I wanted to finish the series before putting pen to paper on this one. Conclusion: it’s not a poorly written dystopian YA set. (Interestingly enough, why is so much YA lit these days dystopian in nature? Does it indicate a dissatisfaction among our youth with how the world is working? Do they fear the decline in society that is ever apparent in dystopian works?) It certainly is an active-paced edge of your seat read. And it didn’t make me angry. That’s always a plus.
The first of the trilogy, Divergent, was published in 2011. It readily sets up the world of factions: Dauntless – the bad-ass, thrill seeking lot who use brute strength and fear to maintain power and control. Abnegation – the selfless bunch who govern. Candor – those that hold truth above all else. Erudite – the intellectuals. Amity – the peace-loving hippies who grow the natural resources (and have a peace serum that is fed to the folks daily – yep. they are drugged.) And then there are the factionless, people who couldn’t neatly fit in a box or did not pass the initiation into their chosen factions. (Yes, you get to choose your faction – it does not choose you.) The factionless are the lowest of the low, destined to do the “dirty jobs” no one else wants. Being factionless isn’t exactly what people strive toward.
While you get to chose your faction, individuals are given an aptitude test when they are 16. The test is destined to indicate what faction they are best suited for. Those that do not neatly fit in a faction-box are considered “Divergent.” A word that’s whispered in hushed tones. Those who are Divergent, if they are lucky, find someone in their lives who tells them that they must hide the fact they are Divergent. Those that aren’t lucky, are killed (or extracted, but more on that later.)
One of the many tasks of Dauntless is to patrol the fence. To keep the residents in or something else out seems to be the question that’s touched on very early on in the trilogy, but for the most part, the “outside” does not factor into the first book, which focuses on Beatrice Prior, Abnegation-born, who chooses Dauntless after learning she is Divergent. This choice means she abandons her family. Her brother similarly abandons the family by choosing Erudite, leaving Beatrice initially confused as her brother had seemed annoyingly selfless his entire life. (Little tidbits of memories reveal the clues of his thirst for knowledge and makes Beatrice realize she should have known.)
Beatrice changes her name to Tris. With a serious chip on her shoulder, she sets out to prove that she is Dauntless through and through. But Dauntless isn’t just power and brute force – they are cruel, selfish, and much like rabid dogs. Eat or be eaten. A large number don’t survive the initiation – both by choice and design. Tris is almost killed by her “new” family. Another guy loses an eye. Yet a third commits suicide. And that’s just her initiation class.
Of course she falls in love with the Dauntless eye-candy who is tasked with assisting in the initiation. He too was Abnegation-born. He too changed his name. He too had something to prove. Tobias became Four, a nickname born of the fact he only has four fears. His father beat the hell out of him and his mother when he was a child. When his mother “died,” he took the brunt of his father’s anger – an anger that was well-hidden from the rest of the world – what goes on behind picket fences and all. He fled his father. (His father and his father’s fists were one of the four fears.) His relationship with his parents and his relationship Tris span all three books. The romantic relationship has all the growing pain of a normal relationship – they fight over lies, trust, and jealousy. And let’s just say this is no Bella and Edward relationship (thank goodness!) The relationship with his parents is perhaps more interesting.
Long story short – the Dauntless are put under a “serum” that makes them mindless killing machines. They attack Abnegation, as they are ordered to do. Those who are Divergent are immune. Tris and Tobias seek to thwart the attack. They are unsuccessful and Tobias is captured. Tris has to save him. And the world. Talk about an ass-kicking girl. She does. She breaks the simulation. The attack stops. The world of factions is forever shattered.
Insurgent shows a world where trust is rare, even between Tris and Four. More fighting. More people dying. More physical intimacy between Tris and Four. (Is it sex? Is it not sex?) Betrayal. Faction before blood and all that jazz. A video is played, a video Erudite sought to hide and Abnegation sought to reveal, showing that they were purposely placed there and that the Divergent are the key to saving the world. (Cue dramatic music.) Tris gets to be a hero again. (I really stopped liking her much in this novel.)
Allegiant is written from both Tris and Four’s POVs, in an alternating fashion. I found this unacceptable and jarring – their voices are simply to similar. Had the other books been drafted that way or had the voices been different, maybe I wouldn’t have been as annoyed. (I’m convinced she only did this so she could detail the death scene and the aftermath.) Tris, Four and the rest of their motley crew make it outside the fence. More dead people end up being alive. (Neat little trick!) They learn they were but a science experiment. The battle isn’t between the factions, the battle is between the “genetically pure” and the “genetically damaged.” (Plot twist: Tris is GP while Four is GD.) There are some interesting things going in this book – of note is how the GP have been convinced that wars are only the product of GDs, even though GPs created the GDs. History has been erased. (Oklahoma and the AP history debacle anyone?) More people die. Tris learns her mother had been born in the Fringe and “planted” into the factions to “fix” the problem of Erudite killing Divergents. She learns about the big bad world. She flies in a plane. And she decides to play hero again. Her actions may make her character appear to come full circle – the selfless acts of Abnegation in sacrificing herself instead of her brother (who did some pretty crappy things), but it wasn’t selflessness. It was pride. Tris wanted to be the hero. And Tris knew the death serum couldn’t kill her. She wanted the world to think she was a hero, that her acts were selfless, and maybe Roth wanted that as well. But she came across as a teenager with a chip on her shoulder who had to always be right, always had to know better than everyone else, regardless of the consequences. Death really was the only proper outcome.
As a whole, I applaud the trilogy. Unlike The Hunger Games, I didn’t feel like the subsequent books in the trilogy fell off in the writing or in the plot. And while many hated the ending, I felt it was a necessary conclusion – but maybe that’s because I really had no mushy feelings for Tris. And can I just say – Tris is BLONDE. Roth tells us this every fourth line it seems. Why couldn’t they make certain her hair color was correct in the movie!?!?!?!?!?!?!