I know that this is not about television but I have so many scathing feelings about this book that I need to release them in a safe space. Also, an unbelievable amount of spoilers follow, so if you haven’t read Insurgent yet and you want to, probably don’t read this or DO WHATEVER YOU WANT I DON’T CARE.
The tagline of this book is “One choice can destroy you” and it’s never more true than if your choice was to read this book.
Everything that happened in this book made me want to SCREAM, starting with Tris and Tobias’ relationship. ESPECIALLY their relationship. I really liked Tobias/Four in the first book. I liked that he admired Tris’ bravery, believed her strength was unquestionable, trusted her judgment and her ability to complete a task, and loved her for herself. This book is like a 180 and I don’t understand it.
I understand that you need to create conflict between 2 characters to make a story interesting, and I understand that usually in the second book of a young adult trilogy, the characters are fighting or apart for much of it. But in this book, the author seems to have just made the characters fight because she needed to find conflict SOMEwhere between them. It felt forced, ridiculous, and untrue to the characters as I understood them in book 1. There were so many times where I was like, “Wait…is this a fear simulation?” because I couldn’t imagine Tobias would call Tris an idiot or they would fight over something SO UNBELIEVABLY STUPID to the point where they don’t speak to each other for a week.
Tris’ major struggle in this book is her guilt over killing Will in book 1. It consumes her. Which is actually an interesting plot. Tobias is angry with Tris because she can’t communicate to him the depth of her guilt and grief (um, she’s 16), and she can’t understand how to move forward (um, she has PTSD). Her guilt is compounded by her additional anguish over her parents both dying to protect her, and her in-the-moment decision to save Hector instead of Marlene during one of Erudite’s simulations (um, hello, Christina was standing right there and she saved NO one, and seems cool with it. Tris, how were you supposed to save 3 people?).
Because of this, Tris has a death wish. In fact, she straight-up says she wants to join her parents in whatever great beyond exists. She has so much of a death wish that she sacrifices herself without even considering the very stupid thing she is doing and the inevitable consequences her choice will have. Again, this sounds like an interesting plot but the PROBLEM is how god forsakenly annoying Tris and Tobias are throughout all of it.
In this book, Tobias is angry that Tris won’t communicate with him all of her emotions over killing Will and watching so many people die. Tobias just yells at her about how much she sucks at communicating when he sucks even more at it. It doesn’t make sense. Tobias sees that Tris can’t even pick up a gun, and he (okay I guess I understand this) get’s angry at her that she continues to put herself in dangerous situations without any protection or regard for her own safety. And yes, that’s a problem, but the real problem is how he doesn’t seem to address her desire to die—first at all, and then with any kind of gentleness. In fact, he gives her an ultimatum at one point and says that unless she stops wanting to die he’s going to break up with her. And, like, okay, but also WHAT?!?!
Tobias no longer sees her as brave because he sees her as reckless. But throughout the two books, we’ve read about how in Dauntless there sometimes is no difference between the two. Tobias says he fell in love with the Divergent Tris—the one who wasn’t only one thing but was many things. But this is unfair. Because Tobias admits, while under the Candor truth serum no less (oh my god, what is my life), that he truly believes he belongs in Abnegation, and that the only reason he chose Dauntless was to protect himself from his father. Tobias leans heavily toward Abnegation and is a weaker Divergent than Tris, yet resents Tris heavily leaning towards Dauntless when I fail to see the difference between what they’re both doing.
Not to mention throughout the books, the characters discuss how maybe there is little difference between selflessness and bravery, and so how much difference is there really between the core values of Abnegation and Dauntless? Whenever Tris actually points out obvious and semi-intelligent thoughts like this, Tobias flies off the handle, at one point even telling Tris that she didn’t understand the Abnegation-kind of selflessness that he did. Except for all Tobias’ claims that he’s truly Abnegation, he acts more like a freaking Dauntless than anybody (again, what is my life, how am I writing these sentences).
Tris winds up risking her life in the dumbest way possible, to the point where I wanted to reach into the book and freaking smack her across the face. She marches into Erudite headquarters to turn herself in as Divergent, to ensure that no more Dauntless are killed. Except, TRIS YOU ARE AN IDIOT (I guess Tobias was right, but I don’t support a boyfriend calling his girlfriend a mean word like “idiot,” even if he IS right). Tris, what do you think the Erudite want with a Divergent? They want to experiment on you, fool, so that they can control the other Divergent. You think this is going to save anyone? No, you’re just helping the enemy make it worse.
And, of course, Tobias follows her like 7 hours later. But instead of being angry, he’s all loving and sacrificial. He tells her that he has a plan to get them out of there and asks her to hold on for 2 more weeks. He also tells her that he can’t stop her from deciding to die but that he knows that she won’t, because she is too selfless to leave everyone behind. Then he touches his lips to hers (they do a lot of lip-touching in this book. I assume it means kissing but I kind of picture a lip fist-bump of sorts and it’s only one of the many instances where Veronica Roth’s writing is a bit perplexing but I digress). Tris’ thought is that Tobias is wrong and she actually wants to die very badly and can’t wait. THIS IS SO MESSED-UP AND PROBLEMATIC. Her character is depressing and personality-less and oh my god I have like 100 pages left to read.
But, OF COURSE, at the moment they’re about to kill Tris (except not really, obviously, that sneaky asshole Peter can’t be in Tris’ debt and has a plan to save her life), Tris actually realizes, “WAIT. I WANT TO LIVE.” She screams her desire to live in her own head as she believes she’s dying and realizes that it would be a much better way to honor those who have died (especially the ones who sacrificed their lives for her, hello) to just continue living. And obviously Tobias has known this all along so why didn’t he just TELL her? (That last part is my thought, not Tris’.)
So after they escape Erudite headquarters it seems like FINALLY we have some character development. Tris has her revelation, Tobias loves her, and it’s time to move the plot forward.
Only Tris disagrees with Tobias’ course of action to move ahead in this war, so instead of talking to him about it, she just goes behind his back. She lies to him. And then she aligns herself with Tobias’ abusive father to learn integral information. Understandably she is afraid to confide in Tobias that she believes his father and is choosing to follow him in this way—Tobias hates and fears his father more than anything. And I understand how Tris feared she would lose Tobias because of how much of a betrayal Tobias might view this act. But if I were Tris (and I wouldn’t be, because I’m not a moron), I would much more prefer Tobias be angry and betrayed at something I tell him I’m going to do, than be angry and betrayed at something he learns I lied to him about doing.
Tris does it anyway, aware that she will lose Tobias if she moves forward, but seeing it again as another selfless act, and the only way she can get the important information they need for the war. Just when I thought Tris and Tobias could learn to communicate, Tris makes the same freaking mistake she has made, having learned nothing, as if the past 270 PAGES NEVER EVEN HAPPENED JESUS CHRIST.
So beyond the horrifying character development, there is also just the flatness of the characters in general. They’re really not interesting, and lack much of a personality. Anything that’s supposed to be funny—like a group of characters just joking around with each other—just…isn’t funny. It’s part of the problem with Veronica Roth’s writing. Tris narrates the story in first person present tense yet seems to have access to things a first-person narrator wouldn’t have access to. She’ll close her eyes but then see Tobias do something. She’ll meet a character and then 3 sentences later talk about how the character did something “uncharacteristically.” Tobias and Tris’ love scenes are strange too. Mostly chaste, they wrap their hands around each other’s necks a lot (not in a strangling way, I presume), which is a strange place to put your hands when you’re kissing someone (or touching lips or whatever the hell they do). They put their hands up the backs of each other’s shirts (not the front? Why not the front?), trace each other’s necks with their unnaturally long fingers, and touch lips. It’s bizarre.
And then there is who Veronica Roth chooses to kill. Which so far is like basically every minor main character. And it feels more like she’s doing it be like, “Hey, this is going to be that kind of book that is shocking because I’ll kill anyone, no one is safe” more than to be like, “Hey, this is the cost of war.” Because she chose to kill Marlene when there were 2 other minor characters standing right there that she could have killed instead. One of the characters you just met in THAT SCENE. But no, she chooses to have Marlene, one of the few characters with a bit of a personality, throw herself off a building during an Erudite simulation. And she has Tris choose to save someone she barely knows, over her friend. Why? I can’t see the motivation here. It felt like the seventh Harry Potter book all over again, where J.K. Rowling was like, “Well, let’s just kill people.” Like, okay, I get why Dumbledore had to die but Dobby? DOBBY?
(It also feels like The Walking Dead, with Roth taking the time to make you like a character just before she kills them.)
The only thing that saves this book is the climax and the end. The climax where Tris actually does some badass stuff not because she wants to die or because she aims to be selfless but because she believes it’s the right thing to do, no matter the consequences. This is a character I can get behind. Even better than that, Tris FINALLY tells Tobias off, yelling at him and calling him out on his bullshit. Hallelujah! Tobias ends up seeing the error of his ways I guess but he never says sorry. Their make-up scene is pretty quick, like 3 pages before the end, with Tobias just telling Tris that she was right (eh, I’ll take it).
The ending was…confusing. But at least it was interesting. There is much of this dystopia that doesn’t really make sense to me, but the ending was interesting enough (that there is an entire society out there, separate from Tris’, where humanity has crumbled and people have lost their minds or something) that I’m willing to give the third and final book the benefit of the doubt. Though I do know the giant spoiler part of how that book (and the series) ends and I’m already mad about it so we’ll see.
At least the Divergent movie was pretty good. And by “good” I mean Theo James is really hot.