Note: This review necessarily contains spoilers for Book One in this series, Divergent. It does not, however, contain spoilers for this book, Book Two.
Explanation: In order not to cause too much confusion, I will refer to Divergent and Insurgent as Book One and Book Two, respectively, because the titles sound too much alike. [Prediction for Book 3: Tris, the intrepid protagonist, will wash her man right out of her hair and the book will be called: Detergent.]
In this book, Tris is far less likeable than she is in Book One. In Book One, Tris is pretty fearless. But in Book Two, she is psychologically paralyzed by one particular (and necessary!) killing she did at the end of Book One. Whereas in Book One she got over everything quickly, including the smidgeon of guilt she felt for a suicide she may have caused, in Book Two, she is the embodiment of Angst Without End. Coupled with this, she is now abrasive and negative, secretive and suspicious, mulish and even more reckless than in Book One. Oddly, this only increases the love for her felt by Tobias (the boy previously known as Four), who is now her boyfriend. One could invoke Freud and speculate that Tobias is trying to recreate the bond he shared with his abusive parents, but that is probably reading too much into the story. Nevertheless, it fits.
When Tris and Tobias aren’t snarling and reconciling, they are going back and forth among the five factions, which are each now each divided into two halves: traitors and good guys. The problem is, no one can ever figure out for sure which is which, or who within each group is a mole and who is sincere. The only one we know who is Bad For Sure is the totally evil head of the Erudite faction, Jeanine, who is described as having rolls of fat and dyed hair, sure signifiers of badness if ever I read any. Furthermore, everyone now has to contend with the Factionless as well, who have come to operate essentially as a sixth faction.
[I realize this sounds complicated. But it is a bit less so than the revisions to the physicists’ Standard Model with which we’ve all been bombarded [double entendre] this past week, and according to which one can now identify seventeen particles in four groups. Actually I could imagine a nice spoof of Insurgent (called Emergent, of course) in which you start out with the Quarks (singing, “When you’re a Quark you’re a Quark all the way!), Leptons, Fermions, and Bosons, and then you’d have the groups breaking down by, for example, social skills (“charm” versus “strange”) and well, we wouldn’t need to talk about the top and bottom Quarks, unless of course we were writing Fifty Shades of Fermions or something.]
Back to Insurgent, each of the groups seeks power, but a few people within them seek something else: some sort of secret information thought to be known only to the Abnegation leaders (all but one of whom are now dead). Unfortunately, Jeanine found out the secret too, and wants to keep anyone from getting to a video that tells what it’s all about. (And no! It’s not the Hokey Pokey!) Tris feels she MUST know what it is, because her parents apparently died to protect this secret. And, since it’s a secret, she keeps her activities to find out about it a secret too. Never mind that she resents every little thing Tobias doesn’t share with her; the Book Two Tris is big time into double standards. But will she find it in time, when she doesn’t even know what it is she seeks?
Evaluation: As quickly as I went through this book, I still didn’t like it as much as Book One. But middle books of trilogies are often disappointments. Thankfully, however, they are not bridges to nowhere, but with good luck will lead us, along with the characters, to a better place in Book Three.
Published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012