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A Catch-up Guide to Insurgent

by Jennifer Stubben Hatch

*This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Kids & Books.*

Coming soon to theaters is Insurgent, the 2nd book in Veronica Roth’s wildly popular Divergent series. If you don’t remember plot points or (gasp) haven't read it, this catch-up guide will review the most important details and offer you ideas for lively discussions with your library patrons.

Inform Yourself (Caution: Spoilers Ahead!)

The trilogy, in a nutshell:

Divergent: Beatrice ('Tris') chooses to join the Dauntless faction of her society rather than remain with her parents in Abnegation. After passing Dauntless initiation, Tris and fellow Dauntless member Four discover an Erudite plot to overthrow Abnegation using the Dauntless as mind-controlled foot soldiers.

InsurgentStill reeling from the deaths of her parents, Tris struggles to unite the factions against tyrannical Jeanine Matthews and her Erudite followers.

Allegiant: Tris and Four travel outside the fence, where they discover the secret behind the factions that divide their society.

Want to know what happens when? Key events:

As the book opens, Tris is overwhelmed with grief over her parents’ deaths and guilt over killing her friend Will in self defense. While seeking refuge from the Erudite in the Amity compound, Tris overhears Marcus tell the Amity leader that the Erudite had attacked the Abegnation in order to steal “sensitive information” the Abegnation had kept secret for many years. Tris resolves to discover the truth about this information.

When the Amity compound is invaded by the Erudite and Dauntless-traitors, Tris and her boyfriend, Four (also known as Tobias) escape and make their way back into the city, where they encounter a group of the factionless. They meet the factionless leader -- Tobias’ mother, Evelyn. Tris is surprised not only to discover that Evelyn is still alive, but also that Tobias has known about her whereabouts for some time. Evelyn discusses with them her desire to overthrow the Erudite.

Tris and Four leave for Candor headquarters, where they find the Dauntless members who haven’t sided with the Erudite. Under truth serum, Tris admits she killed Will. After a Dauntless-traitor attack on Candor headquarters, Tris and her friends discover that many members of Candor and Dauntless were shot with a needle that has wired them for multiple simulations, meaning that Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews can subject them to mind control whenever and however much she wants.

When the Candor leadership decides to negotiate peace with Jeanine, the Dauntless return to their own headquarters. Under mind control, Tris’ friend Marlene jumps off a roof to her death after announcing that more people will die if a Divergent doesn’t come to Erudite headquarters. Though she promises Four she won’t do it, Tris turns herself in to the Erudite. She is subjected to a series of tests in order to help them make a mind control serum that will work on the Divergent. Tris encounters her brother, Caleb, and learns he has been helping the Erudite all along.

After Tris attacks Jeanine, she is sentenced to death. When Peter, who is now helping the Erudite, administers the death serum, Tris believes she will die, but Peter is using a serum that only makes one appear dead in order to repay her for saving his life. Peter helps her and Tobias escape from Erudite headquarters. They head to the former headquarters of Abegnation, where the Dauntless have joined with the factionless and plan to attack Erudite.

Tris only pretends to accept the group’s plan of attack. Instead she decides to discover the Abegnation’s valuable secret and to save Erudite knowledge before it is destroyed in the attack. She travels with Marcus to Amity, where they receive help from some refugee Erudite. Together, they secretly invade Erudite headquarters and Tris breaks into Jeanine’s secret laboratory, where she finds Dauntless leader Tori about to kill Jeanine. Tris fights Tori in order to save Jeanine’s life and get the secret information from her, but Tori still manages to kill Jeanine.

Her loyalty now in question, Tris is kept under guard. Evelyn announces the end of factions and declares the factionless will be the sole de facto rulers. Unbeknownst to Evelyn, Four forces Caleb to access the secret information, which they broadcast to all. Tris is shocked to hear a woman explain that because of the extreme depravity of the world, the factions were created and their members were placed within a wall in order to live more peaceably. Once a large number of Divergent are detected within the walled city, the people should make contact with the outside world. The woman added that she would be one of the members of this new society, and her name would be Edith Prior (Prior is also Tris' last name).

Key words, people, and places to know!

Christina: Tris’ good friend and Will’s former girlfriend, who has a difficult time forgiving Tris for killing Will

Eric: a sadistic Erudite masquerading as a Dauntless leader; he leads the Dauntless-traitor charge into Candor headquarters

Johanna Reyes: the spokeswoman for the Amity faction

Jack Kang: the leader of the Candor faction

Edward: a former member of Dauntless who was knifed in the eye by Peter; Tris and Four discover him living among the factionless

Insurgent: according to Erudite member Fernando, an insurgent is a person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent

Engage Your Readers: Book Discussion Questions

  • Is Tris right to feel guilt over killing Will even though she did it in self defense?
  • Tris lies to Tobias throughout the book when she doesn’t want to tell him her opinion about how they should proceed in the fight against Erudite. Do you think her behavior is justified?
  • Tris and Tobias are said to like each other because they are both not very nice. Do you agree that they are not nice? Do you agree that this is part of their attraction to each other?
  • Is it appropriate for Amity to give a peace serum to its members?
  • Do you feel sorry for the factionless? Are they right to seek power over the other factions after being oppressed for so long?
  • What do you think of Evelyn? Would you have trusted her if you were Four, or Tris?
  • Do Tris and Tobias trust each other? How important is trust in a relationship?
  • Tris feels incredible grief over her parents’ death and at one point wonders who she would be without them if she lets them go. However, when Tris left Abegnation for Dauntless, she had no expectation of ever seeing her parents again and did not display much grief about it. How is the situation different now? Is it different?
  • Throughout  the book, Tobias complains that Tris is too reckless. Do you agree?
  • If you were Christina, would you be angry at Tris for killing Will?
  • Was Tris smart to sacrifice herself to go to Erudite headquarters? What would you have done if you were a Divergent who was being hunted by Erudite?
  • Tris and Peter agree that they are both “bad.” Are they right?
  • Were you surprised to learn that Caleb was still loyal to Erudite? Is his behavior justified or is he evil like Jeanine?
  • Jeanine believes she is doing what she must to keep the city safe -- can her behavior be justified?
  • Is Tris right to trust Marcus when she knows about his abusive behavior? Is her secret partnership with Marcus a betrayal of Four?
  • Were you surprised by the book’s ending? How did you think the factions had ended up inside the city?
  • Who were your favorite and least favorite characters in the book? Which characters drove you crazy?

Impress Your Readers: Divergent Trivia

  • Actor Jonny Weston will play Edgar, a member of the factionless who did not appear in the book. Despite speculation, author Veronica Roth has said that Edgar will not be a potential love interest for Tris.
  • Characters from the book who will likely not appear in the movie:  Susan, Robert, Zeke, Shauna, Fernando, and Cara.
  • Unlike Divergent, which was filmed in Chicago, Insurgent was filmed on location in Atlanta, with only a few days spent in Chicago.
  • Two acclaimed actresses -- Naomi Watts as Evelyn and Octavia Spencer as Johanna -- have joined the cast as well as British model Suki Waterhouse as Marlene.
  • In the book, a grieving Tris cuts her hair to her chin. After cutting her hair short for her role in The Fault in the Stars, actress Shailene Woodley did not want to wear a wig for Insurgent, so Tris will have a pixie haircut in the movie instead.
  • Allegiant, the third book in the series, will follow the trend of other popular YA movie adaptations and be split into two movies (releasing in 2016 and 2017).
  • Divergent grossed over $288 million worldwide, making it one of the few recent YA movie adaptations to find box office success.

Advise Your Readers: Book Recommendations

Are your patrons still clamoring for more romantic, action-packed books like Insurgent? You can find recommendations for Insurgent and the other books in the Divergent series in NoveList.

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Jennifer Stubben Hatch is a librarian and former staff member at NoveList. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.