“Insurgent,” the second movie based on the best-selling young adult dystopian trilogy, Divergent, opens this weekend.
So last week, when my daughter Hannah was home for Spring Break from college, she and I decided to have a little mother/daughter bonding time by going to this “Meet the Writer” event with the author of the Divergent books, Veronica Roth.
Sponsored by a local independent bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove, and held in a beautiful old theater in this suburb just west of Chicago, the price of admission got you an autographed hardback copy of Insurgent, an hour-long Q&A with Roth, as well as a screening of the movie Divergent, the series opener, which came out last year.
During the Q&A, I started looking around at the people in the packed auditorium, 98% of them, female, hanging on Roth’s every word. And I have to say, I almost cried. Because from the girls as young as 8 or 10, to the ones in their late teens and early 20s, to the mothers and aunts and grandmothers of these young women, all of us, I suspected, were there, primarily because of Tris – the young hero Roth created, and a kind of female character we don’t see nearly enough in books and movies these days.
Hannah has been a fan of the Divergent books since the first one came out in 2011. (After finishing the final book in the series, she was even inspired to write a song about it, from the point of view of Four, one of the main characters and major love interest in the books...and since she's a songwriting major in college, I'm not just being the proud Mama when I say, it's a really wonderful song.)
Hannah has also been a long-time fan of the Hunger Games franchise…she read the first book in that series as soon as it hit the shelves in 2008, when she was 13, and encouraged me to read it too. When the Hunger Games movies came out and she asked me to go with her to the midnight showings, even though I had to get up for work early the next morning, I said yes…because some things are more important than sleep...like spending time with your teenage daughter whenever they ask you to (“You want to be in the same room with me? You’re willing to be seen out in public with me?”). And supporting their interest in strong women role models.
In Katniss, I think, Hannah and many of our daughters found a powerful, driven female action hero to look up to, one who could take care of herself, a fighter willing to put her life on the line to make the world better. A woman warrior, as tough as nails, and practically fearless.
The kind of role model our girls certainly need, because unlike most media portrayals of female characters, Katniss wasn’t one whose big quest was to be chosen by the handsome guy or prince or hot jerk with a heart of gold, who through her love she would change into someone decent. She wasn’t a sidekick. Or accessory. Or helpless victim, needing a guy to save her.
But in many ways, Katniss is so “together,” so accomplished and skilled…she is actually not so different from the male action heroes we’ve had around for years and years. Except, that when called upon, she can also clean up well and look stunning in a dress.
Tris, the hero of the Divergent series, is, however, not Katniss.
Unlike Katniss, Tris is much less heroic and powerful at the beginning of the series, and much more about figuring out where she belongs and embracing what makes her different. Her quest is to find and develop her strengths. Her journey starts out not to save the world, but to be brave enough to be herself and thus, save herself.
And that’s why I like her so much. It’s why Hannah confessed to me that she likes Tris better than Katniss. I suspect that’s why all of us who gathered at the theater to hear Veronica Roth speak and to get our Divergent movie fix, like her.
She’s someone who experiences herself as “different,” and is working hard to discover who she really is, where she fits in, who she can be. She’s a woman who isn’t totally bad-ass, but who’s learning through trial and error how to stand up on her own, stand up for herself. And for others. One who gets beat up and fails and yet is brave enough to keep going on.
Which is how I would also describe my daughter Hannah. My daughter Zoe. And many of the other young women I know.
Actually it's how I would describe most of the women I'm proud to know, whatever their age.
And in Tris, we find a hero, who is not just a comic book caricature, as thin as the paper it’s printed on, not just a female version of James Bond, or Jason Bourne or any action hero du jour being played by Liam Neeson.
We find in her someone like us, someone who is flawed, yet growing, who is weak but getting stronger, who is lost but finding herself. Someone complicated. Smart. Kind. And brave.
So, yeah, I’ll be there this weekend when Insurgent opens. (But since Hannah is back at college, I won’t be at the midnight show.)
I’ll be there hoping for the best, hoping Hollywood gets it right, and that the young woman Veronica Roth brought to life in her books, is still visible in this newest movie.
Not just a fantasy female action hero.
But a vision of what it means to be a real and struggling and strong, and humanly heroic, woman.
That’s a vision we could all stand to see a lot more of.
And by the way, here's the song Hannah wrote, inspired by the book, to sing us out of this post. Enjoy.
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