February 11, 2014

Maybe It's the Story

Spoilers for Allegiant
(I tried to be as vague as possible, so if you haven't read the series at all you should be good.  If you are familiar with the books... you might figure some things out.
Read at your own risk.)

If you've finished reading Allegiant (third book in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth), and you are like most readers, you were probably heart broken.  You were probably angry.  You may have even felt like crying when you went to the movie theater and saw the poster for Divergent and yelled "I can't look at this it makes me too sad". (That was me.)  Based on the few articles I've read, the ending of Allegiant made a lot of readers angry, to the point of death threats.

I wasn't that angry about the ending of the book.  I was very sad and upset, yes.  But then, after it all had time to sink in, and after a helpful quote from a friend, I started thinking that maybe Roth wasn't as horrible a person as I thought she was.  Because

In this case... yes. I think it was. 

The Divergent trilogy, and Allegiant in particular have a very powerful story to tell.  Roth wove together themes of forgiveness, sacrifice and love that actually meant something deep, and real, and weren't just another example of teenage romance and oh I'll forgive you because it really wasn't that terrible.  It's all about the choices that her characters make, and those choices to forgive, the choices to love and the choices to sacrifice are very real and very hard.

Throughout the series characters mess up, big time.  People lie, sometimes because of ill intent, but a good part of the time because they are honestly trying to protect their loved ones.  People get hurt physically and emotionally.  And yet throughout it all, they somehow find the strength to forgive each other.  The group of friends that emerges through the story slowly grows smaller as people die, and not all of them are killed by the enemy.  Some of them die through the acts of their friends, but even in a situation that seems impossible to forgive, the characters manage to find it.

As a young adult novel, it's natural that there be a central romance to the series.  (No love triangles, thankfully!)  Refreshingly, it is a very real and natural romance.  Tris and Tobias get mad at each other. They struggle to communicate.  They mess up and lie because they are trying to protect and end up sheltering.  Our culture would normally look at this relationship and say "Why go through all the trouble?  He's not worth it.  She can't be worth all this trouble and frustration!  Clearly you aren't compatible, so give up and move on."  Tris does question her relationship with Tobias at one point in Allegiant after Tobias does something she doesn't know if she can ever forgive.  (No, he didn't cheat on her.)  Something another character says, however, makes her stop and think about why she loves Tobias and she realizes that despite all their difficulties, he truly makes her a better person and she makes him a better person as well.  In what I found to be the most poignant and powerful and true passages in the book, she realizes that love isn't easy and it isn't supposed to be.

"I fell in love with him. But I don't 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."

In the end, I think the message of sacrifice is what makes the way the series ends... worth it, even if it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking.  The way the story of these characters was told, the way it had all led to that point, if it had ended any other way it would have fell flat and shallow.

Sacrificing other people for a greater good isn't sacrifice, it's tyrannical and it's evil.  The only sacrifice you can make is the sacrifice of yourself.  But self-sacrifice has to be made for the right reasons, and not through desire for heroism or selfish emotion.  You can only sacrifice yourself when you do it from love, when you do it from necessity, when you do it because other people need a strength that only your sacrifice can give. That's the message of sacrifice that Allegiant gives, and as painful and tragic as that lesson was, it is one that young adults need to hear.

So maybe it isn't about the happy ending.  After all, life doesn't always give us happy endings and if you want a happy ending, is dystopic fiction really the category you want to be reading?  Maybe it is about the story, and maybe that's alright.

For anyone who has finished the series and wants to read what Veronica Roth has to say about the ending, she wrote up a blog post of her own here.

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