is your favorite character in the series?
Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the responses came back as Tris and Tobias together. They’re the main characters, after all, so it makes sense. Behind them, though, came a strong showing for Uriah. Christina and Caleb both got a couple of votes, and there were some strays for Johanna, Matthew, Zeke, Will, and Marlene.
Honestly I don’t think I have a favorite character, and there were a few of those in the responses as well. If I had to choose one, I’d probably choose Cara, for the way she adapts, the choices she makes, the way she can take the same overexposure to the outside world that shatters Peter and instead make it a new motivation for a larger life.
What was your favorite part of this book?
Fairly overwhelmingly, the answers all focused on Tris and Tobias, on their relationship. The actual moments varied- drinking soda for the first time, the picnic, the kissing, etc- but far and away the most common response had something to do with Tris and Tobias together. Following that were moments with Tris and Caleb, especially when they played Candor.
Somewhat surprising, though, was the number of responders that said they had no favorite part, and I can’t help but wonder if that would have been their response had they been stopped before the ending and asked that question. That is, did a general disappointment in the ending discolor the entire book? And looking across the line of responses, those who responded with none were in fact incredibly disappointed or even angry with the ending. There’s not enough to support a direct correlation, but it’s a theory I enjoy.
My favorite part was actually right at the very end, when Tobias went ziplining to spread Tris’ ashes. The fact that it took him so long to recover enough to have that sort of ceremony, the fact that he did it in such a way as to make it exceedingly appropriate for her even though it terrified him, that moment made a massive impact. It’s bittersweet, certainly, but it also has a sense of rightness that ripples back to the climb in the first book.
What was your least favorite part of the book?
This is another non-shocker: many of the responses were directly connected to Tris’ death, followed by Uriah’s death. What was interesting, though, was how many of the responses mentioned the writing. “The dual narratives were confusing at times”, “The middle info dump”, The shaky science”, “It felt rushed, the characters all felt like they’d lost their personalities”, as well as the inconsistencies in Tobias’ character. These things came up in the responses again and again. As far as the narration, one of the responses hit in right on: the voices weren’t distinct enough. They both had the polished, slightly over-formal feel that struck more of MFA than of Abnegation stiffness. The genetics came up frequently in the responses as being rushed and confusing, or as feeling incredibly out of place. A good fifteen to twenty percent of the response dealt with Tobias. “Tobias’ personality morphed a bit”, “Tris and Tobias spent the whole book fighting, showing no character growth”, “How weak Four seemed at times”, “Four seemed like a different person”.
I think part of the dissatisfaction with Tobias is that suddenly we’re inside his head. We’ve only ever seen him from Tris’ eyes before, and now we’re getting his thoughts, his doubts, in a way he wouldn’t necessarily have voiced to her before. We’re understanding him in a much closer way, so naturally our perception of him is going to shift. The science I completely agree with; it felt rushed and very gap-toothed, like the frequent repetition of something was going to suddenly let it make sense. The serums came into massive significance but they were also let loose rather without consequence. The actual plot felt rushed in order to give Tris and Tobias plenty of time to fight and make out. I think this is probably one of the very few books where I’ve ever thought “Oh God, they’re kissing again?” because it seemed less like tender moments between characters deeply connected than it did a constant, low-buzz distraction, like the fly going around the room. It dragged at the pacing. This is a big book, but it reads very slowly and with an effort. I felt like I was trudging through it, because the pay offs on the action were so few and far between and it felt like there was so much extraneous activity (like Four and Nita going off on their little trip- where was the payoff?).
Would you read this book again?
This was a solid mix of everything from OH MY GOD YES to HELL NO and everything in between. Many of the responses were actually split within themselves, some of them coming to “everything but the ending”. Of all the questions, this one had the strongest mix of responses, and while the yes answers were fairly straightforward, the nos were incredibly passionate (for example YES BUT NOT BECAUSE I HATE THE ENDING I AM NOT EMOTIONALLY STABLE, caps and all, NO WAY too heartbreaking, which came across more than once).
I will eventually, because in a few years I’ll want to read the trilogy as a complete entity, but the only one I’ll reread more than once will be the first one. That one I enjoy revisiting from time to time, but Insurgent and Allegiant both drag too much for me to want to read them at all frequently.
What are the biggest things you look for in the ending of a book?
There were two responses that came up more than any other, and nearly equal to each other: closure, and a happy ending. Nearly half the answers wanted a sense of closure, the resolution of characters and storylines, perhaps not answering every question down to the last detail but weaving together the important things. Nearly the other half wanted a happy ending, either veiled in a theory of redemption or just flat out stated as a happy ending, no strings, no conditions. Satisfaction and a sense of purpose came through, and there were frequent mentions of cliffhangers being evil. Also mentioned was the desire for cliffhangers for books that don’t end a series. I think my favorite response was “for me, a book needs to leave you feeling lost, or it hasn’t really done its job of making you feel a part of the story”.
The question was meant to be general- what are the things you look for in the ending of any/every book? But a fair number of the responses tailored specifically to this book and this series, or tailored to what they DON’T want in a book.
I have to agree with the first half of the answers: I want a satisfying resolution that makes sense within the story, characters, and world, something that wraps up the loose ends without leaving stray holes but also opens up an imagined future for the characters beyond the scope of the story. I don’t necessarily want to know what that future is. Seeds, perhaps, at most, but mostly I don’t want to pretend that the world stops when the story does. Part of that is the fanfic writer in me. I love the world beyond the story. But part of loving that world means loving the stories and their resolutions. Do I mourn when a character I love dies? Absolutely. But what I’m looking for is for that death to make sense within the story. I want that sense of completion.
What are the biggest things you look for in the ending of a trilogy/series?
For the most part, the answers here mirrored the responses above: closure or a happy ending, though happy ending made an even stronger showing here. What surprised me, though, was the number of people what wanted an epilogue. Something that shows the characters two, ten, twenty years down the line, a la Harry Potter or Hunger Games.
The same thing that many people were asking for- the epilogue later on- is the biggest thing I hope I won’t find in a series ending. For the most part I look for the same things as the end of a book, except on a larger scale. The individual threads, the ones new to the final installment, should be wrapped up, as should the threads of the series. It’s part of what makes the ending of a series so challenging, trying to wrap everything up and not let any of the balls drop. I want to believe that the characters’ stories continue after the story we’re told, but I don’t want to details of them. I want my imagination to be given to the greater possibilities.
Do you feel authors have a responsibility to provide their readers with a happy ending?
I kind of loved this set of responses, because it was fairly evenly split between yes and no, it was the way the answers were given that really just gave me a kick. There were a lot of nos that immediately complained about how the ending wasn’t happy. There were ones that said no but it’s a young adult book so it should have a happy ending. “No, but I feel they should have an emotional connection to their characters, and much more of that than the reader(s). Because of this, they should feel responsible for what happens throughout the book”- this is one of my favorite responses, largely because I really wonder at where the perceived irresponsibility comes from. Because Tris died? Because Roth pulled a strong emotional response from her audience?
Another very passionate answer “No. Authors are the creators/writers, and they can do anything they want. It’s fiction. BUT. As a reader, I expect SOMETHING. ALLEGIANT broke a trust I didn’t realize I had until I read the book. And that trust is that certain characters are safe and untouchable, and trust you that, in the long run, they may get seriously injured and all that, but they will LIVE. And ALLEGIANT broke that. Anyone can die, but I expect THE Main Character and THE Love Interest to live together forever, happily ever after, the end” So that is an expectation. It says no, but all the rest of the answer says yes, I’ve been betrayed by the lack of a happy ending. We can’t feel betrayed unless we feel someone else has gone against their responsibility. I’m not sure where we get the idea that main characters should always live, that everything after a certain point should be rainbows and unicorns.
Most of the no responses were conditional, and most of those conditions directly negated the fact of the no. I’d love to see a genuinely psychological survey and study on this, because it seems like no is the instinctive response, the “I”m a rational human being” response, but that the actual gut feeling is YES. We’re owed this for reading, for buying. We’re owed certain outcomes. But there were some that were incredibly emphatic no, such as “Hell no. That is a profoundly stupid idea”.
And, of course, there was a lot of YES. This idea that because we’re invested in a character or characters, because we’ve trucked along with them, cared about them, we’re owed a positive outcome. An author’s responsibility becomes our emotional well-being. They’ve asked us to care, and we care, and we’re owed some kind of reward for that.
I detest the idea that authors are responsible for anything more than producing a well-crafted book with compelling and consistent stories and characters. An author’s job is to serve the stories and character. Not the reader. It’s where the line between art and product blur. Because we put money into purchasing the book, because we put time into reading it, we think we’re entitled to a certain resolution. I think it’s BS.
My favorite books are rarely overall happy endings. They’re usually bittersweet at best, the happiness of the resolution shadowed by the consequences of the actions it took to get there, and the price that was paid for them. In other words, my favorite books are usually those whose patterns mirror the world in which we live. The ones that feel the most real. I find deliriously happy endings to be forced, usually a cop out, and a compromise of the high stakes of the rest of the story. And because those bittersweet or even tragic endings mirror our reality more closely, because they’re the ones that feel more real, they’re the ones we tend to remember. Shakespeare’s tragedies are far more well known than his comedies. People who don’t know Shakespeare all that well, people who haven’t studied him or read him for fun, can usually name the tragedies. A lot of them can’t name the comedies. But we remember Romeo and Juliet twined together lifelessly in the tomb, we remember Horatio sitting there surrounded by corpses as it falls to him to explain everything that’s happened, we remember MacDuff carrying MacBeth’s head back onstage on a pike, even as he knows that death won’t bring his wife and children back from death. We remember the endings that carry with them a high emotional toll, whereas happy endings tend to blur together.
The author’s only responsibility to the readers is to produce a GOOD BOOK. If a happy ending contradicts the story and the characters, if a happy ending cheats everything that’s been sacrificed and won and lost, it’s an author’s responsibility not to reach for the cop out. Even when it’s hard, even when it causes a backlash by people who cannot comfortably separate reader expectation from author responsibility.
Do you feel proprietary towards characters?
This was a fun one, because even though most of the specific responses were no, many of the responses across the lines said yes, very much so. Where people said no, some of them echoed that idea all across the line. No, an author isn’t responsible for a happy ending. No, they’re not enraged by Tris’ death. No, they wouldn’t change it. It’s a consistent answer. But a LOT of the answers to this question were no, even where there is a clearly proprietary rage and dismay across the individual’s other answers.
And this was, perhaps, the one question where people didn’t answer it. They sidestepped it, made a comment on something else, something that should have been different, should have been changed, and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t like the honest answer they came up with.
Because admitting that we feel proprietary about someone else’s characters feels an awful lot like stealing, right? We can take the half step back and remember that they don’t really belong to us. Except…when we get that emotionally invested, we can’t take that step away, we can’t get that little bit of distance, but there’s still that part of our brain that says no, this is not a rational way to behave. So rather than listen to that voice and confront the dissonance in behavior, we avoid it.
I’m not sure if this comes out of being a writer or a fanfic writer, but no, I don’t feel proprietary towards any characters other than my own, and even then half the time I have to admit that they’ve somehow moved beyond being mine at all. When writing (or reading) a fanfic, there’s a disclaimer at the top of every story, usually every chapter, reminding the reader that the writer is not claiming any of this as their own. They don’t own this. This is not theirs. You put the disclaimer up there for legal reasons, but it also serves as constant reinforcement that you’re playing in someone else’s world. This carries over to readership as well.
If your answer to the previous question was yes, do you feel the urge to lash out at the author?
Like the previous question, the single most common answer was “No but”, then some conditional reason why they really did want to lash out and yell at the author for This or That. Of these, the most common answer was that the respondee had no desire to read another Veronica Roth book in the future. Equally common was no, but I will make my displeasure known in a review/blog post/rant.
What I saw in a lot of these responses was a desire for an explanation. People wanted answers from Ms. Roth as to why she would do this, why would she hurt characters this way, why would she betray readers this way.
My first response would be not applicable, because I don’t feel proprietary towards the characters, but I’ll add to that by saying I don’t understand the impulse to lash out at authors. Get pissed at an author? Sure. I get that. But the lashing out, that I don’t get. When the ending to the last Sookie Stackhouse book was leaked, Charlaine Harris actually received death threats.Death threats. In what way does that make sense? Books can be an escape, books can be entire worlds unto themselves, but they’re not OUR world. To invest ourselves so heavily into fictional characters that we’re willing to offer harm to another REAL human being…I don’t understand that.
If your ‘ship doesn’t work out, does it automatically lower your overall rating of a book?
Given the incredibly passionate responses to the other questions, I was fairly surprised to see that this was mostly answered with no. There’s a scattering of yes, some “it depends”, but most were no. Favorite response? “Piss on shipping. What a stupid way to read.” Most of what I saw was “No, as long as it makes sense why it didn’t work out”. Again there was a request for an explanation, this idea of “It’s okay if it doesn’t work out as long as you tell me why”.
I tend to ‘ship less than anti-‘ship, as strange as that sounds. I’m willing to accept the pairings as given as long as they make sense to me, make sense within the story. Where I tend to get a little ranty is when the pairing doesn’t really make sense. Like Hermione and Ron ending up together. That irritates me, mainly because their personalities, as given, are not conducive to a functional long term relationship. But it’s irritation, and I can ignore it if I focus on the story rather than what comes after. Because the thing about relationships is, even if we call it true love, most pairings wouldn’t actually last that long after the story is over. They’re puppy love, or high-adrenaline love, a relationship based on high stakes events and intense circumstances, where disparate personalities can do better together than in more restful times. Which, if I’m honest, is what I would have expected had Tris lived. If Tris and Tobias both lived and got to pursue their ever after, I don’t really imagine them staying together more than a few years. The friction we saw between them in this book wasn’t going to just disappear once this story finished; it just would have found different ways to manifest. Are there teenage relationships that last a lifetime? Absolutely. But they’re rare, which is why we tend to hear a lot about the ones that do work and last.
There were four more questions, but I’m going to save those for next week, because these are the ones where responses get very unique and I don’t want to gloss over them (and because this post is super long already). These are the questions that focus very specifically on the ending, and I’m definitely looking forward to sharing them with you.
Until next time~