Verdict: This could have been a really excellent ending to the “Matched” Trilogy, but got bogged down narratively. Read my hacks below to see how this book could have reached its potential. Get it? Reached? Sorry, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted and I’ve got to get a few puns out of my system…
Perfect for: I mean, the only people who will read this one are those that invested in Matched(#1) and Crossed(#2). If you generally like YA dystopias, you should give Matched a shot.
Summary: I often describe this dystopian series as “The Giver with Romance”. Basically it’s the future and The Society keeps everything orderly and safe, which comes at the cost of people not being able to make their own choices, which includes falling in love and getting married. It also includes the freedom to choose a job or to create art. In the first book, Matched (which I really liked), Cassia is unexpectedly matched to both her childhood BFF Xander and the mysterious and potentially “aberrant” Ky, although she is quickly told that the Ky match was a mistake. She gets some inside information about the weaknesses of the Society, some encouragement, and inspirational contraband poetry from her Grandfather right before he is euthanized per Society schedule at age 80. As you might predict, Cassia ends up falling for Ky and also rebelling in small ways and then finally escaping her home city in search of a banished Ky. In Crossed all I remember is that Cassia and Ky make this long journey through some canyons and meet some people and discover more stuff about the Society and find out about a rebel group called the Rising and it was so so so so so boring that I really couldn’t tell you more. It was basically just table setting to get to book three, Reached, which brings Cassia, Ky, and Xander back together and ties up almost all the politics and mysteries and plot points and romance aspects of the series.
It’s become pretty common in YA to have a love triangle, what with your Bella-Jacob-Edwardses and your Katniss-Peeta-Galeses. I was worried with the set up of Cassia-Xander-Ky that I would have to endure more formulaic love triangleship. But thankfully Reached took this triangle in a unique direction. For one, Xander and Ky are totes supportive of each other and basically on the same team; there’s not really any overt rivalry. Yes, Xander is bummed that Cassia seems to prefer Ky, but there’s nothing overwrought about his feelings that makes the three characters’ relationships melodramatic. Also, by the middle of the book it is obvious that the love triangle had mutated into a sort of love pentagram, which again felt less tortured than a lot of relationships in YA.
Another thing I appreciated about Reached was that, as Book Three, it avoided the classic YA trope of a first chapter recap of the previous installments of the series. The book assumes that you are reading it because you read the previous two. (aside: and you could probably totally skip Crossed since there were enough integrated reference to what happened in the second book that you wouldn’t really need to read it. As I mentioned above, I had forgotten pretty much everything and everyone from Crossed, but it didn’t impact my understanding of Reached.)
Finally, with so many novels in free verse out there, I really appreciated that the Matched series integrated classic poetry into the story. Author Allie Condie used to be a high school English teacher, and you can tell that she has a true passion and understanding of poetry. I’m not a huge poetry fan, but I liked that the poems were integrated so well into the plot and that Condie trusts teens to be able to wrestle with a more formal kind of poetry than they might usually encounter in a YA book.
I like science fiction (or as it is now known, “speculative fiction”) and dystopias for the ideas that they explore. While the Matched series overall is about being able to choose love and have choices in general, I thought that Reached had an interesting exploration about the value of art. In the first book of the series, we learn that The Society has only preserved 100 poems, 100 stories, 100 historical events, and 100 paintings to be formally taught in schools and enjoyed by citizens. The idea is that art is an expression of emotion, and The Society wants to control emotions, so it selects the works it thinks will be best for a peaceful society and buries the concept of creativity – Society citizens are not taught to write, for example. All other creations from Before besides the 100 were said to be destroyed, but Cassia discovers that some people have kept heirlooms and scraps of poetry in secret. In Reached, we learn more about how these contraband items are valuable on the black market to be traded for information or favors, such as messages being delivered. But the Archivists are the arbitrators about what is valuable and what is not, and they base value on things being authentically from Before. Cassia rebels against this notion by teaching others to write (Ky taught her) and by organizing a makeshift gallery of citizen-made creations under an abandoned barricade. The formation of the Gallery is not at all important to the plot, but it was an interesting diversion and reflective of our era of user-created content and the distribution of creativity without the need for a publisher or record label saying that something is good or valuable.
In the Hunger Games trilogy I was willing to buy the dystopian setup of Book 1 pretty well, but by Mockingjay I was yelling “Seriously? In District 13 they barely have any resources but live in a highly advanced underground compound where you can push a button for food?!?!?” or “Seriously? The city planners of the Capital installed dangerous booby traps, like, everywhere? Seriously???” Reached wasn’t preposterous in those ways, but its Dystopian premises got pretty muddy by the end. There were plenty of explanations, but I still found the motives and structures of both The Society and The Rising to be unclear.
If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you’ll know that one facet of personality is whether you are an N (taking in information through iNtuition) or an S (taking in information through Sensing). This is a simplification, but basically N-types like big ideas and reading between the lines and S-types like lots of details. As a Super-N*, I tend to check out and get really bored when a book has long descriptions of scenery or gets overly detailed about some kind of process a character is doing, and unfortunately Reached had a lot of that going on. The main plot point of the book is that people start getting sick from a virus, and Xander (now a physician), Cassia (now a “Sorter”, ie a data analyst) and Ky (a pilot) work together to find a cure. There are many, many, descriptions and explanations about virology and how viruses work, and I basically got the impression that the author had done a lot of research into the topic and couldn’t bear not to work in this knowledge into the book, but I think it could have been A LOT less detailed. There are also quite a few scenes of Cassia sorting, and let’s be honest, would you want to read a book or watch a movie about someone basically looking at spreadsheets? It was pretty tedious.
I think about some writing advice I once read: Don’t write that a character opened a door and walked in a house; just get to the good stuff. I think Reached would have greatly benefited from leaving out a lot of explanations and details and just getting to character development and the good parts of the plot.
[*LitHacker is an INFJ, with heavy emphasis on the N and J. Fun fact: The results from the Meyers-Briggs test suggested to LitHacker that she become a teacher, writer or librarian. LitHacker is and has been all three!]
Bogged Down Pace and Redundant Narration
Speaking of plot…it got off to a cracking good start, but about halfway through it started to drag and never really gained momentum. Part of this is because of it getting bogged down with too many details, as mentioned above. Part of this was because the story was narrated alternately by Cassia, Xander, and Ky and for some odd reason they would repeat what the other people had already narrated! Like, all the time! I have never seen this before! As an example, say in a Cassia section she would talk about giving Xander a message about the virus and she would explain the exact message she wrote. In the next chapter you would have Xander reading Cassia’s message and relaying exactly what she said…again! I bet the 500 pages of this book could have been reduced to 400 if there hadn’t been all this redundancy, and it would have flowed better in the process. Cut out all the virology and sorting stuff, and you could get it down to a lean and vibrant 350. There’s a great book hidden in all the padding.