I don’t really try to keep up with pop-culture. The world moves too fast and I’m too far behind on my laundry! But recently I read a book series that was written in the last few years and is currently being made into a series of movies. I saw Divergent last year. I had no idea it was a series until I saw the preview for the second movie, Insurgent (which is currently in theaters), a few months ago. And, I had no idea the movies were based on a series of books until I saw them in Sam’s a few weeks ago. Like I said…not really keeping up with pop-culture!
It seems like every time Jon and I decide to watch a movie, he brings home what I call “weird” movies…sci-fi, futuristic, gritty. I keep saying “Can’t you find something like Sweet Home Alabama?” and he says they don’t make movies like that anymore. So, it’s likely that when Insurgent moves from the theater to the Redbox, we’ll be renting it. And I decided that just once I was going to be ahead of the game. I decided to read the books before I see the rest of the movies.
I was intrigued for a couple of reasons. First, the Divergent series is labeled Teen or Young Adult fiction. Since my husband is a youth pastor I was a little curious about what sort of literature is being marketed specifically to teenagers. Second, I read online that the author, Veronica Roth, is a Christian. That surprised me a little bit, so I wanted to read her books in search of clues that she’s writing from a biblical worldview. And finally, I saw online that many people were not happy with the way the series ended in the final book Allegiant. So unhappy, in fact, that people were writing alternate endings and making them available online to other distraught readers. I tend to hate surprises if I know they’re coming, so I was really tempted to read the websites and comments to find out what was so bad about the way it all ended. But I restrained myself and read through the series instead.
What I can say for sure is, Veronica Roth is a good writer. The books are gripping. I read all three (500ish pages each) in twelve days. Twelve days. That’s really fast for me when you consider that I was still living my normal schedule of taking care of four kids and I didn’t drop cooking, errands, appointments, or my normal weekly activities. I just slept less. A lot less!
I can also say that the first movie was amazingly close to the storyline of the book. It’s always annoying to see a movie based on a book and find that the only thing the two have in common is the title. That wasn’t the case here.
After reading these books I have two reactions that I want to share: 1. Why I can’t recommend the Divergent series; and 2. Why you might want to read it anyway (or just see the movies if they’re all as close to the books as the first one). So, here goes….
Why I can’t recommend the Divergent series:
*There is some bad language. I’d rather not recommend a book with bad language.
*There’s a lot of violence…shooting, stabbing, blood, war, dying.
*There is too much sensuality. The main characters don’t seem to actually have sex in the books (although the pluggedin.com review of Insurgent suggests Hollywood takes the movie further than the book in this regard), but their physical relationship is still everything I tell teenagers (and any unmarried individual) to run away from. There’s longing, wishing, passionate kissing, hands moving slowly over skin…
*The series ends with a sense of hopelessness. In the author’s defense, I think she was trying to end it with hope. But I don’t feel like that message really came through. And based on the internet comments of readers disappointed with the ending, I think a lot of others felt the hopelessness as well. A few people said they’d been depressed for weeks. Not really an outcome I like, especially considering the books are geared to a teen audience. One of the final statements near the end of the final book is, “Sometimes life really sucks…But you know what I’m holding on for?” “The moments that don’t suck.” That’s it. Depressing. Hopeless. A few different times through the series one of the characters wonders what happens after life on this earth. But she never gets an answer. She never has a hope for any life to come. Maybe that’s just how it is with dystopian literature. Regardless, it’s not a feel-good story that leaves you smiling or full of joy in the end! And, it’s not a Truth-based story that shows the hope we can have for life beyond this earth.
Why you might want to read it anyway:
*Someone you know may be reading these books and watching these movies. In fact, based on the number of similarly themed books and movies that have made it big in the last few years, it’s probably safe to say that lots of people you know are being influenced by this genre of entertainment. It would be helpful to be able to discuss the messages in these books and films and point out how they line up when compared to a biblical worldview.
*These themes are influencing your children/teenagers. My oldest daughter is almost ten and she loves to read. But it’s a chore to find books for her reading level that don’t contain material too mature for her young mind. I do lots of research to find books that are enjoyable without undermining everything Jon and I are trying to teach her about life and Truth and what really matters. With that said, there’s no way I’m letting my kids read the Divergent series (or books like it) in the next five to ten years without me right there walking them through every paragraph and making sure they read it from a godly perspective and with their feet firmly rooted in the truth of the gospel. These books are marketed to teens and young adults. If someone you love is reading these books, read with them. Fall in love with the characters with them. Enjoy the “edge-of-your-seat, can’t-put-this-down” writing style. Talk about your favorite parts or the things you didn’t see coming. Then gently but firmly point them to the truth. Remind them that the relationships aren’t Christ-centered. Point out that the characters have no real hope for the future because they have no knowledge of the gospel.
*There are some redeeming threads…one is the idea of sacrificing self for others. In the first book/movie some very important people in the main character’s life sacrifice their lives so she can live. This theme continues throughout the series in both minor and major ways. Its reminiscent of John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The Desiring God blog posted an interesting article about a year ago which points out Christian themes in the movie Divergent. You can find it at this link http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/divergent-lesson-in-human-depravity.
*As I read the last 50 pages of the final book in the series, Allegiant, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of loss and hopelessness for a few moments. I actually had to spend some time speaking gospel truth to myself. I had to remind myself that what these characters were missing is Christ. And while I know this is fiction, I don’t think it’s enough to just remind oneself that “This is not a true story. This is just fiction.” I think we miss a great opportunity when we brush it off like that. Because while much of the action and circumstances of the series are unrealistic, the fact that people live and die with this sort of hopelessness, sadness and lack of purpose in their lives is very true to life. Therefore I think it can be helpful to read something from a secular perspective, to be reminded of the hopelessness of the world. These books represent a world that is lost, struggling and Christ-less. If we aren’t reminded of the desperation of that sort of reality we won’t run out to rescue people from despair with the Truth of the Gospel. This type of secular media can remind us that without Christ, life really is pointless. We should use these books and movies as a tool to make us desperate to share Christ with a lost and dying world.
Tim Challies wrote an interesting article several years ago about the benefits of reading secular books (http://www.challies.com/christian-living/why-christians-should-read-in-the-mainstream). But let me be clear…all books are not created equal. There are definitely some books/movies no one should be reading or watching. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, is another book series made into a movie that is currently in theaters. I will certainly not be reading/watching it, and I strongly recommend that no one else should either. Let's be wise and discerning with what we allow to fill our minds!