Allegiant – Veronica Roth

AllegiantReading level: 9 (ish)
Lexile: 700 (ish)
Series: The Divergent series book 3
Genre: dystopian
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

I feel like I should get a t-shirt that says, “I survived the Divergent series.” What a ride it has been. I actually liked this book the least because I was so upset with both Tris and Tobias; they were so mean to each other. More on that later. It was also just horribly depressing. I hoped maybe all the death would have ended with Insurgent, but it just got worse. So much worse.

I wrote “ish” next to the grade level and lexile because those numbers aren’t available on Scholastic since the book is still relatively new and has not been leveled. I determined the rough numbers by taking a look at the two books that came before Allegiant.

I did NOT see the plot twists coming. In a way, it was kind of a d’oh moment, like in first two Maze Runner books, but it was cleverly disguised until Roth was ready to reveal it. I’m still reeling from the awesomeness of how the plot unfolded throughout the series. When I have the courage, I’ll re-read it all and look for hints.

I felt my dislike for Tris coming on during Insurgent, and I really did try to like her more in Allegiant, but she was so mean and rude. Always. Without having to be. It got to the point where I didn’t even enjoy her character. Tobias got on my nerves a bit too. But with him, and through reading his narration, we saw how conflicted he was, how he hated parts of him that loved killing and hurting, and how weak he really was. At least I felt sorry for him. He tried harder (in my opinion) to keep his relationship with Tris alive where Tris burned bridges everywhere she went. Their fighting was so disheartening. I have to say, though, that my emotions were expertly played with, and I was rooting for both of them by the end.

You know who I really liked? Christina. I loved the way she recovered from her losses, forgave those who hurt her most, and took care of Tobias. If I were to take any cues about how to live my life, I would take them from her.

You know who else I was also kind of rooting for and feel guilty for admitting it? Peter. He was really coming around. His actions in Divergent can never be excused, but there was definite hope for him throughout Allegiant. I legitimately felt sorry for the guy at the end.

I was pleased to find three gay characters in this series: Lynn (revealed in Insurgent as her last breath), and Amar and George. It wasn’t a large part of the story, and it was just…normal. Way to spread acceptance, Ms. Roth.

Okay, so the ending. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it. That said, one of my students told me what happens at the end, so I mentally prepared myself about a week in advance before I actually reached it. I didn’t cry my eyes out like I did with The Fault in Our Stars or The Book Thief, probably because I was as ready as I could have been. The character’s death was also so valiant that it was just…worth it. That last action redeemed this character to me, just in the nick of time. I don’t think it could have ended any other way.

It’s ELL-friendly although the reading level is fairly high. A possible issue I see parents being upset about is the one scene where Tris and Tobias sleep with their clothes off, but it’s nothing explicit. And that’s exactly what they do: sleep. Literally.

Honestly, I’m glad the series was done. It was a rough ride, but only because I was so invested in these great pieces of literature that contained so much loss and destruction. I feel like I’ve lost some friends along the way but that some of them, the ones who survived, are out there still, advocating for a humane world.

Free Four: Tobias Tells the Story – Veronica Roth

Free FourReading level: 5.2
Series: Divergent series book 1.5
Genre: Dystopian, romance
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Here’s the internal monologue of what happened when this book became available for download from the library (I was on a long waiting list): YES! But first I will work out and take a shower and eat breakfast. …but let’s download it just to be sure it works. …and let’s turn on the Kindle to make sure it downloaded. Eh, let’s just read the first few pages. Oh, it’s so short, let’s just keep going. Okay, done.

In this short story, Four/Tobias narrates the knife-throwing scene, and it reveals a softer side to his character as well as his personal problems with Dauntless. I learned that Tobias has perhaps a softer heart than I once thought (“My thoughts skip back to the night before, how touching her sent warmth into my hand and through the rest of me, though I was frozen with fear.”) and that he already has reservations about supporting his new faction. I loved reading his thoughts because we don’t get any of that in the series that’s narrated by Tris.

I wouldn’t go out of your way to buy it for the classroom because it’s nothing spectacular (although I did really enjoy it), and the series can do without this addendum. Fans of the Divergent series will probably read it, though, if it’s around.

Insurgent – Veronica Roth

InsurgentReading level: 5.4
Series: Divergent series book 2
Genre: Dystopian, romance
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

I don’t even…where to begin…this book…

SO AMAZING.

In no other book have I wanted the couple to be together so badly as in Insurgent. The romance was perfectly written, I think. As much as I was frustrated when Tris and Tobias had fights and I was afraid that they would split up, I appreciate how realistic the situation was. I love how each Tris and Tobias value honesty and how frustrated they get at each other while loving each other the entire time. The pre-execution Tris is a perfect example of Toni Morrison’s quote in Song of Solomon, “He can’t value you more than you value yourself.” I didn’t really understand what Tobias meant when he said he and Tris would be through if she kept throwing her life away until I recalled this quote. Only when she realized her life was worth living did she and Tobias get back on the same page. Beautiful.

The downside to my being so obsessed with Tris and Tobias’ relationship is that I focused more on them than on what they were fighting against sometimes. What can I say, they stole my heart. Or maybe just Tobias…

At the end of Divergent, Tris shoots and kills her friend Will. She spends the entirety of Insurgent being haunted by her decision and action, despite Will having been under a simulation and the fact that he would have certainly killed Tris had she not killed him first. This situation is in direct contrast to that of Ender’s Game when Ender kills a whole slew of people (and buggers) but doesn’t really beat himself up too badly, and everybody excuses him. Tris makes no excuses and always holds herself accountable.

But then one may counter that Tobias is a killing machine. And he sort of is. He reminds me of Gale from The Hunger Games series, where he’s more radical in needing to do what is “necessary” to dispose of the societal evil. In case you haven’t guessed, I love the character of Tobias, minus his willingness to kill. He’s the right amount of perfect and flawed, scared and brave, loving and hard-skinned.

Reasons to keep this off classroom shelves include: too much violence and excessive kissing. I don’t think either was too extreme, but if parents have an issue with The Hunger Games series, they’ll have an issue with this series too, probably – which would be a real shame because it’s SO GOOD.

Divergent – Veronica Roth

divergentReading level: 9
Series: Book 1 of the Divergent series
Genre: Dystopian, romance
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I did it, you guys. I read Divergent. Despite all the hype, I loved it. In fact, I haven’t been so in engrossed in a book since reading The Hunger Games series. And, yes, it’s a lot like The Hunger Games books. Here are some similarities that I see:

  • Young, female heroine
  • Dystopian society
  • Love interest (though so far there’s no complexities about who Tris loves)
  • Violence
  • War between factions/districts
  • Corrupt government

Now, some people are complaining that it’s nothing new, is too much like The Hunger Games series, is like all the other YA, dystopian trilogies… My response: that’s okay because this book was really awesome! It was truly thrilling, creepy, and romantic. I became a bit disinterested while reading the last 5ish chapters because of the violence and the whole war aspect. The same thing happened to me at the end of The Hunger Games series. For some reason, overthrowing governments and killing the daylights out of tons of people isn’t my idea of interesting.

When I read books now, I think about what I’ll say in the blog post about why students may like or dislike it, if it’s ELL-friendly, etc. I forgot about all of that while reading Divergent. It completely sucked me in. So let’s try to think like a teacher now.

I saw this book in a 6th grade classroom, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s okay for middle school and beyond. Any problems teachers, districts, and parents had with The Hunger Games books regarding violence and teens killing each other, they will have with this series too. It’s pretty gory. But it is YA, so it’s not terribly graphic. There are two iffy parts, though, in addition to the general violence throughout:

1) when Tris is “touched” by those two boys. It’s not graphic or explicit, and it is fleeting. If middle schoolers across the country read The House on Mango Street and/or To Kill a Mockingbird (which I did read in middle school), parents/administrators can’t complain about this scene.

2) when Tris admits to Four that she’s afraid of sex. It’s a really sweet moment, I thought! It highlights both of their fears and vulnerabilities. They stop and talk about it (whaaaa?) and then comfort each other that it’s something they’ll do later, when they know each other more and are ready. Very responsible.

The romance between Tris and Four is pretty adorable. It wasn’t all gushy or obsessive. In fact, it’s the boy who winds up showing more affection and neediness than the girl, which seems to be unusual in books and movies. It was fun to watch their friendship and relationship develop as they helped each other through various difficulties and how Tris (and the reader) is confused about Four’s persona – whether he’s kind or ruthless. It sort of reminded me of the romance between Zane and Tally in the Uglies series in that both characters take care of one another, and their relationship is firstly based on friendship.

I was surprised to find that Scholastic claims this book is at a 9th grade reading level. Maybe it’s because of the names of the factions? In fact, I think the 9th grade reading level is a bunch of bologna because that’s the grade level they’ve given to The Return of the King, and that book was WAY harder to read than Divergent.

That being said, it seems ELL-friendly enough to me. Even if students don’t understand that the faction names define the values of the faction (“abnegation” means “self-denial,” for instance), each faction’s values are explained many times.

And now I join every teen girl in American and wait for the Divergent movie.