Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Being Professional

Well, the Tanana Valley State Fair is over, heralding the end of summer in Fairbanks.  Every year I say I wouldn’t even go if it weren’t for the annual photo magnet we get taken, but I always end up having a good time. The absence of cheese curds was a matter of sorrow for me, but a couple smoked turkey legs and some bear claws helped take the edge off the pain.

This year, the kids were big enough we could split up into smaller groups. Emma was off with her friends. Gabe took Henry on a couple of rides. Jack and I even got to go off alone and ride the Octopus. Over the years, I have convinced myself that I don’t really like rides anymore, but it was so much fun. I had forgotten about the thrill that adrenaline can give you.

I’ve been back at work for a week now, and most of what I’ve been doing is purging old files and supplies, and general reorganization. Furniture has been moved, book sets relocated, and the entire look of my office and circulation desk has changed.  My home tends to exist in a state of barely organized chaos, while my workplace has always been a quieter and more orderly haven. Now it’s even more so. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to do some actual library tasks, like processing new books.

Giddy with Anticipation!
Today’s review is one I have been avoiding, because it is one of those books that reduces me to a gibbering, juvenile fangirl. Yes, that’s right, today I am reviewing “Four: A Divergent Collection,” by Veronica Roth. The emotional part of me wants to just gush, “ohmigosh, ohmigosh, it was sooooo good!!!” The professional in me needs to come up with something better; I need to explain why it was so good. Let me begin by explaining the premise of the book. If you’ve read the Divergent trilogy, or even just the first book, you will be familiar with the character of Four/Tobias. This book is a collection of short stories told in Four’s voice, covering the time between his and Tris’ initiations, and including much of the same time period as “Divergent.” This is not the first time we have heard his voice; half of “Allegiant,” the third book, is written from his point of view as well. 

Four’s voice is similar to Tris’, but there is an additional spareness that gives it a more masculine sense. Seeing the happenings of the book from his eye gives a more complete vision of the story. Four differs from Tris in that he seems to have a better understanding of himself, but they are the same in that they both see through the veneer of Dauntless and the faction system to what lies beneath. Before he joins Dauntless, while he is still Tobias, he has an encounter with a factionless man, and thinks “there is something appealing about it here, too, a freedom, a refusal to belong to these arbitrary categories we’ve made for ourselves.” Even before he has made it, Tobias understands the rigidness and limits of the choice he has to make.

The bulk of the plot is like “Divergent,” naturally, but the story is fleshed out with details we don’t get in the original. More information emerges about Tobias’ childhood, and Marcus’ monstrous behavior. It’s amazing to me that Marcus would expect Tobias to stay in Abnegation and continue to subject himself to abuse, when escape was just a drop of blood away. It’s hard to reconcile the skinny, self-conscious boy with the more masculine and confident Four we know from the trilogy, but the transformation is logical. It’s a matter of harnessing the inner core of strength that enabled him to survive his horrific childhood.

We learn some things that are complete surprises – that Four knew his mother was alive long before Tris joined Dauntless, and that he attempted to warn Marcus about the attack on Abnegation. Seeing Tris from his point of view is interesting; he cares about her and hates to see her suffering in the simulations, but his compassion never descends to pity. He is awed by her strength and capability; “I’m hard on her because I know she can handle it. And also because I don’t know any other way to be.” Later, when he posts the scores after the simulation training, he worries that her high score might make her a target for jealous competitors. He realizes though, “This girl would never want to be tucked safely in the middle of the pack, never.”

I have been professional. I have been logical. Now I get to gush a little! One of the reasons I loved this book so much is that it fulfilled a desire I often have after reading a good story that is told in a first person perspective. It’s the desire to understand the other person’s view. When I read the Hunger Games trilogy, I thought, “wouldn’t it be awesome if she wrote another series that related the same events, but told by Peeta?” I always wondered what Peeta really thought and felt; we get an idea, but we don’t’ really knowWhen the ebooks about Four started to come out, well, I was ecstatic! At last, we get to hear the other side of the story!

Another reason that I loved the book is just because, it’s Four, man! My old co-worker, Julie, an English teacher, coined a phrase for me that has stuck in my vocabulary ever since. She referred to the male leads in books as her “book boyfriends.” They aren’t real, after all, so they are harmless to crush on, and they are so attractive and appealing. Who didn’t want to be Katniss to “book boyfriend” Peeta? Who didn’t want to be Clary to “book boyfriend” Jace? Who doesn’t want to be Tris to “book boyfriend” Four? I never read the Twilight books, but I’m sure the Bella-Edward thing is the same. It’s the classic appeal of the romantic hero, and Four has that charisma in spades. I can analyze books and enjoy the story and the characters, but what really hooks me in is always the romance. My husband doesn't get it. We are watching the old "Burn Notice" seasons on DVD right now, and while I love the action and plot twists, really, it's all about the love story between Michael and Fiona.  I am such a girl, that way, but I have a feeling I am not alone in this. 

So thank you, Veronica Roth, for an amazing series. I know you have other things to write, but if you ever wanted to write more about Four, I would buy it. I loved it all, except, you know, for that little part in the third book that I (and pretty much the rest of the world) absolutely hated. But still, I own them all, and they have a place of honor on my shelf with my other favorite YA books - The Hunger Games trilogy, the Matched trilogy, the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series'. Dear readers, the bottom line is this:  "Four - A Divergent Collection" is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed the Divergent trilogy. Do yourself a favor, just go out and buy it.

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