"One choice can transform you, or destroy you. 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." (from Goodreads)
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
*Note: There will be spoilers here for events that occurred in the first book, Divergent, so you have been warned! If you'd like to read it, here's my review of Divergent.
Tris: she undergoes a lot more introspection and personal analysis in this second book in the series. She's a little more vulnerable than in Divergent, as she hasn't gotten over shooting Will and it's given her major post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tris really develops the "Abnegation" part of herself here and even though she's quite ruthless at times, she'll put herself out for people she cares about if they're in danger. She also shows her "Erudite" side more as well. We actually get to see Tris using her intellectual capabilities more — thinking more logically and strategizing — and I appreciated that the power of intellect is displayed this way, showing that these abilities can be used in positive ways as well. Although, it's kind of difficult to say "positive" or "negative" about anything in this book, really — things are not as black and white as Candor would have them be. Still, Tris tries to do what's "right" most of the time.
Tobias: I didn't like his character that much in this one. He seems to have pretty high standards for Tris, and then gets disappointed easily when she doesn't come through for him. He needs to stop building up all these expectations about her, because he makes mistakes and he has to expect that she'll make some too. He definitely had a point about her being reckless, but I feel like he didn't appreciate Tris' selfless side enough. He seemed to get almost hardened towards the end, very "Dauntless", and wasn't allowing himself to be open-minded to different possibilities. Instead, he had a very narrow focus and seemed blind to the pitfalls of the path he was going down.
Tris & Tobias: their relationship is very tense and tumultuous in this one. They both make a lot of mistakes and need to grow up — which I think Tris accomplishes more than Tobias. He still has to work on trusting Tris, and become more aware of his own biases (spoiler, highlight to read: in particular, how blinded he was by prejudice towards his father).
Because they're both keeping things from each other, unfortunately a lot of their intimate scenes just didn't feel authentic. Plus, neither of them was very happy in this book, so they couldn't be happy together; usually when one was feeling content, the other was worrying about something. Basically, they were not in a very good spot for most of Insurgent. That said, I think they needed to get it out of their systems, and I suspect the third book will show a united front from them. That's usually how it goes in a trilogy, especially a YA dystopian one (just to break it down quickly: in book 1 the characters fall in love, in book 2 there's conflict in the relationship, and in book 3 they unite once again to fight a common enemy). I have the feeling that's the way this one's going to go. But I'm glad there wasn't a love triangle — I think that would have been pointless and contrived. Rather, the problem here was all about their own misunderstandings and mistrust, and not sharing everything they should have with each other was their downfall in this book. I'm hoping that they learn from that and aren't hiding stuff from each other all the time in book 3.
As in the first book, the serum mind-control thing still bugged me. I think it's one of the weakest aspects of the world-building; people wandering around like zombies just seems a little far-fetched. I'd also like more explanation of the science behind being Divergent, as well as the science behind the assessment test and simulation serums. Insurgent goes into the neurophysiology of Divergence a little in discussing Tris's brain scans, which I found quite interesting, and I thought the psychology behind that was fairly accurate and made sense (spoilers: Divergent individuals have more mirror neurons, leading to greater empathy; a small reward-seeking center; and a larger than average prefrontal lateral cortex). The author must have taken the time to look up parts of the brain and figure out how they might be different in a Divergent. What I don't get, though, is how these people developed — why some are Divergent and others aren't. It seems to be treated like flipping a switch, either you're Divergent or you're not, but you can't be just slightly Divergent...which doesn't seem very realistic.
Insurgent is darker than Divergent, with more emotional gravitas. It deals with PTSD, plenty of dangerous situations, people dying left, right and center, war criminals, psychological torture...it's intense. Insurgent shows how entrenched a memory can be, and how traumatic stress can linger and affect someone in the present. It's made clear that PTSD isn't something you can just "snap out of", and on the whole I thought the illustration of PTSD was very well done.
There were a lot of twists I didn't see coming (major spoilers: her brother betraying her! Also, Peter being the one to save her — which I thought was fitting.) I thought the climactic scene could have been improved upon in some ways; it was shorter than I expected and featured a rather predictable obstacle. Spoilers: Tris has to kill "herself" in order to get to the door, which is an idea that's been done before. I liked that there was an intellectual activity that needed to be completed before you could breach security, but I wish there were more! I thought it was going to be like the first Harry Potter book, with all of these tricky traps you have to think through.
I wish Amity had been involved more. Quite frankly, I agree with the other bloggers who've said that the cover is misleading. It's not a huge mental leap to assume that because the first book had fire on the cover and focused on the Dauntless faction, that a cover with a tree as the symbol would focus on Amity. But there is more fighting than peace that goes on in here, and really I ended up feeling a little cheated that we didn't get to see more of Amity! If anything I think a more accurate cover would have alluded to Candor, since a lot of this book revolves around truth. I'm hoping that Amity plays a bigger role in the next book, as I feel like we've still only scraped the surface of their faction. It feels like they get somewhat dismissed by Tris, as though she thinks they're a bunch of useless cowards. I'd like to see Roth showing a stronger, more positive side to them.
Spoilers for the ending: I kinda liked the whole idea that this was an experiment. It's like a much better version of The Maze Runner, in that the reason they developed this society was originally to try again and make humanity better. Obviously that hasn't exactly worked out, but I think this revelation will lead really well into a totally different third book, where we learn about what's outside the gates!
The end left me feeling a little unsettled; I think I wanted more resolution to the Tobias/Tris feud than I got, or perhaps the way it was resolved just felt too easy and cliched. Spoilers: I wanted more of an apology from Tobias at the end, or for Tris not to forgive him so easily for turning his back on her. His quick reversal from not believing her to believing her came off as somewhat predictable and contrived.
I also had some difficulty visualizing the places mentioned and remembering who was who (there are a lot of deaths in here!), and I found it challenging to keep track of the timeline of events.
Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars. This, like Divergent, is an captivating whirlwind of a read, but it has broadened in scale from the first book, becoming more epic. I didn't like a lot of the choices the characters made, but I appreciated that Tris really grew in this book.
Note: there is some mature content (namely violence) in this book.