Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant by Veronica Roth

divergent

I am waaayyyyy late to this party, I know. I’ve had Divergent on my bookshelf since it came out and I finally read it, and then immediately read Insurgent and Allegiant over the last 5 days. (I also have a copy of Four, but I left it at school, so I’ll start that up when we get back.)  My students will be so happy that I got caught up on this over our Thanksgiving break!  Why did it take me so long to read? I’m not sure.

I was an early reader of The Hunger Games. I think I resisted Divergent because I was being loyal to Katniss. When I started reading Divergent, my thoughts, were “Yeah, yeah, yeah, dystopia, got it” and then as Tris made her decision on Choosing Day and THEN the implications of choosing Dauntless were revealed, I was hooked.

Okay this only makes sense to people who have read the books, so let me back up. In a future Chicago, society is divided into factions based on personality temperaments. There are the Erudite, who value learning and logic, the Amity, who value peace and relationships, the Abnegation, who value selflessness and modesty, and the Dauntless, who value courage and bravery. When you turn 16, you get the option of leaving your family faction behind and reassigning yourself to something new. This is partly led by a test that is supposed to show a particular aptitude for one faction or another. Some people show an affinity for more than one faction though, and those people are the Divergent. Divergent people are considered dangerous, so that attribute must be kept hidden. Beatrice, or Tris, is Divergent. She joins Dauntless in the hopes of finding a place for herself because she doesn’t quite fit in with her own family or any of the other groups. She meets a boy named Four, and she trains really hard and she becomes all kinds of cool.

There is more to this society than meets the eye though, and over the three books we discover that all of these people are part of something even bigger, and everyone is being manipulated through generations of beliefs that are not quite accurate. There is a war on the horizon, but this has all happened before. Attempts to control it had mixed results. And it turns out the Divergent folks are the ones with just the right combo of smarts, bravery, sacrifice, and solidarity to begin a revolution. No wonder they are considered dangerous when they are perfectly suited to challenge the status quo (the way things are and have always been, so “they” say.)

Tris is an awesome character, though I question her ability to be thrust into so many new situations and handle them all so calmly and rationally when she is only 16 years old. She always managed to see through people and figure out the right thing to do, even when she had to go against Four and work behind his back. However, this did not bother me at all when I read the books because I was fully involved in her point of view. Maybe I ended up feeling this way because the last book uses alternating viewpoints between Tris and Four, which allowed me to take a step back from the action. (I did not care for this narration technique because they “sounded” so much alike. Sometimes I had to double-check to see whose chapter I was reading.)

So, let’s get to the ending. I already knew what was going to happen at the end. Shortly after Allegiant came out, I was ambushed by a bunch of hysterical sixth graders who were devastated (devastated!) by the ending. Perhaps that is another reason I put off reading the books. However, I will say that I think that what happened HAD TO happen to be true to the character. Had to. So I did not mind this at all, and would still say yes, read these books.

Interestingly as I was finishing Insurgent, I went to see The Giver at the movies, and I was struck by a lot of the similarities, starting with the choosing ceremony (or assignment ceremony in The Giver), and that made me think again of The Hunger Games and also the Matched series, where the government suppresses the people and controls every aspect of their lives. It was cool to think about how these big dystopian ideas all connect. So if you liked those books, or movies, you should definitely check out the Divergent series. It will make you think big ideas, just like Tris. (And Katniss, and Jonas, and Cassia…)

Divergent has an AR level of 4.8 and is worth 16 points; Insurgent is level 5.0 and is worth 16 points; Allegiant is level 5.7 and is worth 17 points.

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The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

scorpionTwo posts on the same day! Go me!

Here’s a book that I just finished.  Like, 15 minutes ago just finished, and I though I’d better blog it right NOW while I’m already here!

The House of the Scorpion is a dystopian future-style book, though you don’t get the full impact of how strange the world has become until late in the book.  You get to go through the plot alongside the main character, learning as he learns, which led me to gasp out loud and make I’m sure what were ridiculous faces as I read this in class.  (My students think it’s funny when I read because I cannot keep my reactions to myself.)

This is a very twisty sci-fi novel about..well, it’s about a lot of things.  It’s about a boy, Matt, who is the clone of a man called El Patron, a terrible and powerful drug dealer in a country called Opium that runs along the border of the US and Mexico.  Matt has been grown in order to be spare parts for El Patron as he ages and become sickly.  Matt is actually the 9th clone in a long line of clones, and his time is running short.  Clones are considered no more than livestock, so he is treated poorly and has few rights.  Luckily El Patron favors him, so he is allowed an education and other privileges.  There is a dark undercurrent to this book, which made it super intriguing to read.  I knew things had taken a turn when Matt found himself in an “orphanage” where one of the mottos was “work is freedom” which sent chills down my spine.  “Work is freedom’ is a saying posted at many of the Nazi concentration camps during WWII and I remembered it immediately from going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. last year.  There is a sequel to this book that I now *must* read.  I’m curious to know if Matt can overcome his own DNA or if he will give in to a history that is his by default.  Will he become what he must be destined for, or will he rise above his fate?  An interesting note from the author at the end expresses some of the moral issues that the book touches on, too. So good.

The House of the Scorpion has an AR level of 5.1, though I think it reads higher due to its science fiction characteristics, where you just have to press forward and trust that what you need to know will be explained to you in time.  Because it is complex, it is worth 15 AR points, an indication that you’re looking at a heavy plot.  Read this if you are a fan of other dystopian series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Giver.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s taken me longer than I had hoped to finish this book, but the fact is that I’m spending a ton of my time getting ready to go back to work next week. (Next week?!?) I’ve already spent about 6 hours in my classroom moving furniture around and unpacking my library.  Library first, always.  It makes me feel like I’m at home.  I’m super lucky this year because I get to teach another round of sixth grade at the same school I was at last year, and I’m really looking forward it!

Full disclosure on this book– it’s an upper-middle grade book, which is higher than what I’ve been posting about lately, but it is easy to read and is leveled as a 4.4.  Remember that just because you CAN read something, doesn’t always mean you should, so know yourself as a reader and check with a parent if you’re not sure.  It is violent and has some language in it, though most of it is the word “effing” used as an adjective. Some of the words are spelled phonetically, though it is done so you can hear the main character’s voice in your head and how his twangy accent would sound. And interestingly, hearing voices in your head is one of the main concepts of this book…

Okay, so The Knife of Never Letter Go is like a science fiction-Western story, a mash-up we don’t get too often. Settlers have come to the New World and set up a colony.  They are on a planet other than Earth, because there are two moons, but everything else is very Earth-like.  We meet Todd Hewitt, an almost 13-year-old (or is he 14?), who is days away from becoming a man, according to tradition. There are no women in his town after the war against the “Spackle”, alien invaders who released some sort of biological warfare upon the people.  The Germ killed all the women and left behind The Noise for the men, in which everyone can hear every other person’s thoughts, all the time.  Even the animals were infected with Noise and they can talk, too, which I loved, because Todd is always with his dog, Manchee.  So even when Todd is alone, he always has someone to talk with, which keeps the book moving along.

But then…things happen. Todd quickly learns that everything he thought he knew is a lie.  Because he is on the run, and because reading the book is like being in Todd’s Noise, in his head, this is a very urgent read.  It is The Book of Never Letting Go, and I had to find out what would happen next!  It was different, and I really liked it.  I will continue reading this series, since it ends with a cliffhanger.  There are three main books, plus a sequel.

Read this if you like dystopian stories, like Divergent or The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, etc., but know that this one is not the same at all.  It’s hard to explain, and maybe I’ll be able to do that better once I’ve read all of the books.  You have to be able to be okay with reading a story and not quite knowing what is going on, which is what I find to be true about most sci-fi books.  Just sit back and go for the ride, and know that the author will tell you what you need to know at the moment you need to know it. It was very suspenseful, especially with the author’s writing style, and it kept me pushing through.  Check it out!

The Knife of Never Letting Go has an AR level of 4.4 and is worth 16 points.

Matched trilogy by Allie Condie

Matched trilogyThis 3 part series has finally wrapped itself up, after the first book came out in 2010.  I waited for what felt like a long time for the ending, and despite its strong start, I wound up disappointed in the end.

Matched takes place in a dystopian future.  The government, or Society, controls every aspect of your life from family size, to your job, to how you spend your free time, to when you die.  The title comes from the rite of passage ceremony, the Match banquet, where teens find out who they are assigned to marry.  Cassia attends her Match and is pleased to find out that she has been matched with one of her very best guy friends, Xander, someone she already knows and loves.  Most of those matched end up paired with someone they have never met and end up leaving their families to move to a new city, so she is quite lucky.  When she gets home with the information microchip that came in her banquet package, she plugs it into her computer to view.  For a split second, someone else’s picture pops up on the screen, and again it is someone else that she knows, Ky.  Ky shouldn’t be in the Match at all, but then the picture quickly switches back to Xander.  How has this happened?  The Society doesn’t make mistakes.  Chaos ensues, and everyone is split up.  I liked this book very much, even though the love triangle situation reminded me of The Hunger Games.

Book 2 is called Crossed.  Our main characters are still apart from each other, and as a result, the narrator switches from chapter to chapter between Ky and Cassia.  For me, this was distracting, especially since Ky and Cassia are reunited pretty early on in the book.  They are trying to find the people who are part of the Rising, the people who have been trying to live off the grid and away from the Society.  Xander is missing, or at least somewhere in the background.  Ky and Cassia do find a weird stash of Society stuff and a treasure trove of things smuggled out by the Rising people, but not much happens in this story.  (I know people complained about the part in HP7: The Deathly Hallows where it felt like Harry, Ron, and Hermione were camping for 6 months and sitting around in the woods trying to figure out what to do.  It was kind of that feeling, except we know and LOVE Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and at least they are on a clear quest.  I didn’t feel like I knew Cassia, Ky, and Xander enough to root for them a whole lot here.)

Book 3, Reached,  is the one I struggled with the most.  It’s hefty at just over 500 pages.  Now we have 3-way alternating chapters and everyone is separated again…until they aren’t.  This was confusing because the whole book is written in the same voice and I kept getting confused between the two boys.  Here is where the book takes an unexpected turn for me, and the plot becomes about a virus, immunizations, a plague, a mutation virus, and a cure.  This book was slow.  It took a long time, hundreds of pages, to get interesting for me.  I read this while my students did their silent reading and it led to some good discussions on what to do when you don’t really like a book. What kept me going was the fact that the book was divided into parts and I kept hoping that the next part would be the one that was suddenly better.  Even in the end, you still don’t have all of your questions answered.  My final verdict: meh.

So, I say this.  Read these books (at least the first one) if you liked The Hunger Games, The Giver, Uglies, or any other dystopian-futuristic-rebellion-type stories.  Also read these if you are an aspiring writer, not so much for the story, but because Allie Condie does have a particularly beautiful way of writing about nature and colors.  There were some really nice passages in these books, but her elaborate writing slowed down the action instead of serving to move the plot along.

Matched is AR level 4.8 and is worth 13 points.

Crossed is AR level 4.2 and is worth 12 points.

Reached is AR level 4.6 and is worth 16 points.

These AR levels seem low for the story content, especially for Reached, where the information about The Plague gets very clinical.  The romance is very sterile though, just like The Society wants it. Ha ha!