Allegiant

Lately, I have had a tough time finding any moment to read for my own pleasure. But I have had my sights on Allegiant since first reading Divergent. It didn’t disappoint. It was worth the late nights I spent reading. Insurgent finished on a rather important cliff-hanger, and Roth offered an excellent conclusion to the trilogy. As I discuss the novel, I will do my best to avoid major spoilers, though I plan to talk about the end. I will specifically mark when you should stop reading.

Allegiant diverges (har har) from the previous two novels in the way of narration. Tris and Tobias tag-team this story together, which was a nice touch. They have become so integral to one another that it makes sense to finally get perspective from each of them. Roth does a really good job at keeping the personalities and the psychologies distinct. Having Tobias’s perspective this time around also gave me a better appreciation of Tris as well. I finally got used to Tris as a narrator. (About time, right?) I always kind of found her narration somewhat aggravating in the previous novels … mostly because she’s so burdened and torn. This time around, I was really interested in her thoughts, more than Tobias’s … but I’ve also spent a little more time in her head.

In this novel, the core group of characters leaves the city to finally find out what’s beyond the fence — essentially chaos and the government. The journey is rather short, and the team soon meets the government only to find out their lives have been part of an elaborate experiment to find the best genes and solve the world’s problems. (Because up to this point “genetically damaged” people have caused the world to fall apart — according to the Bureau.) The novel plants its feet and doesn’t change scenery for a long while as the core group tries to come to grips with this new world that they haven’t known and come to grips with what’s being done inside the city. Ultimately, Tris and friends disagree with what the Bureau is planning to do to the city experiment and decide to stop the Bureau once and for all.

Essentially the experiment makes the argument that humans are genetically predisposed to be destructive and not good enough. There are a certain few, though, whose genes are perfect. But the rich part about this argument is that calling those who don’t have perfected genes, “damaged,” implies that those genes come from something that was once pure. If something is damaged, it obviously started in a better state than it ended in … and it ultimately means that it can be corrected, or mended. This causes a lot of strife, especially for those not divergent.

This argument about genetics also revolves around a perpetual lie. If people are continuously told that something is wrong with themselves, they will probably start to believe it. It takes a huge toll on Tobias; it’s revealed that he isn’t divergent after all. The news is hard to swallow and even alters his behavior.

At the heart of the novel are the serums encountered throughout the first two novels, except Allegiant focuses more on the Memory Serum and the Death Serum. The Memory Serum is fascinating because it offers a reset for the city — it offers control over people because they can be reset. It doesn’t erase knowledge in the sense that someone becomes stupid if his or her memory is erased; instead, it tackles event memories … basically I could wipe someone’s memory and then make him believe he’s living on Mars. And while this serum offers a great deal of control, it spawns so many ethical questions. Is it right to use it? But beyond that, it makes me wonder how much of ourselves are made from our memories. If you lose your memories, or if they’re altered, do you lose yourself? Tobias even comments on this: “There is something deeply wrong with taking a person’s memories …Take a person’s memories, and you change who they are” (100).

But is that true? Roth questions this even further. The Bureau decides to reset the Chicago experiment by using the Memory serum. Peter decides that he wants to be reset … he wants a second chance … to forget who he is, so maybe he can be better the next time around. Later on we find out that many aspects of his personality return. So there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer here, but it’s interesting to think about.

( *Note about spoilers:* For those of you who don’t like to read spoilers, I’ll do a brief wrap-up here. Do not read after this paragraph.) Roth has really delivered an excellent conclusion full of lots of big questions and emotional scenes. I highly recommend this, and for anyone on the fence about starting the trilogy, let this be you answer … you want to be able to read this novel.

***SPOILERS Ahead***
For those of us who have finished the novel, obviously the jaw-dropping moment in the novel is to read that Tris dies. Her death was a genuine surprise to me. It was a bold move on Roth’s part to kill her heroine, and she executed it successfully and correctly. I really welled up with emotion and for several pages, I was in disbelief until Tobias confirmed that it was indeed true. That takes talent for a novelist to be able to do that.

Tris’s death also plays to the spiritual aspects that have been present throughout the trilogy. I wrote about some in my Insurgent post. Forgiveness and second-chances have been at the forefront since Divergent began, and Allegiant continues those themes.

I think the most satisfying aspect before Tris dies is that she finds her strength. She finds her strength in what could be perceived as foolishness or weakness. She was always brave and always strong, but to face death serum and seemingly overcome it so boldly with the determination to live and help others live brings out the best in her. Finally, she truly /diverges/ from other people and in ultimate selflessness gives her life.

And I know that many will not appreciate her death. But the chapters that follow are so wonderful. The novel doesn’t end (thankfully) with Tris’s death … we get the aftermath. Tobias’s response is incredible and so real. It always amazes me how much we think we can’t live without someone and when he or she goes, our heart continues to beat. Our lungs still pull in air no matter how much we would prefer them to stop. And Roth gives us those moments with Tobias … and I think the entire novel is worth that.

Tobias reserves some memory serum for himself. His plan is to take it and forget everything. But Christina rescues him from such a cowardly fate. It’s that scene that is so wonderful, because even though it’s from Tobias’s perspective, you can feel the influence of Tris in the room with them. It takes true strength to move on with the memories that haunt us.

What I also appreciate is the power of friendship. Most of the characters are severed from their families, and it’s the friendships that make their new families. That’s been so important in my own life. Where my own family has failed me, my friend shave always been there to mend me.

Overall, I’m sad to see the story end. I made the comment recently to a friend that I didn’t think these characters were as memorable as other characters are — like Katniss and Peeta, or Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I was wrong. Since I finished, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, where they started, and where we left them. They and their stories are memorable and worth rereading. Veronica Roth has woven a story that can appear simplistic, but she has hidden questions and themes that make this dystopia a rich place.

Favorite Passages in Allegiant

I understand why she did all those things, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still broken. (Tobias, 8)

From one tyrant to another. That is the world we know, now. (Tris, 13)

I know I should try to stop putting people in factions when I see them, but it’s an old habit, hard to break. (Tris, 16)

“People always organize into groups. That’s a fact of our existence.” (19)

It is impossible to erase my choice. Especially these. (Tobias, 23)

“Being honest doesn’t mean you say whatever you want, whenever you want. It means that what you choose to say is true.” (59)

I don’t need to relive my fears anymore. All I need to do now is try to overcome them. (Tobias, 74)

I wonder if fears ever really go away or if they just lose their power over us. (Tobias, 91)

And he’s right to say that every faction loses something when it gains a virtue: the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation, selfless but stifling. (Tris, 123)

If they told us what to believe and we didn’t come to it on our own, is it still true? (Tris, 125)
— What a big, powerful question!

If someone offers you an opportunity to get closer to your enemy, you always take it. I know that without having learned it form anyone. (Tris, 324)

“Still don’t think genetic damage is to blame for any of these troubles?” (George, 353)

I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that I wake up, every dat that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. i choose him over and over again, and he chooses me. (Tris, 372)

I don’t belong to Abnegation, or Dauntless, or even the Divergent. I don’t belong to the Bureau or the experiment or the fringe. I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me—they, adnt he love and loyalty I give them, form my identity far more than any word or group ever could. (Tris, 455)
— Love love love this statement!

I also know, I just know, that I can survive this. (Tris, 458)
— I love self assurance like this. Rereading this kind of made me tear up again. 🙂

Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other. (526)

Divergent

I love an engrossing story. Who doesn’t, right? I really loved the first of Veronica Roth’s trilogy, Divergent. I have an affinity for dystopian novels, and it seems more and more that teenagers were created to be the pawns of our dystopian obstacle courses. As of late the teenage girl is serving more as this model. No complaints from me.

Whether it’s Katniss or as in this case, Tris, the coming of age story rises from the ashes of a broken world. In Divergent, Tris (short for Beatrice) must choose to devote the rest of her life to one of five factions in a very different Chicago. She has always been raised in abnegation (which values selflessness overall); however, her heart favors dauntless (valuing strength and bravery). But after a type of aptitude test serving to help one choose a faction, Tris discovers she does not fully align with any one faction. This makes her divergent — a dangerous trait.

The bulk of the novel focuses on Tris choosing her faction and then going through the initiation training. Throughout, Roth builds a political tension. The erudite faction (valuing knowledge) seeks to overthrow the power of abnegation, which acts as the political power for the city. This uprising quickly comes to fruition at the end of the novel and thus sets us up for the next two installments.

Divergent has elements of many great young adult novels, but it holds its own as being unique and authentic. Obviously it reminds me a good deal of The Hunger Games Trilogy, but it also has elements of Lowis Lowry’s The Giver, especially the sorting into different groups based on certain attributes an individual possesses (would Jonas have been considered divergent? hmm …)

I appreciate the complexity of what it means to be divergent, as well. What can be misunderstood as misfit/incomplete actually is more complete and belonging. Tris doesn’t fit solely into one category, but that’s something that should be celebrated. The fallacy of the factions resides in the assumption that these groups of people are the same. Tris’s mother explains the “danger” of divergents … and subsequently she pulls one of the greatest themes of the novel into her statement: “We can’t be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can’t be controlled” (442). Control is very much what this novel is concerned with: control of destiny, control of fear, control of government, control of people, etc.

But going back to my earlier point, being divergent is exemplary of what it means to be complete. Divergents have attributes spread out across the values of each faction. One attribute cannot rule the others. They work together; they compliment one another.

Finally, I was very intrigued with the simulations that every initiate was put through. A constant phrase Tris repeats to herself as she goes through each simulation is It’s all in your mind. But she still feels fear and terror. She still feels immense pain and agony. This is such a good example of what we face in our own lives each day. Our own minds create these scenarios that torture us, whether they are our fears being relieved or a figment of our imagination. If we could only recognize that these fears our just in our mind, which ultimately gives us control and power over them — what could we possibly overcome?

I love that the divergents have the ability to manipulate the simulations. They recognize that they have power over the simulation versus it being the other way around. The simulations do not control them (they do at first, but the Ds eventually overcome them). Again, I really think that is a powerful lesson to hang on to from this novel.

I definitely recommend this novel. Roth has worked out an interesting dystopian world full of intriguing ideas and important lessons. Tris is an interesting character that grows steadily throughout the novel — an excellent choice for the narrator/protagonist.

Favorite Passages in Divergent

“I wish I could speak to him like I want to instead of like I’m supposed to.” (37)

“there might come a day when there is no flashlight, there is no gun, there is no guiding hand. And I want to be ready for it.” (138)

“My father used to say that sometimes the best way to help someone is just to be near them.” (191)

“We are not the same. but we are, somehow, one.” (223)

“Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t. It isn’t.” (303)

“That is death — shifting from ‘is’ to ‘was.'”(303)

“Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.” (441)

Annihilation

Annihilation, the entry to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, is a masterpiece. Don’t argue with me. I read the novel back in 2014 when it was first released, and I was astounded at how beautiful and completely … other a novel could possibly be. As such a fan, of course, I was incredibly excited to learn of a film adaptation.

Actually, I was lucky enough to meet the VanderMeers (Jeff and Anne) at the Decatur Book Festival in 2014. Jeff teased that the novel had been shopped around for film rights and it was in the works.I slowly forgot about it until the trailer surfaced and my heart raced. So this opening weekend, I marched into the theater trusting Natalie Portman to be a strong Biologist/Ghost Bird, and I found my heart breaking.

But from the bad can always come good. While I was disappointed at Hollywood’s failed attempt to translate this masterpiece to the silver screen, I knew the antidote to such a poison was to read the novel again. So I did. I finished it in one delicious gulp.

Good God, what an intriguing and stunning novel. There is little to tell without telling everything, and fortunately, there is a fantastic novel to take care of that.

In the simplest terms, an expedition of four scientists are commissioned to go into Area X, a mysterious piece of land that has changed since the Event (whatever that refers to). Each specializes in a different area of expertise: psychology, biology, anthropology, military. Things aren’t as they seem; though, on the surface, everything appears to be pristine untouched land. In reality, it is anything but.

VanderMeer shows incredible prowess as he crafts a story that works so intricately upon the creepy. The tension in these pages can be so real at times that it’s mesmerizing. The novel is built in the guise of the biologist’s journal. She recreates her experience as she and her crew journey into the heart of Area X. There is this constant melange of the biologist fulfilling the role as the watcher and the watched. Tension fills the background because obviously there is some undefinable presence.

What I love so much about this novel, and I think speaks so well to VanderMeer’s true talent is the use of veiled writing. The characters are only partially defined for us. We don’t get much detail as to what they look like, or even what they’re names are. This cloaking adds to the mystery of this land. As the biologist notes, “Names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X” (9). And it these withheld details that make the novel so cerebral but also direct our attention to the unknown.

Not only that, it puts us at the mercy of our self-proclaimed unreliable narrator. She tells the reader she is withholding certain information: “It may be clear by now that I am not good at telling people things they feel they have a right to know, and in this account thus far I have neglected to mention some details” (150). And this creates a rift of distrust, or perhaps envy. What does she know that we don’t? It is much like a mimicry of Area X itself — the answers escape us.

The biologist is much of an enigma. The psychologist and the surveyor (again they have no names, so they go by their titles) point out that the biologist has begun to change, while she argues that she is steadfast and the same as she always was. That’s actually untrue. She has indeed changed more than she lets on. She reveals in flashbacks that she is a very closed person. She is content in solitude. But as her journal (this document we are reading) shows, she has become much more open. She has revealed much more to us than she has to anyone else, though she claims, “I haven’t told it quite right” (193).

As I write this post, I have reread several passages, and I can’t help but remark at how gorgeous the prose reads. This is one of my favorites:

The ghost bird had found his ghost, on an inexplicable pile of other ghosts. But rather than looking forward to reading that account I felt as if I were stealing a private diary that had been locked by his death. A stupid feeling, I know. All he’d ever wanted was for me to open up to him, and as a result, he had always been there for the taking. Now, though, I would have to take him as I found him, and it would probably be forever, and I found the truth of that intolerable. (118)

This is no ordinary thriller in my opinion. Annihilation is an upstanding piece of fiction. I always judge a work by my level of jealousy, and I have to admit that I wish I had written this! It’s just so damn good. VanderMeer’s writing is masterful. The evidence of the creepy persists so strongly in the background of the novel, that the thrill of the journey seeps into your bones.

Circling back to the film, I often found myself wishing someone like Lars von Trier had a hand in the novel to give us something closer to Melancholia. There just wasn’t enough strangeness, mystery, and wonderment – not to mention aggressive changes to the story. So please, do me a favor, read the book first.

Favorite Passages

when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you. (6)

There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relive, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you. (46)

no amount of training could prepare you for encountering a monster. (59)

what was a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible? (66)

That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality. (108)

“but what about the /veil/ already in place?” (Psychologist, 128)
— confirmation of the veiled writing I mentioned … mentioned several other times

When you are too close to the center of a mystery there is no way to pull back and see the shape of it entire. (130)

I felt as if I were stuck between two futures, even though I had already made the decision to live in one of them. (147)

“but we couldn’t see it through the veil, the interference.” (Biologist’s husband, 166)
— further confirmation of the veil