The factions are in chaos, Abnegation all but destroyed at the hands of the Erudite-controlled Dauntless. It’s hard to know who to trust, a situation made worse by the ever-present threat of another simulation that could turn even the most beloved people into mindless puppets intent on your death. In the wake of her parents’ deaths and her faction’s destruction, Tris has to decide how far she’s willing to go, what’s she fighting for, and- perhaps most importantly- what she’s willing to give up.
Middle books make me nervous, especially if I liked the first book. And I LOVED Divergent. Like it was almost physically painful to put the book down to clock back in for work, and while I was working my brain was still buried in the story and the characters. I loved the action, the brutality, the question of identity and choice and decisions. This book was more than captivating- it was engulfing. So I’ve been very nervous while waiting for this second book.
And I shouldn’t have been, because holy crap it’s AMAZING.
This book picks up immediately where the first left off, on the train running from the tattered remnants of the simulation that caused Dauntless to slaughter much of Abnegation. Her parents’ deaths are still raw and heavy with no time to try to make sense of what’s happened because if she doesn’t keep moving, she’ll join them. They have to find out what Erudite’s after (and why) at a time when only two of the five factions haven’t been directly impacted by the slaughter.
There is so much to love about this book. Right off the bat we get to start seeing more of the factions that separate this society. Tris and Four go with some of the Abnegation refugees (including Four’s father, Marcus) to the Amity compound on the edge of the city, but they know that isn’t going to be a long term solution. Amity is as foreign to Tris as Dauntless initially was, a compound awash in cheerful reds and yellows, with people who hug each other and talk things out until they reach a consensus. There’s no leader, just a spokeperson or representative who carries the decisions of the faction the rest of the council. They’re very happy people, and Tris at the best of times is not a particularly happy person. But we go beyond Amity to look within Candor, where unflinching honesty isn’t simply a way of life, but the hardest truths are accepted with the grace of a gift. We’ve peeked into Erudite before, but we get glimpses of a more complete world, one with children and people who couldn’t care less about who’s in control as long as they can keep learning. What makes these factions so compelling is that the vices and virtues inherent in their chosen trait is fully embraced. The sometimes black and white worldview of the first book, where each of the other three factions comes off as rather single-minded and flat, comes more into the world of grey here. It complicates things, certainly- decisions are easier to make when everything is black and white, right?- but it also makes us fully involved in these difficult moments.
And there are a LOT of difficult moments. Tris reels from crisis to crisis, not even given the time to recover from one before she’s thrust into the next. It’s a nearly constant state of high adrenaline, as crippling in its own way as grief and fear. Each crisis is not just a test but a blow, and some of them wound more than others. Nor are they all external blows. If the first book was about Tris’ choice, this book is about its consequences.
And one of thosse consequences is Four. I love the conflict that grows in the space between them, the way they respond differently to the events even as they cling to the comfort each usually finds in the other, but those differences become more pronounced until Tris has to try to figure out if they actually want the same things (which will force her to figure out what she even wants). As enigmatic and abrupt as Four could be in the first book, he starts to feel like someone we don’t really know anymore. It’s hard to understand some of what he’s thinking, what he’s working towards. We feel disconnected from someone we thought we understood really well, but that’s okay- because that’s also how Tris feels.
I LOVED how we got such a close look at the science behind divergence- how awesome is that? And really, it stands on its own without much gushing, because it’s frickin’ amazing.
I think one of my absolute favorite things about this book is how it truly continues the story not only in terms of action but in terms of character. And it’s not just choice and consequence, though that’s captivating. The first book was also very much about exploring the difference between strength and bullying, and where the line can be drawn. Tris chose strength, but strength leads into other traits as well, and here we see just how fine the line is between recklessness and courage. Just as she had to make choices in the first book, she has to make them here, and they’re not any easier.
I still wish Tris would use more contractions in her narration, simply because she uses them in her dialogue and the inconsistency is sometimes jarring, but other than that, there was really only one thing that bothered me. It’s hard to talk about without spoilers, but when you get to the biggest *GASP!*- and trust me you’ll know what it is- I have an issue with the timing, which could prove potentially problematic. I think you’ll see when you get there. But at the end of the day, if those two very tiny things are my only irritations about a book? I’m in love.
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, absolutely NOT to be missed!
Until next time~