Divergent, a YA book that, while not making up for the post-Hunger Games lack of compelling YA, did give me some glimpses into what exciting dystopian YA could be. The sequel isn't bad, but it also suffers from some of the same problems as Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy.
In Insurgent, we follow Dauntless faction member and divergent Tris in her fight against the faction Erudite, which has developed technology for remotely controlling other people. Tris is still with Tobias (aka Four), though each of them are keeping secrets from each other--namely, for Tris, that she killed Will (a friend and fellow Dauntless) while Will was being controlled under a simulation.
As a character, Tris is frustrating in many of the ways that YA protagonists are, though some of her more annoying qualities are, at least, explainable. Namely, she has the tendency to brood incessantly over her guilt and make rash sacrificial decisions. Both make sense in context of her being divergent: both Dauntless and Abnegation. She grew up being taught to value others over herself, so clearly killing Will in self-defense would weigh heavily on her. It also explains her suicide mission to Erudite later in the novel, even though the Erudite part of her should have weighed in enough to show that it was pointless.
Even more frustrating, though, was the descent in character. In my review of Mockingjay, I complained that I felt betrayed by Katniss' change of character in the last book: she loses all agency and spends most of the time locked up and crying. The same is true of Tris. In Divergent, Tris had insecurities and doubts, but she also had confidence in herself and made important decisions. She and Tobias supported one another, each helping the other through his or her fears. However, in Insurgent, the capable part of Tris is largely gone. She relies on Tobias constantly for assurance, without him needing reciprocation. She often sits around, waiting to be rescued, or is injured and out of commission. Her big mission at the end (again, eerily reminiscent of Katniss' useless mission at the end of Mockingjay) seems unnecessary, its need explained into reality rather than being organic to the situation.
At the same time, a lack of clear direction for the novel also gums up the storyline. We learn early on that there's a big secret that Jeanine, the leader of Erudite, is killing to protect. This "huge" secret is bandied about the entire book, and finally revealed in the end. However, the "truth" makes little sense (spoiler: it's much like the big reveal of The Maze Runner) and doesn't really seem to support the characters' actions.
I listened to the audiobook version of Insurgent, so perhaps I missed details that would have enhanced my enjoyment. I didn't dislike the book, but it also wasn't especially compelling.
- I'm continually annoyed by YA in which characters who obviously would have sex in real life don't (in Insurgent, there's lots of kissing and grasping at t-shirt hems). I know sex is still fairly taboo in the genre, but c'mon: the characters are alone, without any adult supervision, and their world is more or less ending. I'm gonna sleep with my hot boyfriend.
- Tobias makes a big speech about how he won't stay with Tris if she recklessly risks her life again. And then she does. And he doesn't even mention it. So, I guess that was a pointless conversation?
- There was a really annoying alliterative nickname Tris and other Dauntless had for one of the places at which they stayed, and I can't remember what it is. It's driving me crazy.