Wolf by Wolf

Are we on the cusp of a trend?  First, I hear about and watch the first episode of The Man in the High Castle about an alternate future in which the Allies lost WWII and Germany and Japan have taken over America and Europe, and then I read Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin which also shares that plot, though the stories unfold differently from that major plot point.

How we and our world would be different today if the Allies had lost WWII is an intriguing question, so I wonder if other books and movies will explore this creating a full-fledged trend.  In Wolf by Wolf, Yael and her mother are Jews sent to a concentration camp.  Upon arrival, the camp’s doctor takes special notice of Yael, an encounter that keeps her from the gas chambers, but being chosen to live may be even worse as the doctor has selected her for an experiment.  That same quality the doctor saw in her is what helps her survive both the experiments and the deaths of so many people that she cares about.  In an odd twist of fate the sick experiment also gives her the means to escape and she is taken in to be raised by Resistance members, though they don’t know Yael’s big secret for years.  Eventually, she reveals it to her Resistance family and they realize they now have a possible means to carry out an operation that might mean the overthrow of the Nazis.

Yael will enter a grueling multi-country motorcycle race posing as a previous year’s winner.  Not only is the race challenging with the competitors known to do whatever it takes to try to win, but Yael will also find that despite studying the dossiers of all the competitors, there is much about her competition and her former relationships with them that is not found in the files, so the race holds both physical and psychological challenges for her.  Her Resistance training concentrated much more on the former, leaving this young woman to try to figure out how to behave in situations she has never experienced.

Y’know I have always thought of dystopian novels as future authoritarian societies and governments such as the Factions in Divergent or the city-states in The Hunger Games or the Society in Matched, but this novel actually takes place right after the end of the war in the 1950’s.  So not only does it take place in the past, but rather than creating a whole new world and society, it takes one that really existed, Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan, and simply extrapolates from those existing facts.  So many authors of this genre spend a good part of their book on the world building, yet in this one Ryan Graudin doesn’t need to do that as we all studied WWII in school, she can devote more time to building the characters instead.  In the case of Yael this is such a gift as the character is both fascinating and heartbreaking.  In addition to this novel being part of the dystopian genre, it also has some supernatural elements, and normally I don’t like that kind of mixing, but in it works and it serves a purpose, the story line would not be possible without this additional element.

Reached

Although The Hunger Games was the book that truly set me on the path as a fan of dystopian YA fiction, Ally Condie’s Matched was the next book I read, so I am sad today to be writing a book review of Reached, the final book in the Matched Trilogy.   Reaching the end of a series is like saying goodbye to a dear friend and I think that the author Ally herself felt that way as there is a rather melancholy bittersweet undertone to this final book in the series.  It’s that feeling you get when you leave high school, when you are grown up and leave friends and loved ones behind as you go forward into a new life.  The characters of the trilogy have been tempered by trouble and have matured into adulthood.

Cassia and Ky have returned to the Society to play a role for the Uprising. Xander who had remained in the Society in Crossed, has become an Official, though he too belongs to the Uprising.  Once again the three are separated from each other and all must walk their own path to the future.

Xander, a physic attends the Welcome Ceremony for a newborn; he and other members of the Uprising have been giving all children the Rising immunizations, rather than the Society’s which means that the new generation will grow up immune to the red tablet so that the Society can’t take their memories of the truth.  It’s during this particular ceremony that Xander sees the sign that the rebellion won’t wait for the children to grow into a new uncontrolled generation.

Cassia has been sent to Capital to continue her work as a sorter, but she also works on the side as a trader with the Archivists, the only way she can pay to send messages to her family and the two most important men in her life. 

Ky, along with pal Indie from Crossed, has become a pilot for the Uprising, though the only reason he is doing that is for Cassia.  He isn’t sure he can believe in or trust the Pilot, the leader of the Uprising. 

The story is alternatively narrated by each of the three characters.  While a love triangle in other books is usually not very successful as the balance is always tipped towards one of the participants, Condie does a good job of balancing out the strengths and weaknesses of both Ky and Xander as suitors for Cassia.  In fact, this triangle rounds out the characters as three-dimensional as the feelings they have about each other and the situation are complicated and painful.  There is a maturity to the romance that is missing in most other YA books. 

An outbreak of disease is the catalyst for the Uprising to supplant the Society, as the Uprising are able to provide people with a cure, but the means, motives and leadership behind the Uprising are more muddied than expected and each of the main characters are pulled into a situation that begins to spiral out of control.  Ky flys the cure into the infected cities, Cassia had started a Gallery to give people the freedom to share art, songs and poems and Xander has been curing the victims of the disease until some patients present new symptoms which bring the three heroes together in a race to save civilization. 

Ally Condie is speaking as much to herself as her readers when she says, “…even though all cannot be as everyone would wish, there is satisfaction in knowing that something good and right and true was part of you…There is ebb and flow.  Leaving and coming.  Fight and fall.  Sing and silent. Reaching and reached.”  Goodspeed Cassia, Ky and Xander.

 

The Rise of the One Word Titles

Why are so many YA dystopian book titles one word?? For the past two years for my fiction reading I have been reading YA dystopian fiction almost exclusively, so maybe this is a trend in other genres too and I haven’t noticed.    From the Chemical Garden series (Wither, Fever, Sever) to Ally Condie’s (Matched, Crossed, Reached   ) and  Anne Aguirre (Enclave, Outpost, Horde) among many others  there seems to be a strong naming trend in YA dystopian fiction.

It’s almost ironic that these books, so complex in terms of world building and the emotions of the characters are summed up by their one word titles.   Where did this trend start and are the YA authors aware that they are following the trend?    Do they ever agonize after writing and coming up with the title for the first book, how they will find a name for the next?

Since we are talking about post-apocalyptic fiction here, why haven’t any YA dystopian authors used these for their series? Distressed, Devastated, Screwed

Crossed

Crossed by Ally Condie is the sequel to Matched.  Unlike the first book, this one is set in the Outer Provinces on the farthest frontiers away from the Society.  Maybe it’s the setting, but this book had a completely different feel than the first one.   In Matched there were some chilling glimpses of what happened behind the curtains of the Society, but this book directly shows the cruelty and violence of which the Society is capable.  Maybe that is part of the reason I didn’t like this sequel as well as the original, I prefer the subtler threats of the first book and trying to figure out how far the Society was willing to go to achieve its goals.    Also, this book seemed to be focused more on escape, I liked in the first book that the main characters were rebelling from the Society from within the Society, that to me was more exciting and risky even than the physical dangers of the wilderness in this book.  The menace just seems a bit too far removed.

This new story follows Cassia as she does whatever she must to try to find Ky.  Along the way she meets an Aberration named India.  The first half of the book is devoted to Cassia’s search.  In the meantime, Ky has his own storyline independent of Cassia, unaware that she is trying to find him.   He is one of the decoys, young boys sent out by the Society to impersonate villagers, but really just used for bait to draw the fire of the rebels.  These chapters about Ky and another boy he bonds with, Vik, reminded me of the movie “Platoon.”  Things are grim enough that it causes the reader to have doubts about the character of Ky, it’s hard to understand that after everything he has experienced that he is so reluctant to find the Pilot and become a part of the rebellion.  His only plan seems to be to contact or find Cassia, but where does he think they can go if they are able to come together again?  Although Ky seemed like the better choice for Cassia in the first book, in this second book Xander, her match, does seem like the Society in this particular instance was right.    I don’t know if this was the author’s clever intent, but Xander who seemed to be the almost too safe choice, starts looking more interesting as the book progresses, even if he only appears in the action briefly.     It’s not just me who feels this way; Cassia herself appears to have some doubts about Ky and about what she wants from her life.

The fact that this book is the second book within a trilogy puts it in a tough position.  The first book in a trilogy is always exciting because it introduces a world and its characters.  The second book usually serves to further the plot and either develop the same characters or introduce new ones.  The third book picks up steam as it races along toward the climax and conclusion of the story.   So for the purpose this book serves, it’s ok, but I didn’t find myself staying up late to read it through.  I am looking forward to the final book in the series to see what choices each of the main characters makes about their futures, how the love triangle is resolved and to learn more about the Pilot and the resistance.

Matched

matched

In the Internet age we have grown accustomed to the idea of finding our match online, screening for ‘the One’ based on the data provided.  The novel Matched by Ally Condie takes this idea a step further.  Matched takes place in a world where the Society has complete control over people’s lives, which include deciding who someone will love.  Who people will marry is decided by the Society’s Officials who have made selections based on optimal results.  The administrators of the Society don’t just use analysis and probability to make love matches, they also determine what career someone will have and they have even whittled down art and poetry to what they have selected as the Hundred Best.

The marriage matches are revealed during a formal ceremony with overtones of prom; the prospective matches dress in formalwear and enjoy a luxurious meal.  When their name is called, they stand and their match is revealed via a screen because the matches may come from different provinces.  Each person matched is given a data card with their match’s photo and information to learn more about the person they will be expected to marry.  It doesn’t seem as if the main character, Cassia, will need the data as it turns out that her perfect match is her childhood best friend Xander who even lives in her neighborhood.  Nevertheless, after the ceremony she dutifully looks at the microcard and instead of seeing a photo of Xander, another face appears.  The face belongs to Ky, a boy with a mysterious past who doesn’t fit into this perfect Society.

Cassia is told that the image was a mistake, but she begins to doubt whether the Society is so perfect after all.  Her doubts grow after she is gifted with a poem by her grandfather before his ‘release.’  The poem is not one of the Chosen Hundred and suddenly she and her family are at risk by a Society that will not tolerate any ‘aberrations’, particularly the Aberration called Ky.

I find it interesting that there has been a spate of books recently about dystopian societies.  Unlike the action of the Hunger Games series, Matched focuses more on the intellectual questioning and awakening of Cassia, though there is always a sense of menace and a hint of violence by the officials of the Society.  Are these books a reaction to our current society where personal liberties and freedom sometimes feel like they are taken to the extreme?  Do we sometimes long for someone who will use critical thinking and make the hard decisions for us?  After all, how many of us have chosen unwisely in relationships and career?  Yet, once set on that path, where would a society draw the line?  In a society based on rational thinking and probability, what makes the Society in this book qualified to judge the best art or literature, which is much more subjective than matching careers?  The book implies that this kind of thinking is a slippery slope.  It also raised interesting thoughts about government control in a time when one of the biggest public debates has been the size and role of our own government and how much control it should have over the lives of citizens.

Some have criticized the romantic triangle in the book for not fleshing out Cassia’s two matches, however, I think that’s short-sighted.  First, I think initially the two men in her life serve the main plot point which is her awakening to the disadvantages of the Society she has grown up in.  I also think her feelings reflect experiences we have had in real life relationships.  The friendship which grows into love, versus the mysterious stranger who offers you the opportunity to be someone different than you have always been.  Love is never as much about the other person as it’s really about ourselves, what we learn and the choices we make.