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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review: Insurgent

Welcome, welcome to the YA Book Club. This month we, along with the rest of the planet, read Insurgent by Veronica Roth. In case you’ve been living in a well-furnished cave, here’s the summary:
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love. 
Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? And that’s with Divergent, the first book in what will be a dystopian trilogy. I purposefully waited two eons to read Roth’s debut novel, mostly for motivation (as in, “Hey, loser, finish up your revisions and you can read Divergent”), and wasn’t disappointed when I finally—finally—picked it up. I realy enjoyed Divergent and was worried Insurgent would fall into the Second Book Slump (SBS to those in the know).

If you haven’t read Divergent, why don’t you spend the next five minutes in the world of absurdly cute animals instead of reading this review? There are major spoilers ahead for Divergent. Consider yourself warned.

I hoped Insurgent was just as good as Diverent. What I didn’t expect—what I never expect when it comes to sophomore novels—was to enjoy Insurgent even more than Divergent.

There are so many things I liked about this book. Alas, I have no desire to write a review nearly as lengthy as Roth’s 525-page novel. So I’m going to only talk about those things Insurgent does that Divergent didn’t.

And because I know Internet readers are notoriously distracted (oh look, a foldy cat!) I’ve broken my thoughts down for you (hey, Mean Girls gif!) into nice little subcategories. So:

The mysterious
Much of what I loved about Divergent was present in Insurgent—a keep-you-up-all-night pace, careful prose, strong world-building—but we’re tossed into the second book without lead-up. Whereas in Divergent  Tris spent a lot of time getting her bearings and adjusting to her new faction (time I found really interesting and fun to read, mind you), this book opens with her in the midst of dealing with the big issue: Why did the Erudite attack Abegnation? Not only that, but there’s a big mystery introduced at the very beginning that Tris tries to work out the entire novel, up until the very last page, that ratcheted up the interest.

Exploration of guilt and grief
This might have been my favorite part of the book, and it’s an aspect that’s very different from anything you read in Divergent. Tris is dealing with the death of her parents and guilt over killing Will, one of her best friends. This goes beyond her inability to shoot a gun. Every action she takes is colored by the emptiness she feels over losing her parents, and the serious guilt and self-hate she has over killing Will pulls her into a dark place. Everything about Tris’s actions and the ways in which they related to these two emotions was so well thought-out and real. In the midst of an action-paced book, Roth did a wonderful job examining loss and all-consuming guilt.

The details
If the information at the end of Divergent was a piece of ice in the ocean, the details we learn in Insurgent are the iceberg below. It was satisfying learning how each of the factions worked, what happened during the simulations, and why the Divergent are immune. Roth packed in a lot of information without any info dumps, which I appreciated. (See also: 525 pages.)

Relationship with Tobias*
I loved the relationship that blossomed between Four and Tris in Divergent, but I was worried I’d tired of the pair in this second book since they were already together. What I loved so much about this book is that Roth doesn’t shove another boy into the mix to stir things up. There is no love triangle. Should I say that again so people all the way over there can read it? THERE IS NO LOVE TRIANGLE! It was refreshing. Instead, complications in the relationship arise as Tris and Tobias try to make sense of who they are in regards to each other, the movement that’s happening in their world, and the factions they’ve belonged to. It’s not all rainbows and puppy dogs, and the tension between them never felt forced.

A closer look at the faction system
Always in the back of my mind while I was reading Divergent was, “But would a society really willingly split into these factions like this?” I doubted it. In Insurgent, we see Tris questioning whether humans can really isolate a single virtue. She asks the question in regards to herself, but also about non-Divergent members. Does an Erudite lose his inquisitiveness just because he transfers to Dauntless? (He certainly doesn’t lose his know-it-all-ness…) As she moves from one faction to the next, Tris puzzles this out, and I think it only helps to bolster the premise. These people might be divided into factions, but they’re more complex than that. And Roth does a great job of not only telling us about this through Tris’s musings, but by showing this to us in the really wonderful characters we meet.

The !!! moments
I hate spoilers, so let’s see if I can get across this final point without ruining anything for anyone. When Tris learns something about You Know Who, I was shocked. I hadn’t seen that coming, and I felt the sting right along with Tris. I think I still feel it now.

And the ending. Well, what can I say? It’s a cliffhanger, which I hate, but a really great one. Talk about the ultimate last-minute reveal. I’m curious to hear what you guys have to say about this ending, but as for me, I really liked it and can’t wait to find out where Roth takes this next.

What did you think? If you blogged a review about Insurgent, leave a link to your post by filling out the form below. If you don’t have a blog or haven’t reviewed the book, no worries. Join in the conversation in the comments here, and then hop around to everyone else’s blogs.

* You know, as much as I like Tris calling Four Tobias, I kind of like Four better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Gentle Reminder

Readers who I love, there’s a lesson in my absenteeism and it’s this: Blog Me MAYbe really takes that whole maybe thing serious. At least I do.

And that’s why I’ve been maybe not blogging every day of May though its the point of the entire blogfest. But, you see, I’m drowning in a sea of work and if I stopped to write a blog post I might never resurface. Or at least that’s how it feels.* So I’m going to leave you with a reminder and then run straight back into my cave to continue working until the day job forces me to cry uncle.

The purpose of this post is to remind you that we’ll be talking about Insurgent, the second book in the Diverent series, as part of the YA Book Club on May 31. That gives you nine days to read the book if you want to join. Which you should.

Also, could this be any more true? I’m currently at the “sob” stage.

*Well see what happens after I finish this one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Writing Prompt

Ever since you guys wrote that incredibly awesome and way too short start of a story I’ve wanted to do another writing prompt. I’m not sure why I waited so long, but prepare yourselves for the ultimate fun. (Behind eating an entire box of chocolate, skydiving, and riding upside-down roller coasters, of course.) (But that’s still pretty fun, if you ask me.)

So, your prompt: So, your prompt: What’s this girl’s story?

Use the comments to build on one another’s story. So the first person will leave a sentence or two and the next person will add to the first person’s story—and so on and so forth until we’ve proven just what wonderful storytellers we all are.

I’ll go first: My father forced me to run away, leave the beach, and never look back.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Secret Trick For You

Oh look, it’s Tuesday. Which means, according to the blogfest’s bylaws and constitution and instruction manual, I’m supposed to tell you about myself today. Something you don’t already know, which means no talk of my grace and charm. (Ha!) Hmmm…

Call me wicked, but there’s really nothing like watching someone’s face as your practical joke plays out with them. It’s not that I like laughing at helpless people … but, yeah, in this case it’s like I love laughing at helpless people. But all in good fun, I swear.

(Oh look, none of you want to be friends anymore. I wonder why…)

Half the fun is thinking up crazy jokes, but because I love you and would never laugh at you without a very good reason, I’m going to share an easy practical joke that doesn’t take much time or effort to pull.

Here’s what you’ll need:

A loved one’s toothbrush

Really, this is the simplest joke ever. Squeeze a decent amount of Anbesol onto the toothbrush, rubbing it in until traces of the brownish gel disappear into the bristles. Make sure you’re in the room when you’re friend/family member/sworn enemy brushes his or her teeth…

…and then starts to freak out when their mouth goes numb.

No humans are harmed in the making of this prank. The numbness wears off pretty quickly.

So there you have it. Okay, go ahead: Tell me I’m morally corrupt. But only do that if you’ve completed the prank and didn’t laugh so hard you cried.

What’s the best practical joke you’ve played (or had played on you)? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teachers on Truth Serum

I have to say, Fridays have become my favorite day on the Internet. With all these Blog Me Maybe posts going up, and with instructions to blog something funny on Fridays, I’m pretty much sitting alone here smiling to myself. Which would look pretty creepy if I weren’t alone.

So here’s my contribution to the silliness that is today:

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Story of Your Life

Look at me screwing up the days of the blogfest. I feel the kind of guilty I usually reserve for post-Oreo pig-outs. It’s not pretty.

Because I basically did today’s prompt yesterday, I’m going to do yesterday’s prompt today. And if that just made your head spin you’re:

A. not alone
B. seriously in need of a coffee
C. skimming this post too quickly
D. all of the above

All right, so here are the questions. Choose accordingly.

LADIES: In the story of your life, in which you are a
Strong Female Character, what makes you kickass?

GUYS: In the story of your life, in which you are an
Underdog with Potential, what makes you a hero? 

This is fiction, so have fun.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kindness Is Cool

I interrupt our regularly scheduled Blog Me MAYbe programming for something that’s near and dear to my heart. (No, it’s not the pulmonary artery, you wise-ass.) It’s, well, I’ll let the lovely CarolinaValdez Miller*—mastermind behind this project—tell you:

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good.  But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren’t feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.

Warning #1: I want to start off by telling you that I don’t even consider myself in the top 80 percent of kind people in the world. I’m not, you know, terrorist-level mean or anything, but I generally don’t go around pouring syrup on people’s pancakes, if you will.

Warning #2: I’m going to get all serious on you here. If that freaks you out, have fun here or here. (You might want to click those anyway.) 

Glad we got that cleared up.

I’ve mentioned this before, but nearly two years ago, I was diagnosed with EM, a rare chronic pain condition that’s changed my life. This past year, as the EM worsened, I’ve been trying to get a handle on how to meld the life I knew with this new, painful one.

Most days I’m good. But then there are those other days, the ones where my feet burn for 12 hours straight and I can’t focus and I think about doing this for another 60 years and I, well, I break down.

Sometimes, though, someone—a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger—will do the smallest thing and it’s like, bam, there’s light in the darkness.

Over the weekend I got a letter from my mom’s college friend, who’d heard about my EM. Her letter told the story of her mother, whose siblings were taken to a state sanitarium when they were diagnosed with tuberculosis. The state trapped them there for eight years—no contact with friends or family, no life outside the hospital. Her uncle spent 23 hours a day on bed rest, only seeing the outside when his nurse wheeled his bed out to the porch.

And then one day, someone found a cure. The sanitarium’s doors were unlocked and the kids were freed.

She wrote me a letter to tell me a story to show me that research is ever advancing, that I shouldn’t give up hope that EM could one day be cured. And that simple act? Writing a short letter? It made all the difference.

The reason I joined The Kindness Project is because I know how random acts of kindness can take away the sting, promote confidence, and give hope. To live a life of purposeful kindness? Imagine what that can do.

Get the code:

Posting today for The Kindness Project:

Be sure to check them out. We post the second Wednesday of every month. Want to join us? Grab our button and spread a little kindness.

*Speaking of kind, Carol is seriously the nicest, most selfless person I know. Its fitting this is her brainchild.