(A.K.A. Life After the Hunger Games: Part Three)
posted by Gina
Well, my friends, it’s been found: a post-apocalyptic dystopian teen romance trilogy with a wholly satisfying third installment. I’ll tell you the truth, I hardly dared to hope – but it has been found.
Welcome to the world of the Matched trilogy, by Ally Condie. The first book, Matched, is an intriguing mash-up of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and the reality TV show The Bachelor. The premise: our heroine, Cassia, is attending her Matching Ceremony Banquet – the single most important ceremony within the Society. All young people in the Society attend such a banquet during their 17th year. Girls are able to choose one of several Society owned gowns, dessert (a known but rarely experienced luxury) is served, and Matches (citizens’ researched and carefully chosen future mates) are revealed. Matches are optimally paired for success, contentment, and longevity, and Cassia has been eagerly looking forward to this night. Her match is unusual, but not disappointing: a boy she already knows, from her own city, one of her close friends.
But when Cassia brings her microcard (containing her Match’s photo and information) home and views it for the first time, someone else’s picture flashes onto the screen. What does this mean?
Matched has all the elements of a good dystopian trilogy: a love triangle (of sorts), a ‘perfect’ society with conspiracy undertones, and the well-loved journey of a hero who begins to question what she’s always taken for granted.
It’s a well thought out world, with echoes of similar novels but some startling new ideas. And! Why we’re here in this post, what’s I’m ultimately excited about with this trilogy: the one storyline isn’t dragged out into an unnecessary number of sequels. Instead, the story grows and branches, with new elements introduced in each installation. I wasn’t thrilled with Crossed, the second installment, but it kept me interested enough to keep reading, and Reached, the third and final book, won me over completely. The plot of Reached brings together the stories begun in the first two, but has its own, new storyline. Also, the story is told from the point of view of all three of our now-key players. And finally, ladies and gentlemen, the love triangle’s resolution is believable, a little sad, and not a seemingly-hastily-penned cop-out (yes, I’m looking at you, Mockingjay).
Literature wise, they’re not the best books in the world. My sister didn’t like them at all; she didn’t even finish the second. But I stand by them. They’re interesting, the characters are strong (and nicely, believably flawed, one of my favorite things about Katniss of The Hunger Games), and, best of all, the series leaves you wanting to talk: is it true that anything one creates has already been done? Who is it that has succeeded, in the end? Who really instigated the rebellion, and why? And was the conclusion to these events planned for all along?
Let me leave you with a loving look at one of my favorite elements in this trilogy: the idea of the 100 Committee. It’s established early on that The Society, having decided that the doomed world was glutted with information, pared everything down to the ‘essentials’, including art. At some post-apocalyptic, building-of-Society point in the past, the 100 Committee selected which works would be kept and which destroyed, leaving citizens with the 100 Songs, the 100 Poems, the 100 Paintings. Some of the poems and paintings are referenced – an ideal opportunity to scurry to the internet and examine in detail, conjecturing as to why this made the final cut. I used to ask my students to write a Top Ten list of books each year: their ultimate list of the best, most-life changing, if-this-is-all-you-ever-read-read-this list. What an interesting tie in, to make it the this-is-all-that-will-survive list. What would the 100 Committee, or the inevitable Black Market Art Dealers of the Society, think of Fahrenheit 451?
Age wise, this is another Hunger Games-esque read, with middle school being roughly the right starting age, but well-read 5th graders certainly having access. The romance is fairly innocent–mostly an exploration of feelings with a little smooching thrown in. On the whole, the trilogy is a great deal less graphic than The Hunger Games, but keeps some more mature sociological concepts.
Congratulations, Ms. Condie, for ignoring the Third Book Must Disappoint rule. And all of you, go forth and read.