Since The Hunger Games I have been seeking out other young adult dystopia stories. So far I have read: the Matched trilogy (by Ally Condie), Divergent and Insurgent (first two of a trilogy by Veronica Roth), The Maze Runner series (trilogy + prequel, by James Dashner), The Selection (first of a trilogy by Kiera Cass), The Giver (a little bit more classic, by Lois Lowry), and I started Delirium (first in a trilogy by Lauren Oliver) but halfway through stopped caring about any of the characters and thus stopped reading. And unfortunately, aside from The Giver and The Selection, these other stories don’t seem to have it down.
What is it?
I’m not really sure.
It’s part realistic and interesting dystopian future, part great characters, part engaging story. I mean, all these stories have these traits somewhat, otherwise they would have fallen by the wayside like Delirium (sorry to all the Delirium fans… I know there are many out there…), but it seems something just seems to fall flat. And I fear so badly my books will do this too. So in an attempt to understand what I like best in these stories… I’ll analyze them… starting with Matched, Crossed, and Reached.
I read Matched last summer by the pool and on the beach while in Destin. I actually really, really enjoyed it and flew through it Hunger Games style. After finishing it, while still on vacation, I insisted on going to the Barnes and Noble in Destin to buy Crossed. Read it and liked it alright, though not as much. Then I had to wait for Reached. I got it in January with a gift card and read it. And the book was fine, in fact some of it was pretty interesting, but towards the end I could see it spiraling down fast in a way I was not thrilled about. Both the second and third books also lagged in places, unlike the first. But let me break down further…
Problem #1: She chooses the wrong guy. I won’t spoil this for those who have not read, but our main character, Cassia, has two guys pining over her, much like The Hunger Games. Both guys are decent, don’t get me wrong, but the guy she didn’t pick… I just loved him way more. More than the other guy and more than the main character (like how I cared way more about Peeta than everyone else in The Hunger Games). I think this a large part of the reason why I loved Matched more than the others… because things still seem quite hopeful between Cassia and the guy. But ultimately, it doesn’t happen. And it crushed me.
Problem #2: Mushiness + poetry = ICK. The second book is most guilty of this. Cassia lives in a society where everything is limited: there are only a hundred songs, a hundred stories, a hundred paintings, etc. that society is exposed to. When she discovers “new” poetry, it excites her. She wants to use it to communicate her feels. And it gets mushy. With the wrong guy. Boo.
Problem #3: Crossed is kind of weak in hind sight. First, there were all the unrealistic aspects of it: Oh, I have taken poison but can trek through deserts and mountains. Oh, we just stumbled upon the Resistance and they let us join. Oh, my new friend just saw a picture of this guy and decided she’s in love with him. And again, there’s the mushiness: “I want nothing more to cuddle in a cave and read poetry with my love!” (That’s not an actual quote but it could be… blech!) And there’s a lot of walking.
Problem #4: They kind of ripped off The Giver. I didn’t realize this until I read Reached, since I read The Giver in between Crossed and Reached. As I read Reached and it reminded me of all the ceremonies and rituals the Society had, I was like ohmygoshthisisfromthegiverwhy?! When it comes to dystopia stories, I want to see new and fresh ideas. Sure, all books borrow ideas from others, and that’s OK, and though it’s not a blatant rip-off, there were more similarities than I cared for.
Problem #5: The meetings in Reached are very anti-climatic. It’s hard to get into the details of this without spoilers, but there were several meetings between people that should have been interesting in some way, but they just fell flat. By Reached, I almost feel like Condie gave up on doing anything new or dynamic with the characters individually or when they interacted with each other.
Problem #6: Ky never seems to care about the cause. One of the guys, Ky, is painted as a pretty strong character in some respects. He is against the Society, however, he’s not in love with the Resistance like Cassia and Xander. By the end of the trilogy, I wasn’t so in love with the Resistance either, so I understand, but it felt so weak for him to just play along for Cassia. Everything he did was for her. I can respect that to some extent, but after a while it just feels kind of pitiful.
Problem #7: Lackluster ending. I don’t mind endings that are left open to interpretation. I don’t mind the sentiment that some things are unresolved now because it will take time. I don’t mind growth in characters. But I don’t like endings that feel like they just stop when the author doesn’t know what to write anymore, and I don’t like characters having sudden changes in personality so they can move on to different paths and I’m supposed to be happy for them for that.
Things I did enjoy about the series… the first few chapters of Matched were beautifully written and made me feel so happy. The Society, though it did borrow from The Giver, was also pretty interesting. In Reached, there is a plague that spreads and mutates, and that to me was pretty interesting, but unfortunately that story line ended up sagging instead of thriving. And I did really enjoy one character, but did not care as much for the others… even Cassia was just OK for me.
The first few chapters of Matched were literally good enough to carry me through reading the series, and though Condie does have a beautiful writing style, overall, it left me feeling unsatisfied.
If only William Shatner had made an appearance in the books. Instantly more gratifying. I have no idea why this picture exists but it made me smile when I stumbled upon it.
So if you’ve read this series, what did you think of it? Any other young adult dystopias you would recommend for me?
Favorite quote from the trilogy: “You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” (from Reached)