26 November, 2011

'Crossed' by Ally Condie

I finished Embassytown and am working on my review. But in the meanwhile I read Crossed and wanted to toss up a quick review of it while you wait for what will undoubtedly be a longer and more detailed review of a longer and more interesting book. :)

In reviewing Matched, the first in Ally Condie's young adult trilogy about a futuristic version of America tightly controlled by the ruling Society, a friend of mine on her Goodreads page said it felt like Condie was running through a checklist of things to include in a YA book in order for it to be popular. I agree with her. But it didn't stop my friend from liking the book, nor did it stop me, and in reading the sequel I found myself with the same mixed feelings.

Let me start by reiterating that I liked Matched a lot, and I liked Crossed even more. I started reading it last night, got about ten pages in before I passed out, then picked it back up this morning and read through until I was done; about six hours total reading. I'm a fast reader, but these definitely fall on the "easier to read" end of the YA spectrum. That said, Condie doesn't need elaborate language to tell her story well. The voices of the main characters are fluid and genuine, and I liked that we got some of this story from Ky's perspective this time around.

However, I can't help feeling that this story would be tighter and more consistent if the books hadn't been so clearly influenced by The Hunger Games and its sequels. I know what you're thinking; those books are so damn popular, it would be hard not to be influenced by them. I agree. And I don't think there's anything wrong in following a trend (unless it's the trend of melodramatic overwrought teen/vampire romances begun by Twilight) but in this case I didn't think Condie needed to cleave so closely to the mold Suzanne Collins made in order to tell a great story. There are plot points that seemed tacked on as an afterthought because they were expected (like that checklist my friend mentioned) and for me, detracted from the parts of the story I would've liked to hear more about.

One of the things I love best about these books is this futuristic version of America, which is very reminiscent of the world of Lois Lowry's The Giver. I love the careful, parochial way the Society controls its citizens, so different from the openly sinister world of the Hunger Games. The whole construct of the Hundred Poems, Hundred Songs, etc. is brilliant-- I actually gasped out loud when I read that part in Matched, it appalled me so much to imagine placing such limits on the value of art and words and music-- and I would have loved to see more of a focus on that control of information and art in order to keep the worldview of the Citizens small. I'm also fascinated by the use of literature, poetry and song as currency. I had (and still have) visions of Cassia and Ky bringing a hoard of art to the Rising that will help them somehow overthrow the Society, and trading it for their safety, or something that will help them get a new start elsewhere... But alas, the focus just isn't there. Instead we get Ky's worry about whether or not the Rising is all it's hyped up to be, which doesn't feel entirely genuine despite the repeated explanations of why he feels that way-- it has echoes of the Hunger Games' District 13 not being anything like what it was cracked up to be, and Cassia going back into the Society at the end of the book to be an agent from within feels a bit like Katniss during most of 'Catching Fire', having to put on a good show for the benefit of the Capitol. I would have loved if the Cassia, Ky, Eli, Indie and Hunter had gone off to find the other farmers together, or better yet, to start their own farmer commune. The part I liked least was the group of fugitives going into the Society's secret facility and discovering the tissue sample tubes. I know it hints at a bigger conspiracy, and I know it's going to play out in probably an explosive fashion in the third book. But I just didn't feel it was necessary to keep the plot going. Same with Ky and Indie's repressed memories coming back. It felt over the top to me. There's enough suspenseful stuff going on just in the fact that they're traveling unfamiliar territory, trying to stay out of sight, and get to a place they aren't even sure will be there when they get there, without this added layer of angst. I am glad Cassia grabbed her grandfather's sample though. And I hope the grandfather did used to be the Pilot, that would be pretty awesome.

I think one of Condie's strong suits is character creation, though I will say that I don't think she follows through on fleshing her characters out enough, as evidenced by the fact that there were times when I forgot whose chapters I was reading; Cassia and Ky's voices are pretty similar, though it wasn't distracting. I really liked the beginning with Ky and the other boys on the decoy farm. I liked Vick a lot, and was sad to see him go. Admittedly I was hoping for a different story to come out when he talked about loving and losing someone; when Ky asked who she was I was really gunning for him to say "It wasn't a she", but what can you do. I'd almost rather not have any gay characters in the book at all than have one on hand just to get put in the fridge later. The references to "getting kicked out of the Society for loving the wrong person" have an insinuating feel to them, but again, I'd rather the issue of how the Society deals with gay people not even come up than have it be mentioned casually and then never discussed again.

I also really liked Indie and Eli, though I think Indie didn't really take on a distinct personality of her own for me until the part where she revealed she had the microchip with Xander's information on it. It would've been a more interesting reveal, I think, if we'd gotten to know her better first and had a chance to think "She'd be a good match for Xander" before we realized oh, she's fallen in love with a photograph. Cheesy! But plausible for a sixteen year old, I guess. I just wanted more from her. (Sidebar: the reveal about Xander being in the Rising was weird to me. Not the fact of it, that part's awesome, but the way Ky narrated through remembering it was oddly done and I would've liked that to come in person, either from Xander himself or when Cassia reached the Rising headquarters. But moving on...) Eli is sweet, though again coming from the Hunger Games perspective I have to wonder if the repeated comparisons to Cassia's brother mean we're going to see him meet a horrible end later on. I really hope not. The kid's got some fire to him, and I'd love to see him come back from his jaunt Hunter being a bit more grown up and a bit more badass.

Despite my critiques, this was an enjoyable read. I really liked the vividness of the setting (the inside jacket says Condie based most of the setting of this book on the part of Utah in which she lives, and it's clear in the writing that she loves the area) and am excited to see how the end is going to play out. I worry that the Hunger Games model will mean this leads toward a more complicated ending than the "and then they went off into the mountains and lived happily ever after" that I'm kind of hoping for. I mean, I loved the end of Mockingjay, I thought it was perfect for the series, but I don't think this series demands the same uncompromising bleakness, and I hope that the third book (which comes out next fall) will bring all these interesting plot threads together for a satsifyingly exciting conclusion.

PS, I loved that Cassia fell in love with Emily Dickinson. The whole interweaving of poetry through these books is extremely well done and the sense of discovery each time one of the kids reads a poem or hears a song for the first time is lovely.


  1. I liked Crossed okay; I'm not sure I found it as compelling as Matched, or some of the other YA I've read since. It kept me engaged while I was reading it, though I can't say I've thought about it very much since. I suppose one of the things I find interesting in YA dystopia is the construction of the world the characters inhabit; by moving the action of this book so far outside of the Society, that particular aspect suffered a little. Overall... I don't want to say I was disappointed, I guess, but I don't think I'll be looking forward to the third book as much as I was the second.

  2. I think that's a good point; I don't think I'll be thinking about this series much after I finish it. Like, okay, that was good, moving on now. There's something to be said for it only taking me 6 hours to read cover to cover, lol.

    I agree that the world construction is one of the more interesting parts of the dystopian genre, however I do like getting to see the characters move beyond that setup, like in 'Uglies' when Tally and Shay escape the city... I think that element of Crossed made it feel more fast-paced than Matched, which is part of what made me like it a bit more. But overall I just wanted more from it across the board. Hopefully the third one will be full of spy intrigue to make up for it. XD