Monday, December 01, 2014

Audiobook reflection: Allegiant

Allegiant novel cover.jpg

Allegiant concludes the Divergent stories as, in my opinion, the most-quotable and thought-provoking installment of the trilogy, packed full of social commentary (not in a bad way), and with a reminder that no person is all-good or all-evil: every person / relationship / conflict / what-have-you has at least two sides to the story. It's also clear that Veronica Roth grew as a writer between her first and third books. This is not to say the first was "bad," it is simply to say her word choice and character development are significantly more advanced in book 3 than they were in book 1. Growth is a good thing.

Allegiant is the only book in the trilogy to alternate first-person narratives between Tris and Tobias, giving a new perspective into our characters. Without revealing too much in the way of spoilers, the storyline reminded me of a childhood favorite book of mine, called Running Out Of Time, as well as, again, the Hunger Games (though for different reasons this time than before). There was also an Orwellian (1984) element at play: whoever controls knowledge, controls history.

It took until 3 and a half hours into Allegiant before I finally caught the play-on-words of "Dauntless" and "daunting" (thanks to the character Zoe for cracking a joke about it, which finally clued me in after two and a quarter books of hearing the word; *hangs head in shame*).

Something I've loved about the Divergent series, that is particularly played out in Allegiant, is that [most] people are not clearly defined as good and bad. While some characters are clearly more good or more bad, even the most extreme characters have shades of gray, like in real life. For the ones who are "evil," you get to see a little bit into their perspective. Not that a rational person could justify their actions, but you at least understand their conviction and why *they* think they're doing the right thing. If I had to sum the book up into one "life lesson," I'd say it's about learning to see both sides of a conflict.

Speaking of conflict, I like that Tris and Tobias demonstrate what it's like to be in a "real" relationship: there are ups and downs and some days you hate the other person, but you still choose to fight to make that relationship work, and that is beautiful. And on a broader scope, the book drives home the bond of family and friends, reversing the oft-quoted mantra from book 1 that had proclaimed "faction before family."

Spoiler alert: a lot of people die in this book. Which leads to another point of interest: we watch two characters wrestle whether to drink a memory-loss serum that would cause them to forget their lives. For one character it's because he's ashamed of his past misdeeds; for the other it's to forget the intense pain of losing a loved one. It's a fascinating question: if you could forget all your memories of your loved one in order to make the pain go away, would you? (I guess there's already a movie about this, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind... which I hated).

In my opinion one mark of a "good" book is how emotionally connected I as reader become. I found myself grieving along with the characters during the story, and even after the book had ended - I ended up driving home almost in a state of mourning. Well done, Author.

As mentioned in my intro paragraph, this was the most quotable and thought-provoking book in the series. Holy cow did I pull a lot of quotes. Intended or not, I see a lot of commentary here about wealth and class inequality, political bickering and misdirection at the expense of serving society (I'm aiming at both sides of the aisle on that one), religious squabbling about issues of non-eternal relevance, and of course, good and evil. Not to be all Debbie-downer, though, I also see a lot of lessons here about what faith, love, patience, and forgiveness are about.

Allegiant ends with a world far from perfect, not the way I as reader would have wanted it to turn out, and yet full of hope. Life carries on, a new sense of normalcy is found again, even after deep losses. As in real life this doesn't mean you "get over it," but you can (and the characters do) find a new normal and ways to honor your loved one by pressing forward to live your life. In the quote list below, if you don't read all of them, at least read the final two.

My favorite quotes

Every question that can be answered must be answered, or at least engaged. Illogical thought processes must be challenged when they arise. Wrong answers must be corrected. Correct answers must be affirmed. - From the Erudite faction manifesto, 0:00:37
"I think I'd like to find a middle ground for myself," [Tobias] says. "To find that place between what I want and what I think is wise."
"That sounds good." I pause. "But what do you want?" - Tris, 0:42:00
New outfits can't erase the divisions between us. They are engrained. - Tris, 1:21:17
By the light of the flashlights I can just make out the tattoo of a hawk on the back of her neck, the first thing I spoke to her about when she administered my aptitude test. She told me it was a symbol of a fear she had overcome, a fear of the dark. I wonder if that fear still creeps up on her now, though she worked so hard to face it. I wonder if fears ever really go away, or if they just lose their power over us. - Tris, 2:05:59
It is all luck, or providence, depending on what you believe. And I don't know - have never known - exactly what I believe. - Tris, 2:11:50
"But there's so much that was a lie. It's hard to figure out what was true, what was real, what matters." [Tobias]
I take his hand, slipping my fingers between his. He touches his forehead to mine. I catch myself thinking, "Thank God for this" out of habit, and then I understand what he's so concerned about. What if my parents' God, their whole belief system, is just something concocted by a bunch of scientists to keep us under control? And not just their beliefs about God, and whatever else is out there, but about right, and wrong, about selflessness? Do all those things have to change because we know how our world was made? - Tris, 3:11:20
"It's the symbol of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare," she [Zoe] says. "The slab of stone is the problem we're facing, the tank of water is our potential for changing that problem, and the drop of water is what we're actually able to do at any given time."
I can't help it, I laugh. "Not very encouraging is it?"
She smiles. "That's one way of looking at it. I prefer to look at it another way, which is that if they are persistent enough, even tiny drops of water, over time, can change the rock forever, and it will never change back."
She points to the center of the slap where there is a small impression, like a shallow bowl, carved into the stone. "That, for example, wasn't there when they installed this thing."
I nod, and watch the next drop fall. Even though I'm wary of the Bureau and everyone in it, I can feel the quiet hope of the sculpture working its way through me. It's a practical symbol, communicating the patient attitude that has allowed the people here to stay for so long, watching, and waiting. But I have to ask. "Wouldn't it be more effective to unleash the whole tank at once?" I imagine the wave of water, colliding with the rock, and spilling over the tile floor, collecting around my shoes. Doing a little at once can fix something, eventually, but I feel like when you believe that something is truly a problem, you throw everything you have at it, because you just can't help yourself.
"Momentarily," she says. "But then we wouldn't have any water left to do anything else." - Tris and Zoe 3:24:52
"Do the colors of the uniforms mean anything?" I [Tris] ask Zoe.
"Yes, actually. Dark blue means scientist or researcher, and green means support staff. They do maintenance, upkeep, things like that."
"So they're like the factionless."
"No." She says. "No, the dynamic is different here. Everyone does what they can to support the mission. Everyone is valued and important." - 3:28:59
[During Tris's first plane ride:] And as I stare out at the land, I think that this, if nothing else, is compelling evidence for my parents' God. That our world is so massive that it is completely out of our control. That we cannot possibly be as large as we feel. So small, as to be negligible. It's strange, but there's something in that thought that makes me feel almost free. - 4:22:52
The division is based on knowledge, based on qualifications, but as I learned from the factionless, a system that relies on a group of uneducated people to do its dirty work without giving them a way to rise, is hardly fair. [Tobias]
"I think your girl's right, you know," Nita says. "Nothing has changed. Now you just have a better idea of your own limitations. Every human being has limitations, even GPs [Genetically Pure]." - 4:35:59
"Everyone has to blame something for the way the world is." - Tris, 5:07:09
"It's a little rudimentary, but this book helped to teach me what it is to be human," he says. "To be such a complicated mysterious piece of biological machinery, and more amazing still, to have the capacity to analyze that machinery. That is a special thing, unprecedented in all of evolutionary history. Our ability to know about ourselves and the world is what makes us human." - Matthew, 5:09:23
"Why do people come here, then?" I [Tobias] frown. "Why don't they just go back to the cities?"
"Here there's a chance that if you die, someone will care. Like Raffi or one of the other leaders," the guard says. "In the cities, if you get killed, definitely no one will give a damn, not if you're a GD [Genetically Damaged]. The worst crime I've ever seen a GP get charged with for killing a GD was manslaughter. Bullshit. ... It means the crime is deemed an accident. ... Or at least not as severe as, say, first degree murder. Officially, of course, we're all treated the same, yes? But that is rarely put into practice."
He [a guard] stands beside me, his arms folded. I see when I look at him a king surveying his own kingdom, which he believes is beautiful. I look out at the street, at the broken pavement and the limp body with its turned-out pockets, and the windows flickering with firelight, and I know the beauty he sees is just freedom. Freedom to be seen as a whole man instead of a damaged one. - Tobias, 5:49:24
She knew that the truth, whatever it was, would change our struggle, would shift our priorities forever. And here, now, a lie has changed the struggle, a lie has shifted priorities forever. Instead of working against the poverty or crime that have run rampant over this country, these people have chosen to work against "genetic damage." [Tobias]
"Why? Why spend so much time and energy fighting something that isn't really a problem?" I demand, suddenly frustrated.
"Well, the people fighting it now probably fight it because they have been taught that it *is* a problem. That's another thing that Raffi showed me, examples of the propaganda the government released about genetic damage," Nita says. "But initially, I don't know. It's probably a dozen things. Prejudice against GDs, control maybe? Control the genetically damaged population by teaching them that there's something wrong with them, and control the genetically pure population by teaching them that they're healed and whole. These things don't happen overnight, and they don't happen for just one reason." [Nita] - 5:55:20
" matter how smart, people usually see what they're already looking for." - Tris, 6:01:15
I know I'm fumbling for an explanation, one I may not really believe, but I say it anyway. "I guess, I don't see a reason to believe in genetic damage. Will it make me treat other people better? No. The opposite maybe. And besides, I see what it's doing to Tobias, how it's making him doubt himself, and I don't understand how anything good can possibly come from it." - Tris, 6:01:32
"...everyone has some evil inside them, and the first step to loving anyone, is to recognize the same evil in ourselves, so we're able to forgive them." - Caleb, quoting his and Tris's mother, 6:28:21
"You know what the Abnegation used to say about pride?" [Tris]
"Something unfavorable, I assume?" [Kara]
I laugh.
"Obviously. They said it blinds people to the truth of what they are." - Tris, 7:10:49
David sits in a wheelchair, his legs covered in a stiff material, to keep the bones in place so they can heal, I assume. He looks pale, and wan, but healthy enough. Though I know that he had something to do with the attack simulation and with all those deaths, I find it difficult to pair those actions with the man I see in front of me. I wonder if this is how it is with all evil men, that to someone, they look just like good men, talk like good men, are just as likable as good men." - Tris, 7:26:00
"If I was a psychopath, I would have killed you in your sleep by now." [Peter]
"And added my eyeballs to your eyeball collection, no doubt." [Tobias]
Peter laughs, too, and I realize that I am exchanging jokes and conversation with the initiate who stabbed Edward in the eye and tried to kill my girlfriend... but then, he's also the Dauntless who helped us end the attack simulation and saved Tris from a horrible death. I am not sure which actions should weigh more heavily on my mind. Maybe I should forget them all and let him begin again. - Tobias, 7:38:40
Evelyn tried to control people by controlling weapons, but Jeanine was more ambitious. She knew that when you control information or manipulate it, you don't need force to keep people under your thumb. They stay there willingly. - Tris, 7:58:54
"...anytime you mash two different people against each other, you'll get problems. But I can see that what you guys have is worthwhile." - Amar, 8:15:48
"I thought I was supposed to figure out if I could forgive you or not. But now, I'm thinking you didn't do anything to me that I need to forgive. Except maybe accusing me of being jealous of Nita.... If we stay together, I'll have to forgive you over and over again, and if you're still in this, you'll have to forgive me over and over again, too." - Tris, 8:31:14
They're similar, Kara and Tris. Two women sharpened by loss. The difference is that Kara's pain has made her certain of everything, and Tris has guarded her uncertainty, protected it, despite all she's been through. She still approaches everything with a question instead of an answer. It is something I admire about her. Something I should probably admire more. - Tobias, 8:44:01
"There is a difference between admitting and confessing. Admitting involves softening, making excuses for things that cannot be excused. Confessing just names the crime in its full severity." - Kara, 9:07:07
Just as I have insisted on his worth, he has always insisted on my strength. Insisted that my capacity is greater than I believe. And I know, without being told, that's what love does. When it's right, it makes you more than you were, more than you thought you could be. - Tris, 9:25:30
I cycle through the things you're supposed to say at times like these. The apologies and the sympathy. I don't find a single phrase that feels right to me. Instead I just let the silence stretch out between us. It's the only adequate response to what he just told me, the only thing that does the tragedy justice instead of patching it up hastily and moving on. - Tobias, 9:44:27
"Have you really forgiven me? Or are you just saying that you have because I'm about to die?" [Caleb]
I stare at my hands, which rest in my lap. I have been able to be kind and pleasant to him because every time I think of what happened in Erudite headquarters, I immediately push the thought aside. But that can't be forgiveness. If I had forgiven him, I would be able to think of what happened without that hatred I can feel in my gut, right? Or maybe forgiveness is just the continual pushing aside of bitter memories, until time dulls the hurt, and the anger, and the wrong is forgotten. For Caleb's sake, I choose the believe the latter.
"Yes. I have," I say. I pause. "Or at least, I desperately want to, and I think that might be the same thing." - Tris, 10:05:25
I know that change is difficult, and comes slowly, and that it is the work of many days strung together in a long line until the origin of them is forgotten. - Tobias, 10:44:47
Maybe just as skin on a hand grows tougher after pain and repetition, a person does, too. But I don't want to become a calloused man. There are other kinds of people in this world. There's the kind like Tris, who after suffering and betrayal could still find enough love to lay down her life instead of her brother's. Or the kind like Kara, who could still forgive the person who shot her brother in the head. Or Christina, who lost friend after friend but still decided to stay open, to make new ones. Appearing in front of me is another choice, brighter and stronger than the ones I gave myself. - Tobias, 11:24:15
There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved for the sake of something greater. But sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. - Tobias, 11:25:40
"Sometimes life really sucks. But you know what I'm holding on for? .... The moments that don't suck. The trick is to notice them when they come around." - Christina, 11:49:17
Since I was young I have always known this: life damages us, everyone. We can't escape that damage. But now I am also learning this: we can be mended. We mend each other. - Tobias, 11:49:45

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