One day, I waited through a play by play synopsis of the Divergent film delivered by the girl bagging my groceries. Without pause she delivered the story to the young man scanning my groceries. He looked less than enthusiastic, a mirror image to her high-pitched "likes" and her endless string of "and thens." As I was leaving, she took a breath and I told her that the book was much better. It was such an annoying adult thing to say. Maybe I was jealous that the movie brought my private reading experience to the movie-going public. (And I still hadn't seen it.)
I waited through a student paper about Allegiant, giving it a quick skim just in case there were spoilers. There weren't. And, luckily, it was a paper by a stellar student so I didn't have to feel guilty about my lack of close reading.
I waited, and the library assistant got tired of hearing me whine about it and helped me make a request that might come through more quickly. A copy finally came through inter-library loan, just when I considered giving up. (A couple days later I finished the book and another copy arrived.)
This book was the end of the series, and Roth took up an alternating narration between Tris and Tobias, while the first two books were told from Tris's point of view and in her voice. I was not happy with this switch; other YA dystopia series take this approach from the beginning, with much more success. (Legend, Into the Still Blue) Having two voices made it clear that there would only be one voice in the end. But I still didn't believe it could happen.
And then it did. The end of the series came with the unspeakable--the end of the female protagonist. I should have been excited about the ending since no other YA dystopia book I have read (so far) has ended this way. And while her death was key to winning their struggle (and only a battle within the larger war), it seemed a bit unnecessary and unbelievable. It felt like rather than develop the story to its natural end, the author would bow out instead--take the easy way out. But maybe this is part of the point. Heroics don't always have perfect endings.
In principle, I hate the Hollywood reliance on happy endings. I like unsettling stories and endings that don't fit fairy tale impossibilities. The Hunger Games' Mockingjay has this. So do so many other YA dystopia books. But when Tris died toward (not at!) the end, I was shocked. I flipped forward a few pages wondering how Roth was going to write her way out of that one. Some new-fangled technology? A mistake? Something we missed? But there were no tricks. And the aftermath means that the book ends with Tobias (Four) having to come to terms with her death. Thus, for me, the book, and the series, becomes about Tobias. It feels like a betrayal.
I was not the only reader who was disappointed. In a July 2014 interview with Goodreads, Roth answers fans' questions and speaks to her decision to kill Tris. The comments section is fraught with tension as many fans say that they refused to read the book because they had heard Tris was going to die and that they would never read another one of Roth's books. Many didn't finish the book. Some fans were supportive. I am torn.
As a reader, I am easy to please. Make the scenario, engage me with characters who fight for what's right, give me ideas that expand my consciousness, and I will suspend disbelief and follow your story to the end. Give me struggles and sacrifices; give me a female protagonist who finds herself along the way. One reason I love YA dystopia is that it has everything that makes a good story--action, love, conflict, principled struggles. And it has bigger things to think about--power, justice, gender, sexuality, race, technology, poverty, violence.
And always--almost always--the "girl on fire" prevails, even if her victory is incomplete or contingent. Survival always comes with great loss and pain, but--in the end--she survives because YA dystopia gives us hope.
So, Allegiant was a dissatisfying reading experience, but perhaps the act of critique will redeem the book for me. I can flesh out this dissatisfaction and see if there is something more to it. I can consider more whether the sacrifice of this character was worth it. But I am skeptical and a bit cynical about it. And, upon re-reading Divergent for my Girls on Fire class, I find myself bored and I find the world-making underdeveloped, even as I enjoy the book overall. Still, people are talking about this book and series, and not just because it was made into a movie. And that is at least somewhat satisfying.