Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Beginning Emerges from the End

Perhaps YA simply isn't my genre. That's why I lost interest in Gayle Forman and went from greatly enjoying her books to not even reading her new works. And that's why I thought Divergent was great and Carve the Mark also but its sequel not so much--and why I have such mixed feelings about Veronica Roth's latest collection of short stories, The End and Other Beginnings.

Maybe it's because I had put too much pressure on Veronica Roth. I loved that her characters pondered morality and often, in connection to that, chose a different path to the crowd. As someone who also chooses a little differently, I connected with that. So to come and find all the usual YA references to teens smoking and exploring sex and not caring about anything other than their own happiness, well, that made me feel like I'd lost my connection to her writing. I felt like there was a new shallowness.

But I kept reading. There are six stories in this book and they perhaps do tend to get better as you go along. They are sci-fi stories set in different times and places. So every forty pages, you're jumping into a new environment and atmosphere. Veronica Roth definitely has a talent for creating places and groups of characters. Some plots are about love, some about friendship, and some about family.

All of the stories, though, are about discovery and about emotional struggles. Some characters face depression, some suicidal thoughts, some grief, some confusion, and some regret. Along the way, they discover how to make peace with their feelings and how to let others help them on their journeys. More and more, YA is focusing on such themes--which is good, though it does also mean that they're starting to feel simply like tropes. But that's a cynical perspective, I know. What I ought to say is that some of these themes are quite powerful. I definitely prefer the theme of friendship that prevailed in something like "Vim and Vigor" to the basic love story of "Inertia."

"Armored Ones" brought us back into the world of Carve the Mark, which was great to get to dive into again. Funnily enough, "The Transformationist" had what I found to be an inspiring quote--that ended up being part of the past that the main character, Otho, had to make his peace with. "'This is what we fear to admit . . . Transformation will destroy you. It will unmake you. . . And here is the true horror . . . You must let it.'" That sums up life, doesn't it? Change happens and pain happens, so it is up to us to let the changes that happen help us grow. So I wish that this story had been longer and able to cover more ground. I wish that Otho, like Tris finding a way to incorporate the values she had been raised with in Abnegation even after she joined Dauntless, had found a way to take the good pieces from the sect he'd been raised in and let all of the bad parts fall away. I don't know, maybe that's an ignorant perspective from me, from someone who wasn't raised in a traumatic way. But all I saw was who Otho wasn't; I also wanted to see who he was. But I guess even just letting go of the past is an important part of the personal journey.

And personal journeys were what these stories were all about. I still have super mixed feelings about this book as a whole (one blog post isn't really enough to talk about much), but even that is I suppose a positive effect from the reading experience. These stories were thought-provoking as a whole.

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