I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
Big review to come. Meanwhile, I will just say that this time, my three-star rating is a solid three (unlike my round-up from 2.5 for Divergent).
Here is the big review:
In my review of Divergent, I wrote:
Like many other reviewers of this book, I found its basic premise implausible. Here we are in a post-apocalyptic future-Chicago, formerly devastated by war, and we are supposed to believe that anyone thought that the route to ensuring peace was to subdivide the population into rigid, exclusive factions organized around one privileged personality trait? Each faction chooses a quality that is supposed to counteract what that group sees as the cause of wars. But somehow nobody anticipated the effect of inter-faction conflict? It's as if some genius decided society should model itself after the oh-so-functional cliquetocracy of your typical high school.
I still find the premise implausible. But I am now willing to cut the author some slack on this for a couple of reasons:
1. While it is not a realistic scenario, it makes some sense in the context of an adolescent’s emotional landscape. Think about what happens during high school. There are sharply divided social groups that tend to value a particular trait over others: the jocks, the geeks, the theater kids, the band kids, and so on. During this time, pressure to conform to a social group edges out family in importance. Meanwhile, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors are reinforcing the message that what happens during high school will shape students’ entire future. Grades and test scores will determine the type of college students can be admitted to; choosing the right college (or other post-high school path) decides what career and prospects will be possible. Of course, adults who have been past that stage for a long time have the perspective to know that life is often not so linear and that there are second, third, fourth, etc. chances. But it doesn’t seem that way when you are sixteen. (So for the target audience of this series, the premise does make metaphorical sense.)
2. With Tris as the first-person narrative voice, we readers have limited information. Tris can only tell us what she has been told and/or experienced. She was born into this implausible world of factions and has never known any other. She has been told a certain back-story about her world and has no context to question what she has been told. But as she experiences the conflicts unfolding, she is forced to question what she believes and what she thinks she knows.
One of the good things about Insurgent is that there is no waiting for the plot to show up (unlike in Divergent). Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off, and the plot churns along swiftly right from the beginning. Many of the questions readers might have had about the different factions and the factionless begin to be answered, as Tris learns more about them. She is forced to realize that much of what she thought she knew was incorrect and based on prejudices she inherited from her upbringing. Remember the end of The Breakfast Club? The five kids who are forced to spend Saturday detention confined together in the high-school library are assigned a writing assignment to answer the question “Who do you think you are,” and Brian (the “brain” of the group) writes the response for all of them:
Dear Mr. Vernon,
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is that we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is . . .a brain. And an athlete. And a basket case. A princess. And a criminal. Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.
Part of Tris’s journey, I think, is learning what the kids in The Breakfast Club figured out--that everyone is more nuanced than originally assumed. Tris learns to resist seeing things in a binary way: black or white, loyal or traitor. She realizes that everyone is more complicated than she had ever imagined. She learns that others have complicated motives and that loyalties can be in flux for a variety of reasons.
And at the end, there are twists. A twist, a twist, and a twist! And yes, a cliffhanger. This isn’t the kind of cliffhanger that fills me with rage because I feel as though I’ve read an entire book of filler, though. This installment has moved the story along and answered questions while raising some new ones. The ending does leave me very intrigued and ready for the next and final installment. Which I don’t get to read until fall 2013!