I recently finished a YA series written by Ally Condie. I found out about the series when putting together a teen book display called “Teens in Peril” at work. I wanted to create a display of “books like The Hunger Games” and after exhausting the library’s stock of Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner books, I had to widen my scope a little bit. I found a number of titles online and ordered copies into the library to create the display. (I was going to post a photo of it, but couldn’t find the photo I’d thought I’d saved – first world problems!!)
I found the first book in this series interesting and decided to give it ago after the display was finished. As it turns out, I really enjoyed the series. It’s a dystopian trilogy that focuses on the workings of the “society” – a government force that controls all aspects of its citizens’ lives. The controls that are placed on the inhabitants of the society are somewhat reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. All forms of creativity and choice have been removed and every aspect of your life, from birth to death, is carefully detailed and controlled by the higher forces. The society ultimately ensures a safe and secure life, but at the cost of your individual freedoms. The scenarios and ironically the choices that are made by the citizens do seem plausible and I think this is one of the things that make dystopian novels so disturbing. I found this with The Hunger Games as well, as the concepts are somewhat farfetched but simultaneously not a million miles away from our own reality.
As someone who has volunteered in archives, I found the inclusion of “archivists” quite clever. These somewhat mysterious beings run the society’s underground, allowing trades & bargains for important historical items. It shows the power of records and artefacts and the lengths that people are prepared to go to get what they need. I also found the conception of Cassia’s ‘gallery’ to be really important, despite only playing a small part in the actual plot of the series. I thought it was important because it shows how people can still be creative and individual in incredibly limited and uncreative surroundings. Poetry also plays a crucial role, as it is the initial subversion of societal regulations that we see in the text. I also found it quite interesting that Condie blurred the lines between society and rising. This reminds us how little we can really trust our governments and ruling forces, as different groups can often be exactly the same thing, just dressed up slightly differently.
My one personal critique of the series was that so much time was expended on the complex love triangle between the three title characters. I understand that this was an important, and being brutally honest, a pivotal plot point. However, I would have liked to have learned a little bit more about the society and to have some other plot points explored in more detail. I wish the focus of the main characters wasn’t always so romantically driven, although this is just personal preference and I understand the importance of untangling this particular point of the series. For other readers who, like me, aren’t massively keen on romance, I still think the books are worth reading, as the concepts, ideas and characters in the series are great. Just be prepared for romance being an important plot point!
On the whole, I found the series really enjoyable and thought that the idea behind the novel was pretty creative and clever. It raises a lot of questions about choice and control and the following two novels, Crossed and Reached conclude the story well.
Also apologies for no photos. The ones I took were all really poor quality and the books are now back with the library and checked out to someone else! So, hope the book jackets are alright!
P.S. My song for this post is Ariana Grande & Leon Thomas’ cover of Rihanna & Drake’s Take Care. Rediscovered this earlier in the week and I’d forgotten how much I love it!