Book Review: Reached by Ally Condie

Cover of Reached by Ally CondieReached by Ally Condie
Hardcover, 369 pages
Published November 30th, 2010 by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Rating: Three & a half stars.
Warning: this review contains possible spoilers.

Reached is the final book in the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. I bought each book at my local bookstore and I bought this one in hardback (which I rarely buy) so I could finish the series.

The series is set in our world in the future, with the dystopian usual set up: after a societal breakdown in what appears to be North America (sego lilies and kona salmon make an appearance), people form The Society, with rigorous rules keeping everyone safe, health, and in line. Opposed to the Society Officials is the Rising, a rebellion made of Anomalies, Aberrations, and ex-Society citizens who have seen the monster underneath the utopian. Stuck navigating the two are Cassia, Ky, and Xander, three childhood friends seeking survival, freedom, and a future for the people they love. You can read more (and probably a better summary) on the Goodreads page for Matched.

Overall, Reached is an enjoyable read, and the last quarter of the book held me to the end with continual suspense and whirlwind reveals. I’m glad I finished the series, though I liked this and the second book less than the first. I loved the emphasis on choice and the places our choices lead; our choices have consequences, good or bad, and the effects can change in the long-term. Shielding ourselves from the realities of choice can be as bad as believing that letting others make your choices is the best way–both perspectives are blind. Cassia, Ky, and Xander witness this firsthand and learn to navigate the freedoms and pitfalls of choice.

I did put the book down for a couple of weeks mid-way because I lost interest in all the build up–each of the three narrators explaining their every feeling about Society, the Rising, their missions, and each other, and then saying how they thought the other two felt as well. It led to an overload unnecessary repetition and the unique details and plot got lost.

As with many YA dystopian fiction series these days, there’s a love triangle. I appreciated Condie’s handling of the emotional intricacies of this one, allowing her three main characters to have enough emotional maturity and growth to remain friends. Their friendship is believable and perhaps even enviable. Despite the love complications, they are loyal and considerate (for the most part). However, my belief in Ky and Cassia’s chemistry wavered in this book. The depth Ky had in Matched and Crossed seemed to drain away, and I had a hard time emotionally connecting to him at all, even when he fell ill.

Xander is the character that shines by the end of the book. He has to undergo trial after trial, each of his belief systems proving false when a new factor arises. His strength is in adapting to each new situation and finding a new goal to work towards, someone new to follow, a new Pilot. By the end, I think he’s shakily learning to lean on his own understanding and guidance. His observation on love is simple but brave:

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. (504)

It was a joy to watch Cassia discover the wonders of community art. Description is where Condie shines, so when Cassia takes the mosaic and feather bird in her hand, and imagines it flying, I could too. I could here the woman singing in the Gallery and I wanted to read more of Cassia learning to dance! So I’m glad there was a dance scene at the end. Normally I don’t like dance scenes because they never seem to capture the movement and energy right, but the author does it right. She does wonderfully with settings/environments, too. With Condie’s depth of description, it was easy to imagine the quarantine rooms where the still lay, the poisoned lake, the Gallery, the sego lily flowers. The biggest flaw in this book (and series) is where that penchant for description carries over into the characters’ interiority, where I would rather be shown than told how the characters are feeling.

The protagonists’ interiority also contains poignant pockets of poetry and simple truths. I will end with this one, from Ky:

If you let hope inside, it takes you over. It feeds on your insides and uses your bones to climb and grow. Eventually it becomes the thing that is your bones, that holds you together. Holds you up until you don’t know how to live without it anymore. To pull it out of you would kill you entirely. (255)

If you want to learn more about Ally Condie, check out her Goodreads author page, where you can view book trailers, see her other books, ask her questions, and follow her blog.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: The Elements of Expression by Arthur Plotnik

The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into WordsThe Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words by Arthur Plotnik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Plotnik’s other book about words, Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives, and The Elements of Expression is written in the same witty, conversational style. Plotnik’s intelligence and logophilia is evident on every page. I am writer, and like many writers I know I have a whole shelf of books about how to write, how to improve my writing and writing style, how to get published, etc, that I’ve only glanced through but never read. I decided to give Elements a chance, and an hour later found myself deep into the book, for the pure enjoyment of reading.

I got a kick out of the chapter about how English was standardized (Chapter Two: “Standard English: Who Needs It?”) and the way he pokes fun at all the extreme language police. He also explains the difference between a lot of words that get thrown around the writing world, like “style,” “grammar,” “rhetoric,” etc, without sounding stuffy or superior.

The format of the book also contributed to the easy reading. Plotnik intersperses examples, quirky asides and quotes among his definitions and sincere writing advice. Already my writing and verbal expression has improved just by being made aware of my common (and often cliché) patterns of communication. I’m looking forward to breaking out of my old patterns more consistently and “putting my thoughts into words” that are more specific and uniquely expressive. Enjoy!

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Review: Transitions of the Heart by Rachel Pepper

Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant ChildrenTransitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children by Rachel Pepper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I settled down yesterday afternoon to peruse Transitions of the Heart and couldn’t put it down until the sun set. Each of the stories in this collection compound the unifying message of the book–love your child unconditionally, whether they conform to society’s (and your) expectations or not. The essays come from a wide range of individuals with varying experience with writing, but even the most simply written stories sing with voices that resound with truth, strength, and transformational love. I was delighted at the diversity Rachel Pepper collected here: varying religious, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, childhood upbringings, and parenting styles. And the perspective is unique as well. The stories come from the mothers, rather than the children. While this area of literature is still very new, most books are about the experiences of trans* and gender variant individuals, and not from the perspective of the families and parents who must learn to accept and support, or lose their child.

As a queer woman and trans ally, reading this book was both poignantly painful and a spiritual tonic. I welcomed the bravery of these women to fight their fears for the sake of their children and to share their experiences with the world, so that more people can educate themselves and understand the struggle for survival and validation so many transgender and gender variant children go through. I also hope this book will find itself in the hands of other parents who are struggling in the same ways, and that it will give them hope and strength.

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