Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reached by Ally Condie

Summary:   As the Matched trilogy evolves into Reached, the final installment, Cassia, Ky and Xander all share their perspectives as the Society and the Rising fight for power.  Once again all is not as it seems and when the Rising's rebellion takes an unexpected and deadly turn, each must play a specific role in the re-organization of the system.  Together and apart, the three are faced with the consequences of their decisions and use their skills to choose the kind of people they want to be in the new world.

Dystopian Issues:  Disintegration of Society, Plague, Totalitarian Government
Part of a Series: The third and final book in the Matched series
Age of Main Character: 18
Number of Pages:  512
Year of Publication: 2012
Publisher:  Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group Inc.

Review:  When the Rising turned out to be essentially part of the Society, I was confused and disappointed.  But after some thought I realised Condie is trying to make a different point than the average dystopia.  Sometimes there is no clear cut answer about what will make things better, and sometimes what seems like the answer is actually a slightly different version of the way things already are.
     In this conclusion to the Matched trilogy, Cassia seems to come into her own.  While she began the trilogy as a naïve seventeen year-old shaken out of her comfort zone by an act of sorting she doesn't even remember doing, finally she has become aware of her decisions and their consequences and plays an active roll in the restructuring of society.
     As for Cassia and Ky, their love proves to be true, even though Ky is kissed by Indie.  Xander, who always seems to get the short end of the stick with his yearning for Cassia, ends up happy with a woman who has also lost the love of her life.  It's a little too perfect for words, especially since the only people that die and are connected to the three main characters are Cassia's dad (not a powerful or memorable character in any way) and Indie.
     What I like, however, is what I take to be Condie's main point.  Throughout the three books there is much talk about the Pilot, the leader of the rebellion.  But not only does it turn out the Pilot is unknowingly working for the Society, it also turns out that Pilot is the name for the plague that the Society created in the first place.  Thus Condie's message that anyone can be a game changer in a rebellion proves true.  Cassia, who wasn't selected by the Rising, turns out to play a significant role in the development of a democratic society.
     I do wonder why Condie chose to save so many things to reveal only in the third book though.  I suppose choosing specific characters to be narrators as opposed to an omnipotent narrator has its limitations in this case.
     While I think Condie's message is good, I felt it took her a long time to reach it through what turned out to be a very mild dystopian trilogy.  Not recommend for hard core dystopian fans.

Real Life Dystopias:  Throughout the Matched trilogy the Society is obsessed with the collection of data about all aspects of their citizens' lives believing it will allow them to predict the previously unpredictable.  To collect such data means that the Society watches and monitors its citizens constantly, at work, at play - even while they are sleeping.
     I recently read an article in Wired (August 2013 edition) called "The Glass Backlash" by Mat Honan exploring and emphasizing that the 'watcher' state people are afraid of is already here.  One only has to look to current headlines regarding Edward Snowden to realise this is true.

Memorable Quotes: "In spite of myself, I find that I am crying the Society, for its end.  For the death of what did keep some of us safe for a very long time."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 96

     "I never wanted to see them die, but I would have liked for them to know how it felt to be afraid.  I wanted them to know that their easy lives had a cost."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 213

     "...every now and then, if we're lucky, we have a moment to see how small we are."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 236

     "'So we're never really safe,' I say.
     'Oh no, my boy,' Oker says, almost gently.  'That might be the Society's greatest triumph - that so many of us ever believed that we were.'"
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 320

     "My family has always believed that if you worked hard and did the right thing, you were likely to have it all work out.  And they're not stupid.  They know it doesn't always go that way.  They've seen terrible things happen and it's torn them up.  But that's as close as they've been to real suffering."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 482

     "I believed him unchanging, a stone in all good sense of the word, solid, dependable, something and someone you could build upon.  But he is as we all are: light as air, transient as wisps of cloud before the sun, beautiful and fleeting, and if I ever did truly have hold of him, that has ended now."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 501

     "When we fall in love the first time, we don't know anything.  We risk a lot less than we do if we choose to love again.
     There is something extraordinary about the first time falling."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 504

     "We hold the choices of our fathers and mothers in our hands and when we cling on or let them slip between our fingers, those choices become our own."
     -  Reached by Ally Condie, pg 511

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Crossed by Ally Condie

Summary:   The second book in the Matched trilogy, Crossed continues the tale of mistakenly matched Cassia and Ky after their separation by the Society.  Cassia uses her connections to be sent to a work camp hoping she will be able to find Ky while Ky's Aberrant status lands him in the Outer Provinces to be a target for enemy fire.  Using ingenuity and opportunity, they find their way to each other.  Rumours of the Rising against the Society continue to build and when Cassia and Ky have their chance to join, new truths come to light threatening to tear them apart.

Dystopian Issues:  Class System, Totalitarian Government
Part of a Series: The second book in the Matched series
Next in Series:  Reached
Age of Main Character: 17
Number of Pages:  367
Year of Publication: 2011
Publisher:  Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group Inc.

Review:  As the story of Cassia, Ky and Xander builds to the final book in the trilogy, I'm left with many questions along the way.  Who exactly is the Enemy is Condie's books?  Is it possible the Enemy is an elaborate ruse by the Society used to strike fear into the hearts of its citizens and keep them in line?
     I like how Condie expands the narrative to include Ky's point-of-view because I identified with him more than I did with Cassia.  I have to admit that Cassia has grown as a character since the first book, but she still strikes me as having blundered into her current life as opposed to choosing a path like Ky.
     Is Cassia's love for Ky simple the result of the novelty of having a choice, or will it stand the test of time?  I'm sure the next book will answer my questions.
     Condie uses Crossed to define the class system of the Society: farmers who remain apart, Aberrations, Anamolies and Citizens.  As one would expect, not everyone agrees with how Society runs things but the Society definitely has way of shutting those people up.
     The themes of choice, self-determination and the act of creating instead of sorting are also further developed, and Condie skillfully uses poems and legends from our past to fuel the rebellion in Cassia and Ky's present.
     Crossed contains a surprising lack of Xander though.  While he appears near the beginning of the book and provides Cassia with the means to get to Ky that is his only appearance.  When it is revelled Xander is assigned to be a medic and that he is part of the Rising, I found it difficult to believe he did not know the true purpose of the blue tablets.  Is it possible there is a darker side to Xander and he was trying to stop Cassia from getting to Ky?  Again, only book three will tell.

Real Life Dystopias:  In the Society, Aberrations are people who are classified as dissenters of the system.  I recently read an excellent book called People Who Said No by Laura Scandiffo.  In it she features true stories about people who would have been considered Aberrations of their times - during Hitler's reign in Nazi Germany, apartheid in South Africa and the dictatorship in Burma.

Memorable Quotes: "I fought because I had found peace in Cassia.  Because I knew I could find rest in her touch that somehow both burned me up and washed me clean."
     -  Crossed by Ally Condie, pg 150

     "It's beautiful and it's real, but our time together could be as fleeting as snow on the plateau.  We can either try to change everything or just make the most of whatever time we have."
     -  Crossed by Ally Condie, pg 210

     "There is something special, irreplaceable, about the first time living."
     -  Crossed by Ally Condie, pg 260

     "To go from discarded to chosen - it's all Aberrations want."
     -  Crossed by Ally Condie, pg 282

     "Good-byes are like this.  You can't always mark them well at the moment of separation - no matter how deep they cut."
     -  Crossed by Ally Condie, pg 335

     "When you first love, you look blind and you see it all as the glorious, beloved whole, or a beautiful sum of beautiful parts.  But when you see the one you love as pieces - you can love those parts too, and it's a love at once more complicated and more complete."
     -  Crossed by Ally Condie, pg 346

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Matched by Ally Condie

Summary:   Cassia Reyes' life is completely regulated.  She is told what she will eat, who she will marry and when she will die.  In the past, Cassia has found the certainties of her life comforting in their predictability.  When an error in the system presents Cassia with two matches instead of one, the uncertainty and the possibility of choice throws her well-ordered life into disarray.  As events highlighting cracks in the Society's power structure start to pile up, Cassia begins to question the way things are with support from Ky, the match who was never meant to be.

Dystopian Issues:  Lack of Self-Determination, Restricted Access to Humanity's History, Totalitarian Government
Part of a Series: The first book in the Matched series
Next in Series:  Crossed
Age of Main Character: 17
Number of Pages:  366
Year of Publication: 2010
Publisher:  Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group Inc.

Review:  If you thought the only thing missing from Lois Lowry's The Giver was romance, then Matched is pretty much the book for you.
     Condie's cast of mild characters are the product of the totalitarian society they grew up in.  This results in a book that is the story of a gentle romance in the face of a classic dystopia.  While an interesting and enjoyable read, this first book of the Matched trilogy lacks depth and profoundness that quality dystopian fiction should exhibit.
     Despite my reservations, I did like Condie's concept of the collections of the hundred best songs, paintings, poems, etc.  I wasn't always engaged by the characters, but I was engaged by the complete and detailed totalitarian system Condie set up.  Dystopias often have a clear villain in the government, but Matched presents us with a government that appears to only have its citizens' best interests at heart.  As the book develops however, we begin to see how much of a façade that idea actually is.
     There is enough here to keep me reading the trilogy.

Real Life Dystopias:  The Match system bears some resemblance to the system of arranged marriages.

Memorable Quotes: "'Cassia," he whispers.  "I am giving you something you won't understand, yet.  But I think you will someday.  You, more than the rest.  And, remember.  It's all right to wonder.'"
     -  Matched by Ally Condie, pg 83

     " least I have the words to describe what I feel is happening inside of me: the dying of the light.
     If I couldn't name it, would I even know what it is?  Would I even feel at all?"
     -  Matched by Ally Condie, pg 158

     "All this time it's taken me to understand what Grandfather meant.  Why he didn't want to have the sample stored, why he didn't want a chance to live forever on someone else's terms.  'Because it's about making our own choices,' I tell him."
     -  Matched by Ally Condie, pg 356

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Summary:   During Hilter's reign over Nazi Germany, Death is very busy collecting souls.  While collecting the soul of a young boy, Death first encounters Liesel Meninger, who steals a book she happens upon near her brother's grave.  Over the years, Death touches Liesel's life indirectly many times, but it is only when Death becomes a book thief himself that he learns Liesel's whole intriguing story.  In the face of the unimaginable horrow of war, Death is compelled by Liesel's kindness and by the actions of her friends and family to realise humans are more complex than he will ever understand.

Dystopian Issues:  War, Holocaust, Totalitarian Government
Part of a Series:  No
Age of Main Character:  Death's age is unknown, but Liesel is nine years old at the beginning of the story
Number of Pages:  550
Year of Publication: 2005
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books

Review:  What I need to remind myself about this book is that Death is the main character, not Liesel.  If Death is the main character in addition to his narrating duties, then I can't get mad at Zusak for ending the tale of Liesel so abruptly and insufficiently.  Instead, Liesel's story is merely a catalyst for the profound change in Death, transforming him from a passive collector of souls to a philosopher on the varying nature of humanity.
     Using Death as a narrator allows Zusak to take a non-linear approach to his tale.  Unfortunately this style often meanders and at times ruins the natural suspense of his own story.
     I have to give kudos to Zusak though, because somehow he manages to make Death not only likeable, but an angel of mercy as opposed to a villain.  Death's point of view of World War II is apt, powerful, and fresh.
     While I felt Zusak could have been more concise, I did enjoy the journey of 550 pages that he took me on.  His portrayal of Hitler as a Word Shaker and the atmosphere of Nazi Germany was insightful and gives the reader a lot to think about.
     I don't find Zusak to be the smoothest writer, but I am continually intrigues by his ideas.  For that reason, The Book Thief is definitely worth reading.

Real Life Dystopias:  I am including The Book Thief on my dystopian review site because I believe dystopias do not have to be fictional to count under the dystopian genre.  The Book Thief is an excellent example of a fictional account of the real life dystopia that was Nazi Germany and World War II.

Memorable Quotes: "Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell.  It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right.  Each one an attempt - an immense leap of an attempt - to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.
     Here it is.  One of a handful.
     The Book Thief.
     If you feel like it, come with me.  I will tell you a story.
     I'll show you something."
     -  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pgs. 14-15

     I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
     I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold
     And I don't have those skull-like
     facial features you seem to enjoy
     pinning on me from a distance.  You
     want to know what I truly look like?
     I'll help you out.  Find yourself
     a mirror while I continue."
     -  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pg 307

     "The words.  Why did they have to exist?  Without them, there wouldn't be any of this.  Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing.  There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better."
     -  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pg 521

     "I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.  I wanted to ask how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant."
     The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pg 550

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