The premise of this dystopian Young Adult trilogy is straightforward enough. I’d even argue that it is perhaps too straightforward and therein lies its primary undoing. The books are based on the idea that future Chicago is divided into clans (here known as “factions”) based SOLELY upon the individual’s personality trait.
The first book is the story of one Special Snowflake called Beatrice who leaves the Abnegation (eg. Quaker) faction of her birth for the more daring Dauntless. She gives herself the cool, hip new name “Tris”, jumps off a seven-story building into a pit and then makes herself over from a quiet blonde in gray to the kind of person you instinctively avoid on the subway. Most of the first book chronicles her transition from meek child to what is supposed to be an elite warrior but is really nothing more than a person with uncontrolled impulses toward danger. Theoretically the Dauntless faction is the security and armed force for this fragmented new Chicago. Reading the story, however, it’s obvious that Veronica Roth has absolutely no CLUE about how one trains a soldier. For crying out loud, the bulk of my knowledge in the subject comes from GI Jane and George RR Martin novels and even I know that discipline is the primary skill instilled in any soldier. Yet the Dauntless faction operates on the exact opposite of discipline, praising people for acting on their most erratic impulses. That means that fully two thirds of the first book are a frustrating mess of watching punk teenagers get even MORE annoyingly idiotic. The last third of the book shifts gears entirely, dumping us into the inevitable war between the factions that were originally designed to keep the peace.
I can go on and on about how terrible these two books are, about how incomplete their setup is, about how much they don’t make sense. But instead I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret.
These are Christian Fiction.
In her acknowledgements of the first book, Veronica Roth says “Thank you, God, for your Son and for blessing me beyond comprehension” . In the second book she thanks God for “keeping His promises”. Other than those two sentences there is little mention of religion or faith in the thousand-plus pages of story. But it’s painfully clear that these are meant as a Christian Fiction-style response to The Hunger Games. By the middle of Insurgent the messages about peace, sacrifice, character are coming fast and furious. Roth said that she “[tries] to avoid preaching of any kind” yet these books read like the author has had a steady diet of heavily-polemic Christian Fiction a la Janette Oke and Ted Dekker.
I’m a devout follower of Christ Jesus, and not ashamed of that fact. Yet I also make no bones about my extreme dislike for most fiction marketed primarily to Christians. It has been my experience over the past 40 years of being a reader that much of the fiction sold for Christian audiences is more concerned about re-making the philosophical points found in the Bible than it is about telling a story. Because of that the stories are often weak, illogical, profoundly uninteresting. What I find very curious about these two books is just how odd it is to have the weaknesses so prevalent in Christian-targeted fiction and also to not have the overt “and then Jesus saved all of Chicago” moment. I find myself wishing that Roth had either decided to write a better series or to make this one more open in its morality play. As it stands, these first two books in this series are doubly-hollow and wholly illogical.