I keep staring, but I don’t see myself. I can still feel her fingers brushing the back of my neck, so much like my mother’s fingers, the last morning I spent with her. My eyes wet with tears. I rock back and forth on the stool, trying to push the memory from my mind. I am afraid that if I start to sob, I will never stop until I shrivel up like a raisin.
I see a sewing kit on the dresser. In it are two colors of thread, red and yellow, and a pair of scissors.
I feel calm as I undo the braid in my hair and comb it again. I part my hair down the middle and make sure that it is straight and flat. I close the scissors over the hair by my chin.
How can I look the same, when she’s gone and everything is different? I can’t.
Author: Veronica Roth
Synopsis: Tris Prior, after surviving the sort of horrors that would psychologically damage anyone permanently, faces further horrors with less will to survive. Erudite leader Jeanine is prepared to use manipulative bargaining and brutality to rid the city of the Divergent, and Tris and Tobias are not safe anywhere they go. Tortured by the memories of shooting her friend, Tris begins lying with a reckless fury and mistaking senseless risk for self-sacrifice, unaware of how close she is to losing herself, her loyalties, and everything she cares about—even Tobias.
Notes (spoilers for Divergent follow): Roth deserves some real credit, first of all. This novel seems to suffer comparatively little from the standard second-book-in-teen-trilogy problems—meandering plot, flattened characters, the confusion of obviously-rushed text. It’s true that I got a bit lost around the Candor faction, and Tris’ unsettled mental state wore off on me somewhat, but overall the novel read smoothly and easily enough. In fact, despite my oft-harped-on dislike for present-tense narrative, I had to double-check to remember whether she’d used it.
This review must be prefaced, however, with a disclaimer: I'm not the best reviewer for ‘gritty’ and ‘edgy’ dystopians. Quite frankly, I’m sickened and distressed by the violence, to the point where I nearly put this book down three times with no intention of picking it up again. I think I'm through with the genre. It's unfortunate that my tolerance ran out on Insurgent, as this series is one of the best offerings of its category, but I doubt I'll finish the trilogy unless curiosity really gets the better of me, simply because of the gruesome aspects and the body count. I'll give Insurgent as fair and dispassionate a review as I can, of course. Because I know some of you have similar feelings to mine, though: if you have difficulty with that sort of content, it may just kill this book for you.
Roth’s faction system, the basis of her dystopia, has always been a little more difficult to buy into than, say, Ally Condie’s utilitarian society or Suzanne Collins’ televised gladiatorial combat. As a reader, it’s hard to imagine oneself as anything less than Divergent. Who, really, is ever so sold on a single virtue that their thought patterns can be neatly circumscribed around it? This leads to the suspicion that when the faction system was put together, the humans within it were modified somehow, but no other hint of this has yet appeared.
Admittedly, a believable excuse is eventually given for the structuring of the society itself—though not for certain factions being called “Erudite” and “Dauntless” instead of “Erudition” and “Dauntlessness” to unify semantically with Amity and Candor and Abnegation—but the structure still seems unlikely and inhuman from the outset. Thanks to the believable excuse, however, it could be very interesting to see where that setup is taken in the final installment.
Considering the popularity of this series, I suspect Roth’s evangelical Christianity shows through so clearly to me only because I grew up in it and know the signs thereof. Among these hints is her pointed shredding of the straw man that far too many evangelicals believe the Catholic Church to be (including myself circa ten years ago), though to her credit, she names no names unless you count the theoretically symbolic use of Peter. I rolled my eyes, but I don’t entirely disagree with her points, just with her blinders. Non-Christians should be able to read this book without feeling proselytized, anyway, and I believe that evangelicals whose principles and tastes allow them to read violent teen fiction will mostly cheer her from premise onward.
The one point that might still get her into trouble with her religious fellowship is the ambiguity of Tris’ physical relationship with Tobias. After a certain scene, it’s logical to presume that when the curtain fell, the pair of them finished what they’d started. If they had, however, the rest of the story should probably have been different. As far as I saw, Tris gives no sign of the subtle shifts in perspective and bond that naturally occur once a girl has had her man to bed. The reader is left to make of all that what they will. It's intentional ambiguity on Roth’s part, I would guess, but also somewhat odd.
For a young author—Roth is only twenty-four—she displays a strong perceptiveness overall, along with the ability to put memorable thoughts into her text. The characters of Tris and Tobias are well drawn, generally possessing a depth and complexity beyond YA standard. Tris’ lies to Tobias made her (Tris, not Roth) decidedly unsympathetic at times, but her character progression is interesting, and Tobias’ handling of her instability was honestly beautiful at times.
Like its predecessor, the book ends on a cliffhanger, but not an emotionally cruel one. The story is unfinished, but the reader has what they need to bear the year or so before the final installment reaches the stores.
Recommendation: Read it for a charged depiction of young love amid mental manipulation and the breakdown of a closed society.