Saturday, July 16, 2011

Crossed by Ally Condie

Before you get your hopes up, no, this book is not out yet. It’s an ARC. I actually waited in line for 45 minutes, at the annual ALA conference in New Orleans to then be told that the box holding all the ARC’s was missing. I was so sad, but Penguin took our addresses and business cards, and I decided to move on. I wasn’t exactly expecting the book to arrive in the mail a couple of days ago, but it did. And I have been attached to it since. Thank you, Penguin, for keeping your word and understanding the importance of YA ARC’s to librarians and those who wish they were librarians.
Any way, Crossed is the sequel to Matched, a book I ranked up there with The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent. Matched is about Cassia, a girl who lives in the future, in a society that decides everything for her. The society is layered with rules and tests and statistics, and while a lot of free choices are missing, everyone is healthy and everyone lives until they are old, and there are no diseases. It is not at all like The Hunger Games, and actually has a lot of close similarities to Lowry’s The Giver. The first book focuses a lot on being matched. People’s life long partners are chosen for them in a matching ceremony. And Cassia gets matched to her best friend, Xander. However, she grows to love someone else: Ky, a boy not allowed to be matched due to the decisions of his parents. And with a spark of creativity that Cassia’s dying grandfather ignited in her, Cassia comes to question everything she was born to believe. The book ends after the society discovers the relationship between Ky and Cassia. The last pages are about Cassia leaving her family behind to search for Ky who has been punished to live (most likely his last days) in working camps in the outer provinces.
I wasn’t planning on giving such a lengthy explanation of that first book, but I guess now is a good time to stop reading this blog entry, if you haven’t read book 1, and would like to before reading what I have to say about book 2.
This book begins where the last one left off. Cassia does leave her family behind. She goes to working camps around the society, hoping for something all other workers dread: to be sent to a camp in the outer provinces. It is known that that is where people who are different (anomalies) are sent to die. They get killed by “the enemy” with what seems like random firings. Cassia sneaks her way on to a ship to the outer provinces, and it is just her luck that she arrives the day after Ky escapes with two friends. She finds someone who knew Ky and together, with another girl, she also escapes the camp, and heads for the carvings, or caves, where it is known that farmers live outside all rules of society.
Some of the kids along with Ky and Cassia also hope to find members of the Rising, a group that is growing in number and is preparing to fight against the stiff rules of the Society. And above all else, this book is a love story. It’s about Cassia finding Ky. It’s about the two of them recognizing their differences and accepting each other. It’s about letting go, and becoming who you’re meant to be. The two love-birds find each other half way through, and the rest of the book is about surviving, and escaping the Society at every turn. It’s about learning secrets about specific characters. And it’s about the Rising, and the roles Ky, Cassia, and their friends are willing to play, and the things they are willing to give up for the bigger picture.
Overall, I loved this book. It was everything I was hoping it would be. It was part love story, part journey, part self-discovery, part hope. It started off a little slowly, and for a short while I thought it would be one of those icky YA book 2 transition books. It kind of is that transition book that you know is leading to the ultimate end, but it wasn’t icky.
First, to my statement earlier of putting it in the same list with my other dystopian favorites (I will create my own 10 best YA dystopias list soon after I have read a few more that are waiting for me): Ally Condie knows how to write. Not all of my librarian friends will agree with me here, but I really think these books represent some exceptional writing on Condie’s part. Certain sentences are just pure poetry. She plays with words, and has her characters coming up with poems. So much of it is beautiful that I need to go back and re-read certain sections and get lost in them again. She gets art, and poetry, and the way different people interpret everything differently. There’s just so much abstract thought in her characters that it is impossible not to relate to them and love them. Each sunrise, each ripple in a deadly river, each carved curve in a rock, each book left unopened, and each character in need of inspiring hope in another, is art. Condie paints her details of the landscape and her details of each character’s thoughts like an impressionist painter, achieving a new perspective, and different kind of light everywhere she goes.
And it is so refreshing to find some good writing in YA literature! YA stuff is usually about the story, and not exactly how the story is worded. And I’m not judging. I tend to be okay with this. Occasionally though, you come across an author who cares about both these things. And Condie does care about how she words it. Her writing is simple, poetic, and elegant.
What I did not like about book 2: the point of view shifts. Unlike book 1, which was all Cassia’s point of view, this book switches off between Cassia and Ky. And at first I liked it because I liked getting in Ky’s head, something Cassaia never quite accomplishes. And I liked it when they were looking for each other. But after that everything was a little confusing. I forgot whose passage I was in sometimes because Cassia and Ky tend to have similar thoughts and emotions. And then later I couldn’t remember what character said what to who because I couldn’t remember whose chapter it was said in. There was one important passage toward the end, where all the characters decided who would go which direction, and I re-read this passage four or five times, before I could really get it; if I was her editor, I’d tell Condie to make that whole thing a lot clearer.
And what still bothers me after finishing it is the stuff I still don’t understand. I don’t get why Cassia is where she is and Ky is where he is. What is their purpose? I get that Condie wanted a bit of open-endedness, but for a while I just felt kind of dumb, like it was my own doing that made me confused at the end. I like not knowing if the Rising is trustworthy and I like not knowing yet their exact roles in everyting. But, I would have liked some explanation for their final predicament. Without that little explanation (or I’d take even a possible suggestion), I had difficulties both understanding and believing in the ending of this book. Hopefully this gets explained in book 3. And this is what makes me go back to my icky book two transition comment. But, I still loved the book as a whole. I give it a 9/10. And I look forward to the next one.

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