Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Insurgent: A Book Review for Cautious Christian Moms

After reading Divergent, the first book in the recent trilogy by Veronica Roth, I was cautiously hopeful for the rest of the series. I found Divergent to be clever and fresh, not the best writing I've ever seen, but compared to the other offerings in the burgeoning genre of teen dystopian fiction, I liked it. I didn't like the kissy parts, as I felt they were thoroughly unnecessary to the telling of the story, but I have already mentioned this in my last entry.

I liked the direction Roth seemed to be going, examining the corrupt nature of the human heart, allowing a young woman to have her own standards for purity despite the expectations of the surrounding culture, digging beneath the surface to find out what a person is truly made of, a new and better definition of bravery than what we have heard before, a curiosity about God.

I previewed the second book, Insurgent, however, before handing it off to my daughter, and it left me bored and frustrated. The kissy parts--although they are few and far between because the main characters spend most of their time in conflict--are more intense, more graphic, more passionate, more...hungry.  This is not what I want for my young teenage daughter. More on this topic later.

The rest of the book can be summarized in two words: tragedy porn.

The body count in this book is high. The characters tumble headlong from crisis to crisis. No one can be trusted. No situation is safe. There is no rest for the reader at all. It is like watching a playoffs hockey game between two rivals--more time is spent fighting than advancing the plot, it seems. Add to this the near constant tension between the two main lovebirds and the book seems to be not-so-cleverly designed to simply play on the emotions of teenage girls.

(Come to think of it, that does seem to be the formula for selling books to teenage girls, doesn't it?)

I found the book to be tedious. It was so action-packed that I stopped caring by about the half-way point. I trudged through Insurgent to the end, though, because I needed its content to advance me to the third and final book, the one that would surely wrap up the topics introduced in the first book.

Before I move on to Book Three, though, I want to address how we dealt with the kissy scenes. I don't like to censor books. I don't often have the desire to rip out pages or black out lines with a  Sharpie marker. This book left me feeling this way, however--or at least one steamy scene in particular, where I felt like the author let the sixteen year old protagonist go too far, too fast, not stopping to think, and screeching on the brakes just short of the point of no return.

I discussed it with my husband and we agreed that the most powerful thing about a scene like that is the young and curious reader's ability to savor the descriptions slowly, alone and hidden away. Secrets are far more powerful than things brought to light. We needed to find a way to strip the passage of its power and make it something to skim through as quickly as possible, rather than linger over. My husband suggested a most unusual plan of action. Our daughter could read the scene aloud. Yuck! Who wants to do that? Further refining our twisted plan, it was determined that she would read the scene her Daddy.

This was not to be a punishment of any kind, but rather a technique designed solely to make her uncomfortable with the passage, with no desire to relive privately the awkward feelings associated with reading it. Call us crazy. Call us prudish. Call us sick and twisted. Call us whatever you want, but we know our daughter and we thought this was the right approach. A husband and wife's physical relationship is a beautiful thing, and one to be celebrated and enjoyed, but only amongst themselves. None of us have any business spying on someone else's most intimate moments. It should be uncomfortable when it happens--even in literature. I placed a sticky note over the text where the scene begins and wrote on it that she should come to me before continuing.

She handled it very well. She was uncomfortable reading the passage aloud, but not to the point of humiliation, and she read the few pages quickly and without emotion, anxious to move beyond them and frustrated that the author felt the need to include them at all when they do very little to advance the plot.

That was two weeks ago. Yesterday, I finished reading the third and final book in the series: Allegiant.

Stay tuned for the final installment in this series of reviews. I will say this: The last book surprised me. For my review of Allegiant, the third and final book of the trilogy, click here.

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