Veronica Roth is a writer who knows how to take chances. At one point during Divergent, the first novel of her popular dystopian young adult series, a group of characters climb to the roof of what was once the Willis (Sears) Tower and then ride a zipline all the way to the bottom. They’re part of a social faction called the Dauntless—a group of people bonded through their courage.
The choices Roth made for the grand finale of the YA trilogy, the newly released Allegiant, are similarly gutsy. But they’ve also deeply upset many fans of the 25-year-old bestselling author.
@VeronicaRoth; I loved it so much but I finished in class and burst into tears in 4th block. Part of my soul died tho but thank u 4 writing
— abby grace (@abby_tucker1313) October 25, 2013
@Abby_tucker1313 inadvertently summed up reader reaction to the series’ conclusion, which contains a highly controversial finale that so far has left readers either impressed, depressed, or angry.
On the heels of being touted as the next literary superstar and just three days after the book’s release, Roth’s ratings on Goodreads total over 180,000. Unfortunately for Roth, while the Goodreads reviews are high, Amazon reviews are low; and on Goodreads, where fans have been anticipating the book and commenting accordingly for most of 2013, the positive tone has become punctuated with collective sobbing. Goodreads user Jessie summarized the more distraught reader reactions:
This. Book. I have gone around for the past day just trying to remember the purpose of life. I can’t even function I’m so upset. I hated the ending and am in such a state of denial that I absolutely refuse to believe that the last 70 pages of that book happened.
Other readers vowed not to see the upcoming film adaptation of Divergent and swore never to read anything Roth wrote again. For her part, Roth seemed to be holding up well under the deluge. On Twitter Thursday night, she commented that “strong reader reactions, whether negative or positive, are completely fine with me,” adding that “physical threats are NOT.” While some reviews are incensed, the vast majority of commentary, both directed at Roth and directed at other readers, seems to be thoughtful, considered, and polite, if also emotional:
Just goes to show how deeply we care about these characters when we’re literally crying & screaming at the book. Well done, @VeronicaRoth
— Britt Holmstrom (@stockholmstrom) October 25, 2013
But at reader review site Bookriot, one spoiler-filled blog post drew interesting and inadvertent comparisons between the outraged reactions of Allegiant fans and the similar expectations of fans in numerous other media fandoms who have had to deal with the moments when their intentions for a narrative differed from the creator’s:
They feel like partial owners, but they are really just readers. This discrepancy between perceived power and real power is jarring. … This is a reaction to the realization that you are powerless in a community you have helped build from the ground up.
To some degree, all fandoms have to reckon with this tension, which lingers eternally on either side of fandom’s proverbial fourth wall—the invisible, nebulous divide between fans and creators. In YA fandoms, this idea of joint fandom ownership has yet to be truly tested: fans of Twilight returned copies of Breaking Dawn in droves after they read its notoriously gory birth scene and its infamous werewolf/baby pair-off, but it didn’t stop them from flocking to theatres for the film adaptation.
And in the long run, Roth doesn’t seem too worried that she’ll sink under the weight of fan dissatisfaction. In a Tumblr post earlier this month, she promised to keep writing, after taking a break to figure out what her next project will be.
But whether or not fans disband or rally around Roth’s next adventure, the issue of fandom loyalty is bigger than a single disputed series ending. Ultimately, it’s a question of how to navigate the increasing sense of ownership that fans feel over their canons—and whether, when scorned, fans in that precarious position will ultimately be divergent or allegiant.
Illustration by xsavannnahxx/deviantART