Cruelty does not make a person dishonest, the same way bravery does not make a person kind.—Veronica Roth, Insurgent
It’s been 10 damn years since the first book of the Divergent trilogy came out in 2011, I can’t believe it.
While Hunger Games will always have my heart as the best YA dystopian series of all time, I still really liked Divergent.
And I especially love that it’s set in Chicago! I’ve lived in Chicago over ten years, and it’s fun to see my city used as the backdrop in such a popular series. NYC and LA get all the love, but Chicago deserves just as much.
These new 10th anniversary paperback covers put the Chicago setting front and center, and I love that we get more of a zoomed-in visual of the city described in the books.
Chicago has beautiful architecture (among many wonderful things the city has to offer), and in the dystopian world of Divergent, we see that the architecture of Chicago is about the only part of the city we know today that’s lasted. It’s both lovely and melancholic to think that these grand structures will outlive us all.
Chicago landmarks shown on the new covers:
- THE EL TRAIN: Short for “elevated.” It’s been around since 1892 and goes all over the city and its neighborhoods, even to some suburbs.
- O’HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Chicago’s main airport (Midway is the other one) located west of the city. All the road signs on the Allegiant cover are spot-on: O’Hare is one of the largest and most confusing airports in the US.
- Not a landmark per se, but ILLINOIS FARMLANDS: Chicago is a big city in a sea of farmland and cornfields. It doesn’t take long to go from skyscrapers to cows. This is where the Amity live and work in Insurgent.
- THE FERRIS WHEEL AT NAVY PIER: Navy Pier is a tourist spot with shops, food, and shows, and its iconic Ferris Wheel called the Centennial Wheel, which is nearly 200 ft high. One of the best parts of the first book is when Tris and Four climb it on a dare 🤘
Other Chicago landmarks referenced in the books that aren’t shown on these covers:
- THE MERCHANDISE MART: This downtown building is so huge it used to have its own zip code. It serves as the court and judicial hall in Divergent with the Candor faction living there, though they darkly refer to it as the Merciless Mart.
Side note: I worked in this building for a couple years, it’s really cool. It has its own el stop, a food court and a bar, showrooms for luxury home fixtures & furniture on the first floor, lots of other shops, a gym, offices—I also get my hair done here! It has everything.
- THE JOHN HANCOCK BUILDING: Technically the “John Hancock Center.” This is my favorite of the super-tall Chicago skyscrapers because of its unique steel beam design, though it’s actually only the fifth-tallest in the city. At one point in the series, Tris and the Dauntless go zip-lining off the ROOF OF THE JOHN HANCOCK JUST LOOK AT IT NO THANKS I’m an Amity.
BTW, these are what the original covers look like:
They have a subtle Chicago skyline (and I like that they show the marshy Lake Michigan on the first one), but the city is much more the focus of the new covers 💙
The genre: YA
The gist: Prequel to The Hate U Give about Maverick, Starr’s dad, as a seventeen year-old.
The review: Just as good as The Hate U Give 👌
This prequel is the origin story of Maverick, Starr from The Hate U Give‘s dad, and it shows everything he went through to become the outstanding husband and father he is in THUG.
Concrete Rose is about a young Black man who faces obstacle after obstacle but keeps pushing, who makes mistakes but bravely owns up to them. He faces the pressures of gang life, poverty, he struggles to keep up at school when he has heavy responsibilities at home. He often feels hopeless and lost, but he never stops trying to be a good person.
Seventeen-year-old Maverick exemplifies what his future wife Lisa says in THUG: No matter what the world throws at you, “the key is to never stop doing right.”
The wrap-up: Everyone should read Angie Thomas’s books.
The rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
Roses can bloom in the hardest conditions.—Angie Thomas Concrete Rose
The genre: YA
The gist: A high schooler who loves to rap ultimately tries to make it as a rapper to help save her family.
The tea: I love Angie Thomas’s writing.
So far, I’ve only read The Hate U Give and this one, but Concrete Rose is up next, and I’m excited to read anything else she puts out.
Her characters and dialogue are so real that you feel like you’re popping in on actual conversations. Not only that, but her stories show an American experience that not everyone shares, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from her books.
In On the Come Up, high schooler Bri loves to rap. She deals with racism at school, family drama, and eventually the threat of extreme poverty that causes her to try to make it as a rapper to help her family. On top of that, she’s got normal teenager stuff going on, like crushes on boys and the pressure of getting into college.
Something I really liked was getting to see the thought process behind Bri’s freestyles, seeing her quickly transform her scattered thoughts into the sick burns she throws at her opponent.
The wrap-up: Great author, great book. Read all her stuff.
The rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 /5
I’m starting to think it doesn’t matter what I do. I’ll still be whatever people think I am.—Angie Thomas, On the Come Up
I just finished re-reading this trilogy for the first time in like five years, for the first time post-Trump presidency, for the first time since Covid, for the first time in my thirties. And some of the themes hit harder now.
Like the struggle to choose between fighting to change the status quo or fleeing/hiding for your own safety and sanity.
Like how there’s so much gray area in the good vs. evil debate, when each side truly believes they’re fighting for something noble.
Like how it’s easy to stop seeing individuals and merely see a “side” you’re against.
Like how people on both sides of a war (and the tactics and justifications they use) are far more similar than they think.
This series holds up so, so well, especially compared to a lot of other dystopian YA books that came out around the same time. It might even pack more punch in 2021 than it did when it came out in 2008—which is kind of scary. Dystopia, like satire, is getting more and more indistinguishable from reality.
The genre: Dystopian, YA
The gist: Prequel to the Hunger Games series focusing on President Snow’s formative years and the nascent days of the Hunger Games competition.
The background: The Hunger Games trilogy are some of my favorite books to read again and again—I love Suzanne Collins’s writing, worldbuilding, and characters. So I don’t know why I let this prequel sit on my shelf for months before finally diving in. I think it had to do with the mixed reviews I’d heard, and I was postponing being disappointed. I shouldn’t have been worried; reviews are nothing compared to your actual reading experience, and this was a great one.
The tea: I’m just going to come out and say I loved this book.
As a big Hunger Games fan, I thought this was a satisfying tale that did three things very well: It expanded on the history of Panem and the Games, it gave background and nuance to the eventually villainous Coriolanus Snow, and it made thought-provoking connections to the original trilogy.
The only complaint I could have about this book is the lack of action until about halfway through, and maybe some uneven pacing, but I don’t really care that it’s not action-packed.
It reads as more of a character study on Snow, and Collins spends a lot of time showing how he thinks, how he calibrates and adapts, how he works to keep up appearances, how he meticulously measures the consequences of his words and actions, the risk and the reward. We get to see that he’s naturally calculating and ambitious, but he was raised in the Capitol among the calculating, ambitious, and even ruthless. So, was he always destined to become an evil tyrant, or did the Capitol create a monster? It’s a classic nature versus nurture question, and it’s kind of fun to think about.
Beyond painting a clear picture of a young Snow, the book gives more info on the war that started the Hunger Games tradition and hints at how the Games grew from a bleak event that nobody even in the Capitol wanted to watch (the novel is set during the 10th Annual Hunger Games) to the sparkly, reality show phenomenon it became by Katniss’s time. Plus, it elaborates on a few other things from the trilogy that I won’t spoil here.
While I would read anything Collins wrote set in the HG world, she couldn’t have picked a better character to explore. It’s a twist on the typical villain origin story, giving the bad guy a dose of humanity, but ultimately showing that some villains might be just that.
The wrap-up: I’d suggest those who haven’t read The Hunger Games start with the trilogy first, but The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a must-read for HG fans. I know some have been disappointed, but I think if you go into it ready to soak up knowledge of the dystopian world rather than be hit with a cliffhanger every other page, you’ll have a good time reading.
In any case, it got me excited enough to read through the trilogy yet again, this time with a new lens—and a prequel that enriches its source material is a success in my book.
The rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5
“People aren’t so bad, really,” she said. “It’s what the world does to them.”—Suzanne Collins, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Stupid people are dangerous.—Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Learn how the Young Adult genre came to be in another of my favorite installments from PBS’s “It’s Lit!” series.
While we see the YA label everywhere now, it wasn’t put into use until the mid-twentieth century, partially because it wasn’t until around World War II that teenagers were even considered their own marketing demographic; before that, everything had been divided into two categories, Child or Adult.
“Books for Young Adults” was a term coined by librarians in 1944 as they gathered and made lists of books from both the Child and Adult categories that would appeal to adolescents—and “Young Adult” has stuck as a genre ever since.
TL;DW: “It’s a bit reductive to be dismissive of Young Adult [fiction]. First of all, it’s not just a niche genre. YA is remarkable for its wide appeal: 55% of YA books purchased in 2012 were bought by adults between 18 and 44 years old... Not only does YA shape younger audiences as readers, it is a genre that helps give its audience a lexicon for understanding that there is a complex world between childhood and adulthood.”
A hundred years ago in 2012 when The Hunger Games franchise was at the height of its popularity, SNL came out with this ridiculous sketch that I just remembered existed the other day because I spotted Uncrustables at the grocery store and laughed under my mask at the thought of Sofía Vergara plugging the sandwich sponsor and yelling that she’s “HUNGRY FOR MORE HUNGER GAAAAAMES!!!”
Vergara gives 100% as an overly enthusiastic Capitol reporter getting the scoop from inside the arena as kids drop dead around her, which is probably a fairly accurate representation of how Capitol people would’ve acted watching the Hunger Games at home.
And how can you not love these two:
I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.—Nina LaCour, We Are Okay