Book Review: Crossed, by Ally Condie

November 9, 2011 at 11:56 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Cassia gave up everything familiar to try to find Ky and save him from certain death in the Outer Provinces, but murmuring beyond her need to find him is the need to find something even more, something bigger that could rock the Society from its moorings. Ky hasn’t given up hope that Cassia might do the impossible and find him, but he knows far more of what- and who- is out beyond the fringes of Society than he can stand to tell. And Xander? Xander hasn’t given up Cassia.Somewhere between them, and beyond them, the lines are being drawn.
And crossed.

I loved Matched. I loved it the first time when I tore through it, devouring the pages because I couldn’t fathom putting it down. I loved it the second time, when I read through slowly and dissected the words and the ways they were put together. I was ridiculously excited for Crossed to release, even as I kept reminding myself that the more I get myself hyped up, the more I’m inevitably disappointed. That’s just the difference between expectation and reality.

And here’s the thing: I enjoyed Crossed. I did. But I very much felt like I was in a middle book.

Cassia’s determination to find Ky has taken her away from all the comforts she grew up with and out into a wider world, one with hard work and exhaustion and fiercer restrictions. She’s very single-minded about it. Whatever the risks, whatever the struggles, whatever the cost to those left behind, she is going to find Ky. Except- she still hasn’t made a decision about Xander. Xander is her Match- her official one, anyway- and though her love for him is different than what she holds for Ky, she does still love him, and not just as her best friend. She keeps pushing the decision out of her mind, until Xander does little things to make it nudge into her focus again, but that decision is going to have to come, and I would have loved to have seen her mull over that a little more. Focus is a good thing when you have a nearly impossible task, but I wanted to feel the pull from both sides.

One of the biggest changes from the previous book is that here we also get Ky’s voice. He and Cassia alternate chapters, and his voice, his perspective, changes A LOT. And I loved it. For all that she learned in the first book, Cassia is still very innocent, and shockingly naive. Ky isn’t. As we get to find out, perhaps he never actually was. And yet. He has this small, carefully nurtured hope that Cassia will find him. It isn’t reasonable, it isn’t practical, but he still has that hope, despite everything. Seeing things from his eyes, we get a much move pragmatic view of the world. People die, people get killed, saving yourself is what’s important. And yet. When it comes down to it, his impulse is more generous. Dangerous, but generous, and no matter how much he reminds himself that it isn’t practical, he still does it. What this all draws is a young man who is essentially good but battered by experience, and seeing the balance between those two extremes in impulse is amazing. We also, slowly, learn more about his history, the stories he hinted at to Cassia, except we learn them in more detail and, perhaps, more truth.

Xander is a physical presence for barely an hour of Cassia’s time near the beginning of the book, but he still manages to dominate a lot of what you come away from the book thinking about. A large part of that comes from a degree of ambiguity. We don’t get anything through Xander’s eyes. We see him through Cassia, for whom he’s a rock and a hero and a selfless friend, and we see him through Ky, for whom he’s rather more complicated. Friend could be one of the words used, though I think they’d both render it with caution, but Ky knows Xander better than Cassia in some respects.

And that’s where we get to one of the two things that really, truly bothered me about this book. Ky and Xander both have secrets. Big secrets. Dangerous secrets. We always suspect that Ky has them. Cassia always knew that Ky had secrets, even though she couldn’t begin to imagine what some of them were. She doesn’t ever suspect Xander, though, even when she starts to have cause. The boys both move into this murky state of existence where motives are questionable, where there’s genuine intrigue and double-guessing and this constant state of scrutinizing others for a wide range of reasons, some personal, some practical. Cassia doesn’t. Through everything, she maintains that naivete, that shocking innocence that leaves her behind as the boys are maturing into complicated, complex characters. After the strength she showed at the end of Matched, she somehow becomes passive in this. Not passive as in not having an opinion, but passive in that things are happening around her and she’s clueless, she isn’t aware of the titanic struggle that should be going on within such an intelligent person. Because she is intelligent- she has a sorter’s mind and a good memory, and her talents are based on being able to recognize patterns.

Which leads into the second thing, that I can’t talk about because it’s a major spoiler, but to dance around it just a little, it very much disappointed me that Cassia didn’t recognize the patterns that are so obvious to the reader. It’s unclear at this point if Ky recognized them and made a choice for Cassia’s sake, or if he didn’t recognize them either, but when I got to that, I was genuinely shocked. Not quite to the point of putting the book in the freezer, but it took me a few minutes to finish the last pages because of that.

Adding Ky’s perspective, adding his voice, was brilliant, and I loved what that did. Despite her innocence, Cassia’ voice is as lovely and poetic as it ever was. Ky’s companions are gorgeously, heart-breakingly rendered, and also effective. What I would have wished for is that vague, hard to define and therefore supremely unhelpful something more. All the beautiful complexity of the first one is shared between Ky and Xander here, leaving Cassia a bit like an indulged child rather than a strong young woman making hard choices. More than anything, I hope the third book reverses that and lets her grow into her potential from the frist book.

This is a beautifully written book. The language, the impulse and need to create, the nature of the choices we make, they make for a compelling story. It is very much a middle book, but what builds off of Ky and Xander should make for some pretty spectacular sparks, and that I am very much looking forward to.

Until next time~

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Book Review: Matched, by Ally Condie

March 17, 2011 at 11:08 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Cassia Reyes has never known a world of uncertainty, never known a world of disease or despair. The Society has eradicated all such concerns, leaving a happy, productive populace that lives free of ear, disease, and danger until the age of eighty, and then die with dignity in the arms of their families. At seventeen, they are Matched with their ideal genetic mate, nearly always a stranger from another City of Province, with whom they will raise children and spend the rest of their lives.
Cassia is shocked- and thrilled- when she’s Matched with her best friend Xander, but when she tries to access the information given her by the Society, a different face appears: Ky Markham, another friend, one who excels in appearing exactly average, one who hides in plain sight, someone who can do what no one else in the Society can:
create. Now Cassia will learn to wonder, to question, to understand…to dream…and nothing will ever be the same.

This was actually my second time reading this book. I got an advance through work back in late September and just devoured it. I was captivated by the imagery and the easy lyricism, by the oh-so-delicate and fragile journey Cassia makes within herself. Almost six months later, re-reading it with an eye towards a review, I loved it even more.

Poetry is a driving theme through the book, the notion of taking words and making them your own, but it isn’t found only within the lines of Dylan Thomas or Alfred Lord Tennyson, or even within the spare, taut stanzas that belong to Ky. Cassia may have a sorter’s soul- with a sorter’s attention to detail- but she has a poet’s fascination with language. The images are gorgeously wrought, whether she’s trying to capture the mutable nature of Ky’s eyes or something as simple and lovely as a cottonwood seed.

Though we have such a short time with him as a physical presence, Cassia’s grandfather is a figure of profound influence. His love of poetry sparks Cassia’s; his sorrow over its loss is palpable, a dignified grief that gently demands of Cassia the strength to trust her own words- advice that spills far beyond the arrangement of copied sentiments into a letter. “She whispered, sang them,” he says of his mother and the millions of poems that existed before she had to help choose only one hundred of them to survive, “and I tried to remember them after she had gone.” He knows what it is missing, and in Cassia he sees the strength that can in some measure reclaimed it- if she can recognize it within herself.

The drive, the joy, the need to create is stunning, a summary of everything we try to achieve no matter the medium. Even something so simple as learning to take your hand and create the elegant shape of a letter. It isn’t just Ky’s sketches of the stolen fragments of forgotten poems. It isn’t even confined to something physical. The need to create a life is just as strong, and just as true.

Cassia’s character is so beautifully defined by her family, all of them rebels in their own, quiet way. Hers isn’t the only defiance, just the one being measured, but they all have consequences that ripple through to others. By watching her parents, her grandfather, Cassia learns about the kind of defiance born of love, and the kind born of longing, even the kind that takes the form of obedience. She’s caught in so many ways, her eyes suddenly open to so many new- and often terrifying- things that she had to make a conscious choice “before the chance to glimpse what was lost distracted me from what must be found”.

One of the most powerful things that cycles through the story is the question of love. Does it matter why you noticed someone if the love is real? Does that reason taint it in some way? “Is falling in love with someone’s story the same thing as falling in love with the person himself?” How can people take opposite actions for love of the same thing? And there aren’t answers, can never really be answers, because they’re the same questions we’ve been struggling with for centuries.

Even more than love, even more than the need to create, the matter of choice dominates this book. The desire to choose, the freedom and ability to choose, to be. It doesn’t even matter if our choice would be exactly the same as what was chosen for us; what matters is that we should be the only ones to make those choices. Even when it brings pain and uncertainty, even when the life we choose is so much harder than what we could have been given. The choice is what’s essential.

As with any stunningly wrought conflict, my heart breaks for those accidentally caught up in it, those hurt or even shattered by things so far beyond them they may not even recognize it. It just makes it so much harder when they’re genuinely good people that you want to cheer for. People get caught in the crossfire; that we feel as deeply for them as we do for Cassia is both astonishing and astounding.

This is easily one of my favorite books of all time, one that stays with me long after the book is closed and done. It isn’t just the story or the characters. Cassia’s poetry, the poet’s soul she doesn’t even realize she posseses, it haunting. It lingers like an old love song through an open window, the notes hovering in the stll night as every thought tries to discern if the nostalgia grows from memory or hope.

This book is, in a word, brilliant.

Interested in an autographed copy? Courtesy of the amazing Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe, Matched is one of five autographed books you can win. Contest ends March 21st, so be sure to check it out here.

Matched, by Ally Condie. Check it out.
Until next time~

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