With the Divergent movie release, the trilogy by Veronica Roth is getting lots of attention and, hopefully, lots of new readers. I’ve already reviewed the first book, Divergent, which I liked so much that I gobbled up the next two books in the series as soon as I could. Although I enjoyed reading the second and third books, they don’t quite live up to the promise of the first.
Insurgent, the second book in the trilogy, picks up exactly where Divergent left off. The factions are openly at war, and an enormous secret about the origin of their society has just been revealed. Unfortunately, that secret is hardly mentioned for the majority of the book. Whereas the first book is fast-paced and exciting, Insurgent slows way down. With little action to entertain, some passages plod along pretty slowly.
The plot of the third book, Allegiant, relies on secrets kept and secrets revealed, rather than on action. Tris learns her mother’s history, and the surprising story behind her society’s formation. The people in her society have been treated as little more than living hard drives that can be erased or re-programmed as required, and this raises questions about what creates a person’s identity. Is it memories? Choices? Loyalties? DNA? Roth’s use of genetics to explain the evolution of the factions don’t really work, and the bad science distracts from these interesting questions.
Despite these flaws, the Divergent series is worth a read. Tris is a strong, well-written character, and she is the trilogy’s redeeming quality. In Divergent, Tris discovers her abilities, tests herself to the limit, and gains confidence each time she overcomes her fears. She makes choices based on what is right, not how many people might get angry with her. In Insurgent, Tris is different, overwhelmed by grief and confusion, but still true to herself and very real. She’s not nearly as self-assured as she was in the first book, and her state of mind takes a believable toll on her relationships and on her behavior. By the last book in the trilogy, Tris has to move past her grief, and force herself to think about the world beyond herself. She grows into a leader, and the choices that she makes have higher stakes.
Although Tris is strong and independent, she values her relationships. Even after she and her brother Caleb part ways, each choosing a different faction, she tries to remain close with Caleb and their parents. Much of what she does throughout the trilogy is for them, and for the friends she makes when she joins the Dauntless faction. She depends on her friends, but is careful not to defer to them. She struggles to make decisions, and she accepts the consequences.
There is a romance in the trilogy but, in contrast with many other popular Young Adult books, Tris and boyfriend Tobias (also known as Four) have a solid bond throughout the series. She doesn’t waver about her feelings for him, nor is she pulled between him and another romance. I hope that other authors will follow Roth’s lead and ditch the love-triangle model that has become so prevalent in other popular YA books.
I’d recommend this trilogy to readers who enjoy Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games or Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but with a warning. Some will get pulled in by Divergent, only to be disappointed in the next two books. It’s still worth finishing the series to see where Roth takes her ambitious concept and characters. Fans will have mixed feelings about the ending, but Tris’ character arc leads her to a place that is truly selfless, brave, kind, and intelligent – just like the divergent she is.
Shannon blogs about her bookish life at www.shannonrigney.com