Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Allegiant" by Veronica Roth

Disappointed.  If you want the very short version of my review of Roth's third book in the Divergent series, that's all you need to know.  If you're interested in reading a more detailed review, or if you want to know why I was disappointed, keep reading.

(Spoiler at your own risk...yadda  yadda yadda)

"Allegiant" begins in the aftermath of "Insurgent"'s conclusion, with the revelation to the people within the city that they are secluded from the rest of society because people outside the chain link fence will need the people of the factions to rescue them.  A rebel group, the Allegiant, aim to overthrow Evelyn Johnson's factionless society.  Headed by Cara and Johanna, the Allegiant organize a group to sneak past the security at the fence in order to make contact with the outside world.

Faults:  So, it sounds exciting, right?  But out of the three books in the series, this final installment had the weakest development.  When I'm lost in a good story, I am thoroughly invested in the experience the author has created for me.  I enjoyed that experience in the first two books, but as I was reading "Allegiant" I felt like I was walking through a story with gaping holes everywhere:  ideas that weren't complete, segues that were shaky, characters that weren't appropriately introduced.  One of the biggest faults in the story, I felt, was voice development.  Roth broke away from Tris's solo narration and gave some chapters over to Tobias to tell.  But Tobias didn't have his own individual voice!  His voice was not unique enough to carry his own chapters and his voice was not true to the character I had grown fond of during the first two books.  Frequently during the Tobias chapters I forgot who was telling the story, because he sounded so much like Tris. He'd express himself and I thought, "Really??"  It simply wasn't believable.

So many times while I read this book I thought it felt rushed, like Roth was writing for a deadline instead of investing time in making the story polished and complete.  I almost wondered if she thought, "This is my third book and I have such a strong following.  People are going to buy it even if I don't put as much effort into it."  I know, that's really unfair of me.  But I was sorely let down by the style and development of the story.  And the ending...don't get me started on the ending.  It was not only disappointing, but wholly unnecessary.  Perhaps Roth felt it was justified, but she didn't prove it to me.

Positives:  There were a few shining gems hidden throughout the story.  I love reading books on my phone so I can highlight the articulate ideas and phrases that are pleasing to my senses, the parts that resonate with my heart.  A few examples:

"The first step to loving anyone is to recognize the same evil in ourselves, so we're able to forgive them."
"It seems fitting that the blow would leave a mark on both of us.  That's how the world works."
"I know what people who are stained with violence look like."
"If we stay together, I'll have to forgive you over and over again, if you're still in this, you'll have to forgive me over and over again too."
"I think you're still the only person sharp enough to sharpen someone like me."
"I fell in love with him.  But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me.  I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other.  I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me."
"Time can make a place shrink, make its strangeness ordinary."
"Don't confuse your grief with guilt."
"It's what you deserve to hear..., that you're whole, that your worth loving, that you're the best person I've ever met."
"That is not enough of her, but it is also far too much."

There you go, Amy's reflections on "Allegiant."  I know lots of people who agree with my feelings as well as lots of people who really enjoyed it.  If you've read the first two books, you have to read this one to see how it all wraps up.  But be warned, you might not enjoy the end of the ride.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Heaven is Here" by Stephanie Nielson

Does this title look familiar?!  It should.  My dear friend Micaela reviewed it back in February.  I've been curious about it since she reviewed it because it's a memoir, and that's kind of my "thing" lately.  But Micaela wasn't raving about this book, so I was hesitant to dive into something I might not like.  And I have a weird thing about "churchy" books...I usually don't like them, so I find myself skirting away from them.  But, ta-da! it was this month's book club book, so I took a chance on it.

The beginning of the book is a bit syrupy.  I interpret that as Stephanie having the gift of seeing life through rose-colored glasses.  Stephanie lived her entire life, until she was a mother of two, in Provo, Utah.  I lived several years of my life in Utah County, from 9 years old to 22, so I'm pretty familiar with the world she grew up and lived in.  Before my family moved to Utah we lived in St. Louis, so Utah was a huge culture shock for me.  I finally admitted to myself as I read this book (which made me really inspect some deeper parts of my heart and history) that I never really fit in with the Utah scene.  When I moved with my husband and infant daughter to Boise, Idaho, almost 10 years ago, I finally felt like I had found an environment I could thrive in.  (I hope none of my Utah friends are hurt by this confession--if it weren't for you those years would have been wholly unbearable.) It was an environment Stephanie thrived it, but it produced perpetual challenges for me. Once I moved outside of "the bubble," when I came to Idaho, I felt freed from that.  I found more people like me.  (Not that Idaho is wildly different from Utah.  But on the other hand, it is.)

I don't blame Stephanie for her charmed life leading up to the accident. She and I are different people who have lived different lives in different circumstances.  I do not, in any regard, mean to undermine or reduce the significance of her accident and what she has gone through to recover her life.  I loved this book and her story.  I never cried as much in any other book as I did in this one--and for those who know me best, that's saying something.  I am not a cryer.

However, I had experiences earlier in my life that taught me things about who I am and what I'm made of at a younger age than she did.  No, I never went through the harrowing and life-threatening ordeal she went through, not even close.  But because of who I am and the life I had, I learned of lot of those lessons about self-worth and value at an earlier age.  I'm not saying I'm better than anyone because of that, but I was sorry it took a plane accident and months of agonizing recovery for her to learn those essential, divine truths about herself.  But like she says in her epilogue, God has a plan for each of us.  And hers is exceptional.  She's a fighter, she's an overcome-er.  

Yes, I wept during this book.  A lot.  It was so tender.  I cried because I couldn't fathom the physical pain she endured.  I cried because I understood feeling depressed and worthless.  I cried because I have four babies of my own, and have questioned if I'm the mother they deserve.  I cried because she triumphed over the countless, mammoth hurdles in her path.  I cried because of her testimony.  I cried when she felt like she couldn't endure one more day, because I knew she could pull through.  I cried for her husband, who had to be strong for everyone while going through his own hell, because I have felt like I've played that roll in my life as well.  I appreciated how vulnerable and honest Stephanie was.  It is never easy to unearth the deepest, most intimate parts of yourself and expose them to the world.  But after the accident, she never had the luxury of hiding who she was--her face will never blend in with the crowd.  For her to have the strength to share herself as she did in the book, I am grateful.

I thought the title was cheesy before I read the story.  Stephanie shared similar sentiments when her editor suggested "Heaven is Here" for the title.  She said she finally agreed to it because she realized hers is a story of choosing to be happy and thankful despite your circumstances.  And she's right.  But I thought it pertained more to a specific part of the story after her accident.  When she was in the induced coma, Stephanie spent time with her grandmother, who had passed away years before.  But when it was time for Stephanie to wake up, she had a choice:  she could return to her body and her family, or she could stay with her grandmother. And she chose life.  Because here on earth with her beloved husband and children, that was heaven.  We can make our own heaven in our own homes.  It's not easy, as Stephanie and her family well understands, but we can do it.