At the height of the Hunger Games craze, I talked about some other YA fiction out there to fill your post-apocalyptic or dystopian cravings, but few are as complicated and interesting as Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, the story of a repressed, contained world containing the Society. The Matched trilogy has all the expected tropes of young adult dystopia—a sweet, willful girl named Cassia, a love triangle that defies the conventions of everything the Society will allow, and a mysterious revolution that gives hope to all those oppressed. Throughout the story, Cassia depends on the inner world of her own artistic expression to guide her as her life is completely thrown out of control and she’s asked to figure out what she really believes in—what she’s been told or what she feels.
In the recently released finale to the trilogy, Reached, Cassia and her two potential love interests Ky and Xander must face down the struggle for the heart of their civilization. It’s the Society versus the enigmatic Rising in a bid to control their world—except what they unleash in the fight might wipe away everything that Cassia holds dear.
Let’s take a closer look at Reached and review the Matched trilogy leading up to the series finale.
(Warning: Spoilers follow for the Matched trilogy!)
At the start, Matched is a series about the heart of a civilization at war with itself. Cassia grows up in the Society, a tightly controlled world where people’s futures are laid out and planned right down to how much they eat and what jobs they take. At the age of sixteen, all people in the Society are Matched to a partner who they’ll court and eventually marry. Cassia goes to her ceremony and receives her Match—except she discovers that, technically, she has two! She is matched with Ky, a local boy whose status as an Aberration should have kept him outside of the matching pool. She’s also Matched to her good friend Xander, and soon Cassia is put in the position to decide which of these boys will be her future. As time goes on and Cassia finds herself drawn more to outsider Ky, she begins to see the flaws in the Society around her. She finds solace and growth in exploring outlaw poems, the first one smuggled to her by her grandfather before he is euthanized on his eightieth birthday as per Society law. (Oh yeah, they go there.) When Ky is removed from the Society, Cassia follows him on a harrowing journey in Crossed, the second book in the series, to find out what lies on the boundaries of the Society and to find the mysterious Rising, a revolution foretold to spell the end of the Society with the coming of its leader, the Pilot.
Reached picks up at the end of the events of Crossed where Cassia finds Ky once more and the two reach a gathering of the Rising outside of Society territory. She and Ky have survived a nightmarish escape across deserts and through war zones. They’ve buried friends and learned truths about the lies the Society has told, and found their way to the Rising in search of the Pilot meant to lead them all to freedom. Cassia is then sent back into the Society to infiltrate and help with the upcoming revolution, separated once more from Ky who is being trained as a Rising pilot. Their friend Xander, Cassia’s erstwhile other love interest, is also involved in the revolution and begins to see the tell-tale signs of breakdown within the Society as a mysterious plague begins to spread.
Reached is a tale unlike its predecessors. Where Matched was the story of a young woman seeking her own choices in a repressed and tightly controlled society and Crossed was a journey to the reaches of civilization on a quest for love and a new world, Reached is the odd story out. Ally Condie brings the Society and the Rising together to clash over who will rule civilization. But this isn’t a clash like what happens in the Districts of Panem in the Hunger Games. The Society is unraveled in the wake of a terrible plague that dwarfs the entire political conversation and reminds everyone just what is really at the heart of the struggle—the citizens of this crumbling, confused world. The story is beautifully framed with straight-laced Xander and rebellious Ky both fighting on the side of the Rising to free the Society, where both get to see the power of a force more destructive than any repressive regime. It is Cassia that transcends the entire conversation, focused as she is on resurrecting the lost arts of music, writing and art in the midst of all the death and destruction. The entire story has a distanced, numb quality once the dawning nightmare of the plague really sinks home, as the characters struggle with something so outside their control they can hardly understand it.
That distance can really be felt throughout the novel and, unlike the previous two books, the first person perspectives of the characters can’t seem to breach the pall that falls over the entire novel from start to finish. Cassia, who has served as the artistic and emotional center of events, feels relegated to a back-seat role in all the madness while Xander takes center stage in battling the plague. Even Ky seems impotent to deal with what is going on around him and as events spiral out of control, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hopelessness with a narrative that overshadows its own main characters. In the face of all the destruction of society and the sickness of the plague, Cassia’s normally uplifting focus on art and it’s preservation in the Society seems antiquated and foolish, while her connection with Ky, which serves as the heart of much of the books, is largely absent until the very end.
When compared to the previous books, Reached seems such a bizarre way to end a series about breaking free from societal repression to seek artistic and emotional freedom. The characters are ensnared once again in the Society’s grasp and learn that seemingly whatever government they decide upon, their futures are largely out of their hands. With that anticlimactic message in mind, the best we can seem to come to for a message out of the end of Reached is that freedom can only be found internally and love can carry you through even the worst destruction. While these are fine sentiments, they feel strangely disheartening after the earnest struggles of Cassia, Ky and Xander in the previous books. So much so that I wonder if I could really say these characters lived “happily ever after.” I put down Reached breathing a sigh of relief just being able to say that they lived. And maybe that’s what Ally Condie had in mind after all.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.