Not Just for Kids: ‘Insurgent’ by Veronica Roth

"Insurgent" was written by Veronica Roth.
Los Angeles Times


A Novel

Veronica Roth

Katherine Tegen Books, 544 pp.: $17.99, for readers age 14 and up


There’s no questioning the impact of “The Hunger Games.” Its success has given birth to an explosion of dystopian young adult literature that invariably unfolds in some environmentally compromised, governmentally bizarre future version of the United States. The more successful books in the genre rearrange society in ways that are unfamiliar and inventively oppressive, creating a perfect petri dish for young heroines to rise up against their circumstances in ways that not only reveal their inner strengths but lead to romance.

It’s an alluring formula that’s propelled countless formerly unknown, and oftentimes young, authors to the top of bestseller lists, including Veronica Roth with her debut novel, “Divergent,” which was picked up for publishing when Roth was in college and has since been optioned by Summit Entertainment, makers of the “Twilight” films. In the kickoff to the “Divergent” trilogy, published last May, a 16-year-old named Tris leaves her family to join a group that better suits her adventurous and questioning nature. Everyone in this fenced-in Chicago landscape is personality tested and forced to choose among five different factions that most closely match their values. Abnegation is for the selfless and Dauntless for the brave. Amity is peaceful, Candor is ruthlessly honest and Erudite prizes knowledge above all else.

Tris was born into Abnegation but chose to be Dauntless — a decision that had the upside of bringing her into contact with the steely-eyed and buff Tobias who, as “Divergent” drew to its fever-pitch close, declared his love. But the downside was equally steep: Both of Tris’ parents were killed in an attack, forcing Tris and Tobias to form a tentative alliance with other faction members in their quest to discover why. To succeed, Tris needs to break the constraints of her society’s monochromatic definitions. She needs to rise up, which is exactly what she does in “Insurgent,” the highly anticipated second book in the 23-year-old author’s series.

As “Insurgent” opens, Tris and Tobias are headed into new territory — the distinctly hippie-ish Amity compound, whose residents would rather pick apples than be involved in an increasingly violent conflict that threatens to topple their carefully constructed society. It also begins to create fissures in Tris’ nascent love bond.

“Insurgent” employs devices similar to those of the first book, as opponents out characters’ weaknesses through so-called fear simulations and elicit information from unwilling rivals with various serums injected into necks. These unusual strategies helped solidify Tris’ and Tobias’ relationship in “Divergent,” but in “Insurgent,” their bond is literally battle-tested as Tris and Tobias are forced to reveal secrets about themselves too soon. As they fight their way from one faction territory to the next, they also fight each other — and themselves. As Tris notes, “People ... are layers and layers of secrets... You will never know them.”

Tris is determined to find out why Erudite attacked Abnegation and killed her parents, and she needs the help of Tobias’ father.

If Tris’ selflessly loving family was a critical piece of the plot in the first book, Tobias’ troubled upbringing is the back story to “Insurgent,” as he confronts his abusive dad and allies with the mother who abandoned him, who is now part of a plot to overthrow the faction system.

Roth’s decision to construct a society around a set of defined values, and to revolve the action around characters’ embrace and rejection of what those values represent, brings up ideas teen readers are beginning to confront about nature versus nurture, family expectation versus individual free will. People aren’t so easily defined by a single virtue. They’re complicated, which is why so many characters in “Insurgent” begin revealing an inconvenient truth: that the factions to which they’ve chosen to belong are not the factions into which they were born. Many of them, it turns out, are like Tris and Tobias: They’re multi-factional, or Divergent.

The shifting allegiances make “Insurgent” a more complicated and conflict-ridden story that requires more careful reading than “Divergent,” but it’s just as action packed and anxiety provoking. In many ways, it’s a more human book as Tris deals with her grief over her parents’ death and guilt over some of the actions she’s been forced to take to survive.

“Divergent” readers who suspect the upshot of the trilogy will be a factionless, more free society will find further evidence in “Insurgent,” which ends with a shocker about what lies on the other side of the fence.