Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica RothThis third and final installment of the Divergent Trilogy takes the bizarre, complicated plot even further and it relies even more on people making stupid decisions, rending it by far the worst of the three books that make up this ill-advised trilogy.

This review reveals the conclusion of the series, but it is for the benefit of the reader as you may not wish to read the whole thing knowing how it ends.

The battle between the factionless, led by Four’s mother, Evelyn, and the former factions, led by Four’s father, Marcus, heats up considerably, so Tris and Four leave Chicago and find the people who are really running this bizarre mess of a society, the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, and its leader David.  It turns out that these people have really screwed things up by trying to create better humans, so the Divergent are actually normal people and those belonging to factions are genetically damaged.  When Four discovers that he is genetically damaged, he stupidly joins in a plot against the Bureau, which, it turns out, wasn’t such a bad idea because they are in fact the big bad villains.  David decides that since their experiment was a failure, they need to release a chemical throughout the city that will wipe the minds of everyone, then they can start out all over again and do it right.

Reacting against this bizarre notion, Tris throws her life away trying to stop him.

It was established in the other novels that Tris has a death wish, but quite frankly, I never took it seriously, because in all other respects, she seemed (in spite of a steady spate of tears) to be a strong, fairly intelligent person.  She is, after all, the heroine.  Readers need to be aware that this trilogy is a *tragedy* in the true sense of the word.  We’re all so used to having happy endings, especially in Young Adult literature, that reading a dystopian YA tragedy is a pretty shocking affair.

Roth has tried to make her death seem organic, by repeatedly bringing up her death wish, but I really thought that it was perhaps the final thing she had to overcome in order to become a complete person.  No, it turns out that she really hasn’t grown that much at all.  She simply throws herself away.

Although the plot, and especially the ending, are serious problems in the novel, maybe the biggest problem is the “voice.”

In the first two novels, Roth established a wonderful voice for Tris and since both of the books are written in the First Person Present tense, it works very well.  The third novel, however, introduces the voice of Four as she alternates perspective in different chapters.  It is a bit of a shock, after having a consistent viewpoint in each of the first two novels, to have someone else speaking, but real problem is that Roth has not bothered to create a unique voice for Four.  He sounds so much like Tris that many times I had to flip back to the beginning of a chapter to find out who was speaking.  In terms of creating unique characters, this is a very serious problem.  Once I understood that Tris would die, the reasoning became apparent: she had to have someone continue speaking after Tris was dead.  In the end, I don’t think that matters at all.  As soon as Tris died, I closed the book and put it away because the voice I had listened to for several hundred thousands words was silenced and I didn’t care what happened afterwards.

Allegiant has the feeling, like Insurgent before it of being a rushed effort.  I don’t think that Roth truly took the time to think through her story before writing it, because there are so many things that don’t make sense, that don’t seem believable, that it seems unnatural, rather than an organically sound plotting.

My final advice to readers would be to enjoy the first book in the series, Divergent, and be happy with that, because it is the only complete, beautifully written, cogent novel in the trilogy.  It is pretty well designed, with strong characters, a terrific plot, and it is written in a style that makes for satisfying reading.

Of all the Young Adult dystopian trilogies in the market, the Divergent Trilogy starts out among the best and ends up among the worst.

Divergent

shailene_woodley_divergent-wideAdapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor from the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, this 2014 movie is remarkably faithful to the original book, which is both good and bad.  See my review of the novel.

At an unspecified time in a dystopian future, the city of Chicago has been walled in to protect its citizens from the chaos outside.  Their society has been divided into five sects, supposedly to emulate traits that are desirable in this new society, Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (wise), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honest), and Amity (friendly).  Teenagers Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), must be tested before they make their declaration of which faction they will choose for life.  Their mother, Natalie (Ashley Judd), and father, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn), who serves on the ruling council, are both Abnegation and want them to choose their own faction.  Beatrice, however, shows a strong regard for Dauntless and looks ready to take risks.

During the test, which consists of the administration of a hallucinogenic drug that simulates a series of choices, Beatrice tests out positive for more than one faction (Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite).  The woman administering the test, Dauntless Tori (Maggie Q) tells her that she is Divergent, but that she must keep this a secret, claiming only that she tested out as Abnegation.  The next day, Caleb declares himself Erudite.  Caught in a dilemma as to which faction to choose, Beatrice takes Dauntless and is immediately thrown into a new life of daring exploits.  Jumping off the train at Dauntless headquarters, she volunteers to be the first to make a three story leap into a gaping hole in a roof and she does so effortlessly.  Although she is obviously quite brave, her physical training falls short and she is near the bottom of her class.  Putting in extra hours, her training leader, Four (Theo James), gives her extra instruction and she quickly rises in the ranks.  During a field exercise, she demonstrates that she can use her mind to help overcome obstacles, then, when she is again administered a hallucinogenic in order to face her worst fears, she finishes in record time.  Four grows close to her and protects her.

The Erudite are in the process of planning the overthrow of Abnegation and have developed a serum that will place all of the Dauntless soldiers under their mind control, but Four and Beatrice (who goes by the Dauntless name Tris) are immune to the serum and must find a way to defeat the evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet).

If all this sounds a bit far-fetched, it’s because it is quite unbelievable.  The book has the same problem in that the factions with their self-important purposes just doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.  Although it’s true that Americans are definitely prone to conformity, I find the concept of their adherence, especially among the young, to a single faction to be pretty ludicrous.  The very idea that dividing your society in such a way will lead to peace and prosperity is laughable.

That being said, once a reader or a viewing audience buys into the concept and becomes willing to suspend their disbelief, the story becomes quite compelling, especially the first half where Tris is fighting to be accepted into the Dauntless faction.  We love to see an underdog growing and changing, developing, and showing the big bad bullies that she can hold her own.  We also delight in her ability to be divergent and to live more than one faction.  The direction by Neil Burger is really tight and the movie is smartly edited, but the movie owes most of its success to the two performances by Shailene Woodley and Theo James.  Each of them, in their own way, possess a kind of offbeat beauty that is terrifically attractive, but their acting talents are undoubtedly very strong and they carry the film through its absurd premise.

It’s beautiful to watch.  The cinematography, art direction, and music are all superb and the editing carries the viewer along at a fantastic clip.  Although it runs an astounding two hours and 19 minutes, no time is wasted.  It might have been a better movie if 30 minutes had been cut, but it is fine at its current length.

A very entertaining film, quite well done, if based on a patently absurd premise.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

This review contains spoilers!

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth, is the second installment of the Divergent Trilogy, which had a very promising beginning with the first novel, Divergent.InsurgentHC-jkt-des4

This second novel, however, has a very rushed feel to it, as if it wasn’t properly thought out. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ms. Roth was working under some pressure to get the second novel out. This is a common problem in the industry–and also in recordings and movies. A creator will spend years creating something wonderful, but when it becomes a success, the demand for more is so high that new product gets rushed to the market without the benefit of time and thought, so it fails to meet the standards of the first creation. This, in turn, is usually not good for the creator. In the rush of success, they become sloppy artists and suffer in the long run.

The story does not really have an arc, but rather seems to be pulled to and fro with very little logic. Rather than developing one event upon another, I had the sense that Roth herself wasn’t sure what would happen next and just kind of went with whatever came to her.  (Indeed, I’ve learned that she doesn’t outline–and if you’ve got plenty of time for rewrites, that works well, but when you’re rushed, you can end up with something sloppy.)

Unfortunately, the same is true of for Tris, a character that I loved in the first book. She seems way unduly overcome by the death of her parents. Maybe I’m being cold in this analysis, but all of the traits that she developed throughout the first book would seem to leave her stronger and more able to bear this pain. Instead, she constantly loses control of herself. At times, it seemed like she cried every other page for weeks on end and that really, really wore on me. At some point in the book, it crossed over and actually became funny. I’m sure that was not intended in a saga that takes itself so completely seriously.

Part of the problem with the book is that we find the characters doing almost inexplicable things, putting themselves needlessly into dangerous situations. This has become a pet peeve of mine that I think we see all too much today. If a writer can’t really figure out what to do–how to organically develop plot–they simply have their characters do something really stupid. In this novel, it is Tris going to Erudite Headquarters in an attempt to commit suicide by placing herself in harm’s way.

Considering as much time as Roth invested in the first novel in making Tris strong, it just seems totally weird that she would do this. She seems to be overwhelmed by having killed Will–and that seems to drive her as much as feeling responsible for her parents’ deaths. At a certain point, between all the whining, the death wish, doing stupid things, I really lost respect for Tris and when that happened, I lost respect for the whole story.

With all of these preposterous events, I could not suspend my disbelief.

Much as I love the world and the characters that Roth created in Divergent, I must say this was a very disappointing follow-up.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

movies-divergent-shailene-woodley-trisDivergent, by Veronica Roth, is another in a growing list of YA Dystopian novels (trilogies, to be more specific) written in the first person present voice of a teenage girl. Like the others (Delirium, Hunger Games, etc. this book is set in the fairly near future when the United States has devolved into a ruling society and a bunch of outcasts. In this particular case, there are five factions, Dauntless, Erudite, Abnegation, Amity, and Candor. These names suggest the traits of the groups, intended by these ruling elite to balance each other.

Beatrice Prior, a 16 year old girl, tells the story, beginning shortly before her evaluation. She starts out in Abnegation, but, like all young people graduating high school, she must be evaluated to decide which faction she is best suited for–and then she must choose which faction she will devote her life to. The problem that turns up during her evaluation is that she is suited for more than one faction and this makes her Divergent. In a choice that shocks her family, she chooses Dauntless, the brave faction, known for wearing dark clothing, running around jumping on and off trains, wearing tattoos and lots of piercings. When she arrives, she changes her first name to the shortened version of Beatrice: Tris.

The book really moves quick, the characters are well-defined, Tris’s voice is unique and interesting, and even though the future world is a little far-fetched, Roth makes it work. The only thing that really bothered me was that Erudite emerge as the villains and I always wonder at writers to seem to feel that being smart automatically makes you untrustworthy. This is a weird thing that permeates America today: the notion that it is so much better to be dumb than smart. Another thing that bothered me–and it was a minor problem in Delirium as well–is that Tris seems to break down and cry a lot. I’d really like my teenage girl heroines to be a little tougher. It seems a more pronounced problem here, where Dauntless are supposed to be tough as nails.

I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, but I currently rank this at #3 in my YA Dystopian First Person Present Girl Heroine trilogies.

Anyway, once you get started, you won’t want to put it down.