Thursday, March 20, 2014
A Book Review - Allegiant
The third book in a trilogy is tricky. I've been reading a long time and I've read a lot of series and a lot of endings to series. For example, I love both Return of the King and Deathly Hallows. Both novels wrap ups series and characters that I grew to love over the course of reading all of the books. They conclude the series in a logical way while also giving the reader just enough information to believe that the characters one has grown to love have a fruitful future ahead of them. Life will not be perfect. life may not even be easy, but they have a future that will be more positive than negative. I remember my disappointment after finishing Mockingjay, the conclusion to the Hunger Games series. While not the greatest of literary achievements, I did enjoy the series. However, Mockingjay was a letdown after the action packed, character driven Catching Fire. I wanted to see where their story ended up, but it was kind of slow and predicable. I guess that's what happens when an author has a vision of the dystopia but he or she has to figure out how to get his or her characters out of the dystopian universe. Maybe that's what makes the ending to Orwell's 1984 so perfect. He doesn't let his protagonist out of the dystopia. The dystopia never ends. The dystopia wins. Winston is dead and has finally fully given himself to the ideology of "Big Brother."
It is with those thoughts that I begin my review of Allegiant. Like the other books, I enjoyed it. Possibly more than Divergent, but not as much as Insurgent. At the end of Insurgent the reason for the Chicago colony is revealed, as well as a possible answer to what is outside of the city. At the beginning of Allegiant, Tris, Tobias, and a handful of others rebel against Tobias's mother and leave the city to discover what is truly outside. What they discover is a high tech community stationed at the former O'Hare Airport that has the responsibility of overseeing the activity inside Chicago. It is a modern society that has continued outside of the city. A society where "divergence" is the desired norm. Where "divergence" indicates genetic healing. Many years before scientists attempted to correct the ills of society by playing with genes correcting their mistakes as they went along. What resulted was generations of "Genetically Damaged" individuals. In the "Purity Wars" that followed, pitting "Genetically Damaged" (GD) against "Genetically Pure" (GP), society finally determined that GDs needed to be separated from society in city experiments that would wait to see what would happen to the gene pool if people were left alone long enough to correct the genetic problems that scientists had caused.
A lot happens in the final book and I do not want to reveal too much. It is good but not great. Characters die but I didn't mourn their deaths. I just didn't care enough. There are many twists, but the twists are not completely unexpected even if I didn't predict them. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out on film in the next couple years, and I suppose I should be happy that Tris, while not necessarily a role model I would want my daughter to follow, is certainly a much stronger female character than we are finding in other popular teen fiction.
In many ways I feel that the dystopian genre is starting to suffer a decline due to mainstream marketing. One of the first books of the new era, at least for young adults, was The Giver. I loved the book. I loved teaching the book. I feel it has important themes that children and young adults can discuss. That is the purpose of dystopian fiction, and perhaps it is the purist in me, but I feel that the misfortune of these current mainstream books is that the central message is being lost in favor of romance and action.
Overall the series is a good story with decent writing. I don't believe that is should become mainstream classroom reading, as there are plenty of other choices out there that are better writing and more thought provoking, but the series does make one consider what the end result could be if we continue to insist on playing with genes in the quest to fix our imperfections. Where is the line? And what will happen if or when we cross it? Unlike more serious classics in the genre, I believe the series is more interested in exploring teen relationships and coming of age than it is the greater issues I alluded to above. I believe that the best dystopian fiction is meant to scare us and force us to think about very real current societal issues. I guess I'm just waiting for something that will not just entertain me but challenge me to think about the future. Until then, I'll just have to unhappily settle for ok.