If only I had some memory serum...big spoilers!, November 8, 2013

'Allegiant' Veronica Roth


First off: Spoilers. There will be lots in here. Well actually, only one, which is really what it all comes down to, and which, I suspect, is going to make this series both notorious and wildly successful for the foreseeable future. And btw, I gave this 2 rather than 1 star because it kept me reading till the disastrous ending, which must mean something. But anyway, about *that* ending:

First of all, I don't call the ending disastrous because it's tragic. There are novels with devastating endings built on tragic love stories that I've nevertheless loved - "At Swim, Two Boys" and "As Meat Loves Salt" come immediately to mind. Or in the YA realm: "The Book Thief" or "The Sweet Far Thing" or "The Amber Spyglass." Yet while I loved all of those books, I hated "Allegiant", to the point - two stars not withstanding - where I wish I'd never read it.

As a writer, that's something I don't say lightly; in fact I don't think I've ever said it at all, about any book. And the thing is, I don't hate it because Tris died. I get the Christ analogy. I get that sacrificing herself to save everyone she loves is the obvious culmination of being both Abnegation and Dauntless. Thematically it makes perfect sense, and executed differently, it might have made a poignant ending, rather than one that made me wish I could scrape it out of my head. What it killed it for me is that the story wasn't strong enough support the death of the main character, and in so many ways that there really isn't any room for equivocation.

To begin with, the plot was riddled with holes. For instance (and ignoring the most ridiculous ones) what good is it going to do to 'reset' this one facility to forget their prejudices and save the memories of another small group of people, when there's no evidence that the rest of the world isn't working on the same prejudiced principles, doing the same thing? None of the kids plotting the insurrection have been any further than the GP facility. What do they really know? And then, who exactly is left in Chicago for the reader to care about, once the main characters have left? If Tobias had been left behind, and was in danger of being reset or killed or whatever, then I could have begun to understand Tris's choice. But condemning him to grief and misery because It's The Right Thing To Do and My Brother's Doing It For the Wrong Reasons? It doesn't wash.

Speaking of characters: none of the supporting cast is particularly well fleshed out, and as a result I didn't really care about any of them. The relationship between Tris and Tobias was the reason I kept reading. So take that away, and yes, it feels like a betrayal. In fact I'm guessing this is the root of most of the vitriol over this ending - not that Tris died, per se, but that the reader isn't left with anything redeeming to look to, any bright spot amidst the loss. All we get is a Tobias more broken than he was already, and a society that's miraculously healed within two years of its extremely virulent problems. And that's a pretty paltry offering when you've invested nearly 2000 pages in a love story.

I also resented the gap between the gain and the enormity of Tris's sacrifice (never mind that she was doing to one group of people exactly what they'd planned to do to another.) Maybe the future of humanity did depend on 'resetting' the scientists, but if so, the evidence eluded me. It read as if Tris died for the dubious honor of re-educating a building full of bigots, and for the love of her wishy-washy brother who tried to kill her. Why? What about her love for Tobias, and his for her? What about his brokenness, and how much he needed her to be whole? And then, there's a whole world beyond the research complex that she knew nothing about, except by hearsay, and that, therefore, could easily have undone what she died for the next day. It all left me mentally screaming: 'Whyyyyyy?'

But the deal-breaker for me comes not in the writer-analysis, but in the mommy-analysis. I have an 11-year-old daughter who is a very precocious reader. And while I generally don't censor what she reads - 'The Book Thief' and 'The Mortal Instruments' and 'Ender's Game' are some recents - I would never give her this book, for the simple reason that the main and most identifiable female character, who is otherwise actually a pretty decent role model for young girls, dies to save someone who really doesn't deserve it. Liberal commie-mommy that I am, I can't bear to propagate the attitude that women's primary value is in giving to others at the expense of themselves. Yes, selflessness is admirable, and necessary if we aren't all going to sink back into the Cosmic Soup. But angsty, dramatic, half-baked heroics? Spare me.

By sarah on 09 November 2013 |