Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed was my most anticipated YA book of the year. Matched, the first in this series, was an addictive story that I devoured in a night. A novel about a girl's search for her identity in a dystopian future where every element of her life is dictated by the government, Matched struck the perfect balance between action and reflection, carefully revealing and unravelling heroine Cassia's world, and even using Do Not Go Gentle by Dylan Thomas to great effect.

And Crossed? Well, Crossed was a disappointment.

(The following review contains major spoilers for Matched and minor spoilers for Crossed).

Crossed picks up where Matched left off. Cassia is doing hard labour for the society, moved from location to location, and using it as a cover to try to search for Ky. Ky, meanwhile, has been left in the Outer Provinces, where the Society are using unwanted children as decoys to draw the fire of the Enemy. It's a promising start, but any excitement soon peters out. Very, very little actually happens in this novel. It is nothing more than a bridge book, moving the characters into place for the conclusion of the trilogy without any real plot or passion in between. The characters walk. They climb. They talk. They read poetry. They run. Then they walk. And eat. And climb. And talk. And read. And look at wall paintings. And walk.

Most of the novel's pages are taken over by introspection from the two perspective characters, Cassia and Ky. Condie includes several new poems for them to mull over, and also attempts to write in a poetic style that is unlike anything any teenager (or human being) would ever think. Unfortunately, I listened to the first half of the novel as an audio book, which made the overwritten and sometimes even cloying nature of the prose impossible to avoid. When I switched to traditional paper form, that problem remained, but it was joined by something even more confusing: it was almost impossible to tell the difference between Cassia and Ky's perspectives, except from the names that appeared at the start of each chapter. Sometimes I would get a page or two into a chapter before becoming confused and looking back to realize that it wasn't from the perspective I thought it was. Condie makes no effort to differentiate between the voices of her two protagonists. They both speak in that same faux-poetic, introspective style, with very little spontaneity or actual passion behind their thoughts and words.

Even worse, the addition of Ky's perspective made me slowly but surely grow to dislike him. Cassia is naive but intelligent and brave, making bold decisions and generally presenting a wonderful (if slightly by-the-books) YA heroine. Ky, on the other hand, comes off as completely self absorbed. His romance with Cassia reaches on Twilight-level heights of melodramatic, but it was his slightly controlling attitude that really bothered me. He keeps secrets from Cassia in order to control her actions, even going as far as burning a valuable map so that she cannot find her way to the rebellion that she wishes to join. All this, he claims, is to protect her from the inevitable disappointment she will feel when she discovers that the rebellion isn't all that she hoped. He cannot, of course, simply talk to her about this or allow her to make up her own mind. If offered only from Cassia's point of view, it might be more forgivable, as the reader could invent all kinds of concerned narratives and past traumas to explain Ky's actions. With an in-depth look at Ky's thoughts and motivations, he just comes off as a controlling jerk. Which is unfortunate, because I really liked him at first.

The theme of the pills was also continued in this novel, as Cassia learns some secrets about the supposedly life-saving blue pills and contemplates whether immunity to the red pill, which makes you forget, is an advantage or a loss. Throughout, the novel takes an staunch anti-pill stance. Don't take pills to calm anxiety. Don't take pills to help you keep going. Don't take pills to help you to forget. Considering our society's cynicism about so-called "happy pills," which many people suffering from depression and anxiety-related disorders (including, I'm assuming, many readers of this series) rely upon to carry on normal daily life, am I going too far in reading this as an indictment of our so-called "pill popping culture"? People do not need to hear that taking pills to help with mental issues is weak, and that good people, that heroines, can do without, not even from a book set in a fantastical dystopian society. It's a harmful message, and I'm disappointed with the prominence it is given in a series that has otherwise been so friendly to ideas of individuality and facing issues of being "different."

Sadly, the whole novel reads like an unnecessary and uneventful overindulgence on the part of the author. I've been recommending Matched to all and sundry for a year now, but after this followup, I'm uncertain whether I can view the first novel in the same light as I did before. I think it will be decided by the final book in the trilogy, which sadly will not be out for a year. I recommend that readers hold off on picking up part two at least until then.