Romance, repression and rebellion
Dystopias abound in contemporary young adult literature, but not all have received the attention—or garnered the fan base—of the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. In the first two books, Matched and Crossed, protagonist Cassia Reyes learns about the dark side of her seemingly perfect world when she falls in love with a boy who isn’t her Society-approved Match. Reached, the trilogy’s much-anticipated conclusion, sets Cassia’s personal struggles against the backdrop of a larger rebellion. Will Cassia choose romance with her lifelong friend Xander, or leave him behind for the electrifying newcomer Ky? Will the Rising successfully topple the Society . . . and if so, at what cost?
BookPage talked with Condie about her trilogy’s timeless themes and what she would do if she lived in her characters’ world.
One major theme of Reached—and the entire Matched trilogy—is the conflict between freedom and security. What makes this timeless theme so relevant to today’s teens?
Teens are always fighting that battle of freedom vs. security—they are often more capable than we give them credit for, but we want to keep them “safe.” I remember feeling this way when I was younger and I see it in them now. But teens now have the online world, where there is (yet another) tricky balance between having the freedom to share vs. putting information out there for so many to see and manipulate, which isn’t very secure. Add all of that to a physical world that is exciting and volatile, and more global than any world in which we’ve lived before, and I think they have a lot to sort through, a lot of decisions to make about freedom and security and what it personally means to them.
In Reached, painting, sculpture, music and poetry become a call to action, a way to build community and a source of healing and strength. How have the arts been important in your own life?
I’m lucky because I’ve always been surrounded by people who valued the arts—my mom is a professional artist/painter, and my dad loved playing the piano. My grandmother loved poetry. And all three of them loved books. So I’ve always known that the arts are a place where you can turn when you want to feel or be more. I am terrible at music, but someone else’s song can take me away to another place. I think we’re all so lucky to be able to share these things with one another, and when you love the same something—same piece of music, same book, same poem—there’s an instant sense of camaraderie.
If you could choose, would you live in the Society, join the Rising or take your chances in the Otherlands?
I think I would take my chances in the Otherlands—but only if someone I loved could come with me. :)
I think we’re all so lucky to be able to share these things with one another, and when you love the same something—same piece of music, same book, same poem—there’s an instant sense of camaraderie.
Reached alternates between the points of view of Cassia, Xander and Ky. What was the process of writing in three different voices like?
It was exciting, because they each had part of the puzzle of the story. To keep in the mindset of each character, though, I would draft in a specific character each day, so that I could really get into their voice. Then I’d go back and iron out the logistics of the interlocking stories later.
Readers who’ve read Matched and Crossed have a lot invested in the trilogy’s major characters, but Reached also spends time developing minor characters—some from earlier books and some new. Who was your favorite minor character to write, and why?
My favorite minor character to write, hands down, was Indie. Whenever she was on the page I knew she was going to mess things up, and it was actually really exciting as an author to feel that unpredictability.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about your characters over the course of the trilogy?
I wasn’t expecting some of the more minor characters (like Indie!) to have such an essential part of the storyline. I guess it’s true that in books, as well as life, once someone crosses your path, you can’t always know what they might mean to the rest of your story.
Reached features detailed descriptions of piloting, nursing, data mining and other specialized topics. How did you research these subjects?
I found people in my life who were experts in these areas and then bothered them relentlessly! My cousin is a licensed commercial pilot, and he was extremely gracious about all of my questions. I also consulted a nurse about the details of patient care and the words that might be used—she read the entire manuscript for me and caught a lot of little things. And for the Plague, I spoke extensively with a pathologist and an immunologist, both of whom were in my church congregation. They were great because they were willing to work through the technical and scientific aspects of everything with me, but they are also very creative and could see things as story elements too. I’m very indebted to all of these smart, versatile minds.
The spread of a virulent plague is a main plot point of Reached. What was the most interesting fact about epidemics you learned while writing these sections?
My favorite thing that I learned from Dr. Greg Burton (the immunologist friend) was what he called “the Goldilocks analogy.” He used it to illustrate how a virus survives—the conditions have to be just right. I ended up putting that into the book (with a slightly different name) because I loved it so much and thought it was a great way to explain the virology to a layperson.
What’s been the best part of writing the Matched trilogy?
As a former teacher, nothing means more to me than a young reader coming up to me and telling me, “I didn’t like to read before I read your book.” I can’t imagine anything more rewarding. Of course, the writing process itself is very fun too or I wouldn’t be doing it—I love the sense of discovering the story.
Now that the Matched trilogy is complete, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a project that I can’t say much about, other than that it’s another YA title. I’m also looking forward to the holidays with family. We adopted a baby this year, and all of us (my husband and my other three children) are so excited to experience all these firsts with her.