Warning – this is a sequel, and there is no way to read it without spoilers for the first novel.
Crossed by Ally Condie
At the end of the last book, Matched, I vaguely recall, our heroine Cassia used her Sorting skills to inadvertently send her forbidden love, Ky, off to the border lands, which meant almost certain death. As we find in an opening chapter from Ky’s perspective, it’s not just labor, nor even being a soldier, but being sent with a bunch of other Abberation teens as targets, armed with pretend weapons, against the Enemy. Ky is one of the few to have made it more than a few days. Cassia, knowing only that she needs to find Ky, goes to a work camp to get closer to him. From there, she runs away to find him with a girl called Indie. Meanwhile, Ky escapes with another survivor, Vick, as well as a younger boy, Eli. They run into the messy series of canyons called the Carving, which Ky remembers from his youth, before his parents were killed. They are looking for an independent community of farmers that Ky remembers used to live there. Cassia manages to learn which way he went, but of course they are not leaving at the same time. Gradually, Cassia learns that the poem she’s memorized about the Pilot is a code poem for the Rising, a rebel group. Believing that Ky must have been part of this all along, she’s now hoping both to find Ky and to join the Rising. But Ky’s true feelings about both the Rising and the Society, which between them killed his parents, are more complicated than that. Shortly before running away from the work camp, Cassia also gets a visit from Xander, her official Match and her lifetime best friend. He’s clearly still interested in her romantically, and he also gives her an illegally obtained supply of the Society’s blue pills – only one of which is supposed to be in her official Society pill box at any time. She believes that they are meant to allow her to do without food for a day or so if she needs it, but hears from others on her journey that they are poison – either meant to put people into suspended animation until the Society can find them, or kill them outright. This felt like a weakness in the book to me, as they talk about the pills a lot, but it’s never clear what exactly they do or if Xander knew what they really do when he gave them to her.
Matched felt like dystopia lite to me. Sure, there’s the repressive Society, which limits all art to only 100 each of the best from the past, and determines people’s marriages for them. But all in all, Cassia’s pretty much in that safe bubble depicted on the cover, with most people seeming truly happy with where the Society puts them. In Crossed, the protective bubble is gone and the whole fictional world is much darker. Much darker sides of the Society are exposed, what with the deliberate massacres of aberrant children and all, but we also see the danger of living outside the Society’s very real protection. Cassia’s casual love triangle from the previous book gets more serious here, as even though she keeps choosing Ky, Xander seems to have more and more to recommend him. There is a lot to think about here, especially for teens, about things like the right balance point for safety versus freedom, and what love really means. Though there’s a fair amount of death, it’s not graphic, and the romance is very tame on the physical side. With plenty of excitement both in the simple survival aspects and in the various philosophical dilemmas (dilemmi?), it’s easy to see why this series is staying popular.