Saturday, 9 March 2013
REACHED by Ally Condie
Publication date: 13th November 2012
Published by: Razor Bill (Penguin)
Genre: YA Dystopia / Sci-fi
This is the last in the Matched series. I enjoyed MATCHED and CROSSED so I was really looking forward to REACHED. As it turns out, for reasons I will clarify below, this one was the weakest of the three.
The story is told in 5 parts and from three POVs; that of Cassia, Ky and Xander. At the end of Crossed, the previous book, all three had joined the Rising (the rebellion against the ruling ‘Society’). Cassia is sent to Central, while Ky and Xander are sent to the city of Camas -although neither are in contact with each other.
Ky has been trained to pilot planes to transport cargo during the coming rebellion. Xander, who until now had a supporting role in the series, comes to the forefront and is working for the Rising (undercover) as an official for the Society. He is a ‘Physic’ but apart from being healthcare related I could not work out what that was supposed to mean - he spends his time treating and caring for patients but describes himself as an administrator, so it’s a bit confusing. He is assigned to work in a health centre with instructions to await the sign of the rebellion. Cassia is also working undercover in the Society as a 'sorter' which, if I have understood correctly, is a type of statistical analyst - she sorts data. She is stuck in Central, a city far away from Ky and, because of a serious outbreak which leads to a pandemic, she is unable to get to him, Xander or her girlfriend Indie.
It took a long time for me to get into this novel. I was about 33% in, and at the point when I had decided to give it another 100 pages before giving up, when it got interesting. The interesting parts of the story are told by Xander and are about the outbreak of a virus referred to as ‘the plague’and the Rising’s attempts to cure people of it. Unlike in the previous novels, I would say Xander is very much the hero of this one.
Ky, on the other hand seemed to have undergone a complete personality change. Classified as an ‘Aberration’ for crimes committed against the Society by his father, and sent to live in Cassia and Xander’s neighbourhood with his aunt and uncle, he was forced to live the life of a second-class citizen in the Society. In previous novels he was the favoured underdog (at least by me). He was wise, philosophical and forward thinking. In this book he apparently no longer cares about anything or anyone except Cassia. When the narrative focuses on him it is mostly him going on about Cassia. I liked the old Ky but frankly I found the new Ky a bore.
Although separated, at first Cassia manages to communicate with Ky - as they trade items for messages with the 'Archivists' (a code word for specialist ‘traders’). Then her loot is stolen and she no longer has anything of value to trade so she becomes a non-specialist trader for the archivists. She then sets up a place called the Gallery where creative people can share and exchange their art. Is this all sounding a bit dull to you? It was to me and my eyebrows creased quite a lot while I tried to figure out the point of a lot of the stuff going on. However, to Condie’s credit, they did all tie back to the central plot – eventually.
So here are my issues:
This book has helped me understand why it is important to use the italics function sparingly. Condie got carried away with her use of it. A lot of the time I thought it was unnecessary and found it distracting.
Admittedly, I prefer prose to verse but even I can appreciate that incorporating poetry in novels can be effective and enjoyable, but, unlike in the previous novels, the use of poetry was over-the-top and did not do much for me.
There is a lot of symbolism in it; the Archivists, the Pilot, the Poet, the Physic, the Otherlands etc etc. Plenty of opportunity for book club members to discuss what Condie meant by it all (especially the Pilot - at one point I was shouting 'Okay, enough about the pilot!'). Symbolism is good, but it is very much in your face in this particular novel. For me it lacked subtlety.
I will be as bold as to suggest that this novel has over-REACHED and is perhaps overly ambitious about what it wants to be. It is trying too hard and, in the end, this is what weakened it for me. The previous two novels focused on just telling the story and were better for it.
Don’t get me wrong: it is not terrible - Xander’s story and the stuff about the plague is quite interesting and I could not help but be chilled by a character who is narrating to me while trapped in his own body, or feel sorrow for a boy who has no choice but to make his living identifying the bodies for loved-ones in mass graves. I also liked the realistic and complex portrayal of the relationships between characters - Indie's attraction to Xander and then to Ky. Ky's attraction to Indie despite being in love with Cassia, Xander's attraction to Lei while still being in love with Cassia, Ky and Xander as 'frienemies.' Condie also has a knack for tying up loose ends. I would however be very surprised if the majority of people who read REACHED would agree that it is a ‘gripping page-turner’ (which is what it claims on the cover of my copy).
My appeal to readers