"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 1, 2013
Reached: Compelling Character Development
by Erin Cowles

I'll get it out of the way: Reached, the third installment of Ally Condie's Matched trilogy, is not as good as the first. Really, how can you top first rebellion and first love? That said, you should still finish the series because Reached is a great book – lyrical, complex, and character-driven.

The trilogy begins with the start of the Rising, a rebellion striving to overthrow the data-obsessed and dictatorial “Society.” The protagonists, Cassia, Ky, and Xander, are all stationed at different cities and see this rebellion unfold in different ways. Its rise to power should have come from bringing a cure to a plague the Society can't cure, and things go seamlessly at first. Unfortunately, the plague mutates and the Rising can't control it either, so our protagonists are stretched to their limits trying to find both a cure to the plague and a way to create the kind of world they want to live in.

Condie alternates the story's narration between all three members of the love triangle. She loses some of the story's magic and tension through this choice, but it was worth the tradeoff. Giving each character a voice allows each character to have their own journey on their own terms. I loved that Condie's characters are dynamic, and they all grow and stretch while choosing to stay connected to each other.

I found all three character transformations satisfying. At the start of the series, Ky always strove for anonymity and kept his expectations low. In this book, he discovers his presence has the power to change people for the better. His actions can bring them hope and take away pain. Unfortunately, healing one person often means hurting another, and Ky has to decide who to save and who to hurt. He also learns to risk disappointment and take risks to let in the goodness hope offers.

Cassia expands from recognizing the transforming power of exposure to poetry and art into discovering the power of creating her own poetry and encouraging others to create as well. She learns that although the themes and feelings explored in the arts have certainly all been created before, it matters immensely that humanity has the opportunity to have these feelings and explore these themes on its own terms.

I especially loved gaining insight into Xander's character. In this novel, Xander utterly devotes himself to the Rising, convinced he's acting for a greater good. However, the Rising asks more of him than he can humanly give, and he discovers the Rising can't live up to his expectations of it. Xander has to learn to find his own compass and his own purpose.

Matched introduces a lot of juicy themes that I don't think were adequately addressed in the series, particularly balancing the good of the individual with the good of the majority. Still, Condie's trilogy offers a fascinating mythology to explore, prose that takes your breath away, interesting questions to consider, and great character development. I thoroughly enjoyed this series.

Read this book if …

  • You leave the theater after most romantic comedies thinking, “I'm not sure it is a good idea that these people wound up together...” The relationships left standing at the end of the book are powerful and healthy bonds between imperfect people that know how to journey together.
  • You can only handle so much bleakness in your dystopias. There is certainly loss and pain here, but also a hopeful ending.
  • You love beautiful prose. Condie's lyrical writing is truly lovely.

Target audience: Girls, ages 12 and up.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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