What I’m Reading: Allegiant (Divergent #3)

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Allegiant
by Veronica Roth

This is going to be long and full of spoilers, so don’t read if you haven’t finished the book yet!

Finally, we find out what happened to wreck Chicago and split humanity into factions based on virtues! I’m ready for fireworks! Here it comes…

*fizzle*

I have two big problems with the book.

First, I do not like Four. I know, I know. Grab your torches and pitchforks. I also hate Edward Cullen, so hoist my head on a pike. This book made my dislike for Four even stronger. The chapters alternate between Tris’s perspective and his, and you can’t tell them apart. I constantly had to check the chapter heading to see who was talking. This is a problem with writing skills and character development, and it ruined my enjoyment of the book. On top of that, his brooding grumpiness just made me want to smack him and say, “Snap out of it!” Roth would have benefited from a heavy-handed editor and more time to hone Four’s unique voice.

Second, I couldn’t stop myself from nitpicking the book into oblivion and wishing she had taken things further. My background is in psychology, and I’m a science nerd. I feel like Roth was going for a discussion of nature vs. nurture with the plot points about genetic damage, and that happens to be one of my favorite topics. In my opinion she fell very short of the mark. The news today runs stories about scientists searching for genes that “control” X, Y, or Z. That’s simply not how it works, and no good scientist thinks that way. Multiple genes influence multiple systems in the body. Genes can switch on and off. Life stressors can activate hormones and genes and even change your brain chemistry. But humans are not animals acting on pure instinct. We are shaped by our environment, and we have this precious unique thing called “free will.” In truth, DNA gives people limitations and vulnerabilities, not predetermined life paths. As my amazing psychology professor said in psych 101, “I am 6′ 3″, so my genetics mean that I can jump higher than someone who is only 5 feet tall. Someone short is limited by their genetics. But my height doesn’t mean I’ll be amazing at basketball or that a short person will be bad at it. I’m actually terrible at basketball, and there are short guys who can beat me blindfolded.”

It’s not one or the other. It’s the tension between nature and nurture that makes us who we are. I know Roth hat-tipped this idea several times, but I wish she had done so much more. The whole debate about “damaged” DNA would have been far more powerful if Roth had taken a slightly different tack. What if the scientists created the faction system as a way to control nurture as well as nature by reactivating certain genes with the environment as well as breeding them back in? Each faction suppresses undesirable traits and encourages desirable ones.

But the system clearly doesn’t always work, and Tris would be forced to decide whether to save the system despite that it seems to be hurting those that need it the most: the Factionless. Without the protective effects of a faction, the Factionless are at the mercy of their DNA and degenerate into cruelty, cowardice, ignorance, selfishness, and deceit. Or at least that’s what the researchers tell her. But in truth wouldn’t they also be a product of their poverty and isolation? The Factionless are treated as irredeemable, but with a system to activate the right genes, no one should be irredeemable. In the end Tris would have been left to wonder, “Am I a product of my mom’s genetics or the way I was raised? Does my divergence even mean anything if the faction system is designed to produce it?”

Again, Roth touched on these concepts, but they deserved to be fleshed out and wrestled with. Outside Chicago is a mess. People are miserable, damaged, and dying. But inside Chicago the very experiment designed to improve humanity became a mirror of the rest of the world. Why? The truth is the human heart can’t be redeemed through rules and regulations imposed on it by society or the miracles of medicine and science. The brokenness is in our very souls, not just our DNA. We are fundamentally flawed. It’s called a sin nature, or, to use Calvinist lingo, total depravity. We need something outside our broken universe to reach in and fix us.

I gather that Roth is a Christian, so I don’t believe I’m expecting something unusual from her. Maybe she was trying to use Tris as a Christ figure by letting her sacrifice herself in place of her treacherous brother, but it rang false to me. I leave the Divergent universe unsatisfied and wishing she had pushed harder, and that is a shame.

What I’m Going to Be Reading 2012

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I’m looking forward to a lot of things this year.

The Hunger Games movie. I may attend dressed as Effie Trinket. It’s mostly a question of whether I can procure a pink wig.

Completing the first draft of my novel. May 2012, people! That’s the goal, crazy though it may be.

And books. Lots and lots of books.

Insurgent

by Veronica Roth

Sequel to Divergent that I loved last year. Tris was supposed to be celebrating the day she officially joined her chosen faction, but a war is brewing. I can’t wait to see where Roth takes the story. Tris is one of my favorite heroines, right there next to Katniss Everdeen.

 

 

Cinder

by Marissa Meyer

Book One in the Lunar Chronicles. The heroine, Cinder, is a cyborg. That was enough for me, but if you need more, it’s described as a sci-fi take on Cinderella.

 

 

Partials

by Dan Wells

A sci-fi dystopian story. If you like Battlestar Galactica, the story will seem familiar. Man has created biologically-based robot super-soldiers to fight wars. Then a deadly virus started killing everyone.

 

 

Above

by Leah Bobet

This isn’t my typical fare. I’m not an urban fantasy type of girl. But this book looks really cool.  Matthew lives in Safe, a secret underground refuge for freaks with animal body parts or special powers like seeing ghosts. When someone threatens to destroy their haven, Matthew must find a way to protect those he loves.

 

If you know of something coming out this year that I didn’t mention, please let me know about it!

New Years Post: What I Read

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I’ve done a lot of reading over the last year. I read over my lunch breaks at work. I read in between contractions (yes, really. It kept my mind off of the pain.) before we left for the hospital. I read during maternity leave while my son napped. I read on my breaks at work for a few months until I got to stay home full time. Now that I’m home, reading happens during my son’s naps (if he naps) or after he’s in bed for the night.

I should also mention I’m one of those freaks of nature who reads really fast. That’s how I’ve been able to read so many books while caring for an infant. I might go back and review a few of these tomes, but for now I’ll just list and summarize my favorites.

My 5 Favorite Books I Read in 2011:

5. The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan- Book 3 of a dystopian fiction series. There are zombies. Trust me: you’ll like Carrie Ryan even if you don’t like zombies.

4. The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher- Dystopian fiction where the world has run out of water, and the main character meets a boy who seems to have plenty. Then the boy gets kidnapped. Imaginative, fun, and a good quick read.

3. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi- More dystopian fiction (considering how much is out there, are you really surprised?) where the world has flooded. A boy breaking down beached ships for scrap finds a young woman in the wreck of a luxury yacht. Then he discovers someone is trying to kill her. This is Bacigalupi’s first YA novel, and I want to read more.

2. Across the Universe by Beth Revis- A space opera set on a generation ship. A girl in cryogenic stasis is nearly killed after being woken 50 years too early, and together with the young captain-in-training, she must figure out who would want to murder her. This book recommendation comes with a warning: there is some sexual content in the book, specifically an attempted rape. It was an important plot point and not graphic enough for me to quit reading, but it definitely made me cringe.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth- I love Veronica Roth. I love the way she writes, and I love Tris, the heroine she created in Divergent. Yet another dystopian offering, the world is divided into factions that value a specific virtue above all others. The story starts just before Tris must choose her own faction, and she is caught between her family and her own desires.

All this reading gave me a better sense of what was right and wrong with my own novel, and I hope to finally complete that darn first draft this spring. Hopefully my son will cooperate by actually sleeping through the night!

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2012!