One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.
My passionate opinions of Divergent notwithstanding, my decision to read Insurgent by Veronica Roth was more out of spontaneity and convenience, and less out of curiosity. Oftentimes it is the latter that compels me to read books, especially sequels of books that I did not particularly enjoy. Nonetheless, although I did not particularly enjoy Divergent, I picked Insurgent hoping that it would be an improvement, however marginal, to its predecessor.
It is noteworthy that Insurgent is the first audiobook I have listened and completed. The crux of my Insurgent audiobook experience: I enjoyed it. More specifically, I enjoyed listening to the audiobook. I’m traditionally a paperback or ebook reader, but, to my surprise, I loved listening to the story. I think I now understand the beauty of aural storytelling. Usually my attention span, especially when the information is conveyed aurally, is short-lived, but Emma Galvin was a fantastic narrator that held my interest effortlessly. However, this experience taught me something about myself: how critical I am of something depends on its medium. I am more critical of books than I am of TV shows and movies. Audiobooks, it seems, fall into the latter. With that said, I believe I would have enjoyed Insurgent much less if I had read it as a paperbook/ebook. But am I complaining that I enjoyed something more than I should have? Absolutely not.
Although the state of the world and conception of factions divided by our personalities is nonsensical and beyond salvaging, I picked up Insurgent for the story alone. After all, I detected potential in the narrative and its development when I was reading Divergent. There were also undertones of revolution (and you and I know that I’m a big sucker for those), and perhaps Insurgent would have provided some insight as to why and how the factions were formed. So, was there a revolution and does Insurgent attempt to save its big worldbuilding flaw? Yes and, well, not at all.
Following the catastrophic aftermath of Divergent, Chicago as Tris knows it is thrown into chaos and the perpetrators remain at large. More importantly, Chicago is prepared for an uprising now that the faction responsible has been ousted. Herein is the potential that I hoped for – perhaps Roth would provide us a lesson on the necessity of revolution, that rebellion is not necessarily a violent thing drenched in blood but can be achieved through collective action. When introducing the ‘underground resistance’, Roth is partway there. The unexpected would-be heroes are poised to strike, ready for action, and are interestingly the group that most of Chicago has overlooked thus far. Though this bears some symbolic connotations (as it should), my optimism for this book quickly began to falter.
Contrary to what people may believe, rebellion is possible without violence, and it is called civil resistance. It is a very simple idea, but it is a complex process, particularly when the oppressors are violent. Understandably, in the context of Insurgent, where traitors are armed to the teeth and are killing people left, right and center (which makes no sense, but let’s let it slide anyway), at face value civil resistance does not seem like a viable option. The important idea, however, is that there is a power in collective action. Rather than ask the hard questions about rebellion and revolution – especially in its challenges – any thematic potential in Insurgent is forsaken. But, my criticisms of Insurgent aren’t its should have‘s and ought to have been’s.
Here is my biggest gripe: Insurgent trivializes revolution, and that is something more harmful than people give credit. ‘Rebellion’, in Insurgent, is a shoot ’em up mission spearheaded by fumbling teenagers who have no idea what they are doing and only succeed out of sheer luck and because it conveniences the plot. What is the purpose of their rebellion? To kill or destroy the leader. But to what end and what of the consequences after? God knows, but if you do, please CC your theories to Roth and I. The very idea that revolution is merely taking down an autocratic leader is more than ludicrous; it is naive.
“But CW, this is just an entertaining book! It doesn’t really matter!” Well actually, it does matter. Other than The Hunger Games (which I wasn’t fond of either, but I will admit that it handled its themes better), the Divergent series is the other most accessible young adult book out there that touches on these themes. Insurgent ignores the social and political implications of an uprising. Actually, there is nothing social or political about it at all. Rather than show that revolution can lead to positive change at a cost and why it is necessary (because, you know, if you are going to write a dystopia you need a degree of social commentary), Insurgent instead presents revolution as something that is ‘action-packed’ that lacks meaning, purpose, and depth. To me, Insurgent has included revolution without any understanding of the term or its social significance.
History is filled with revolution, some absolutely horrific, some peaceful, most necessary. More importantly, even today, revolution is important. Movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the 2014 Hong Kong Protests are inherently tied to ideas of revolution. With the shuddering amount of police brutality occurring in the United States where people are actually being killed, should someone suggest we resolve this Insurgent style? (Note: I am not insinuating Roth’s personal and political values are reflected in her portrayal of revolution.) The tragedy is that the idea of revolution – which is about power of the people and collective action – has been clumsily and thoughtlessly tossed around as a tool to make a book ‘action-packed’.
All of that aside, there is a lot of almost going to happen and not a lot of things that actually happen. It seems that the purpose of Insurgent is to build up to the finale – and with the lack of development of characters and lack of action, it shows. It is possible that Insurgent has fallen victim to second book syndrome. On character development and overall story which have already been discussed ad nauseam – meh. If there was one thing I didn’t mind too much, it was the relationship development between Four and Tris. They certainly argue more in this installment, but isn’t that a part of relationships? Interestingly in Insurgent, most of their arguments stem from a conflict in ideology or belief in how to do things. Therefore, I didn’t see their bickering as a detriment to the book – I’d say that it helped me understand Four and Tris’s characters more.
However, the fault is that Insurgent fails to be an engaging book. When you have readers who are curious about the development of the story but are tentative in their investment, Insurgent would not be the kind of book that would renew interest. If anything, Insurgent has confirmed that this series is something I can give up half-way, and, sad to say, that would not be a loss.
Book Name: Insurgent
Book Series: Divergent #2
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books