Sunday, June 24, 2012

Crossed, Ally Condie

This is the sequel to "Matched". It was also really good. Ironically the same exact number of pages. Split narrative between Ky and Cassia (which I saw on a short interview with the author is pronounced Cash-uh) every other chapter. It read faster than the first. A little more action, though not a ton. More into the depth of the Society. And a better look into the Rising (or rebellion).


"Crossed" leaves you hanging the way "Catching Fire" does in the "Hunger Games" series, where you find out that District 13 does indeed exist and it's thriving well. Having experienced "The Hunger Games", and with Ky not trusting of the Rising (he doesn't trust ANYONE to be honest), I too am skeptical. Is the Rising just another version of the Society? A horse of a different color the way District 13 turned out to be.

But unlike the "Hunger Games", there is a third group of people in the "Matched" trilogy. The farmers. Not part of the Society and never have been, but not part of the Rising either. They just want to live their lives to the best they can and be left alone. It will be interesting to see what role, if any, they play in the last installment.

Although not nearly as emotionally charged as "The Hunger Games", it still poses great questions about governments who are controlling. Many people accepted such a Society so that they could eradicate disease and cancer and other conditions. They accepted that the Society would make decisions with their best interest at heart. However, in doing so, they gave up their freedom of choice. And who's to say that EVERY decision they make truly IS in everyone's best interest. Sure they could guarantee a wonderful quality of life until the age of 80, but that is when the Society decides that your life must end. So that you can also be guaranteed to die with family close because no one should have to die alone. It's better than dying at an unknown time.....or so they want you to think.

If you're looking for something full of action and suspense like "The Hunger Games", you might be disappointed. If you're looking for another view of a controlling Society that rips freedoms away from the people slowly and surely with a philanthropic sheep's clothing as a warning not to let that happen to YOUR country, then you will not be disappointed.

For those who are opposed to the violence of "The Hunger Games", this is for you (although I have my own personal opinions about the necessity of the violence portrayed as a vital learning tool-it's  not as if the Nazi's were exactly philanthropic just because they did the killing themselves instead of pitting the children against each other...). I feel it should be required reading for middle or high school, probably high school, so that discussions about politics and the role of government can be discussed as well as moral issues-such as the arranged marriage debate.

And the burning question posed on the back of the books: Can there be freedom without choice?

Count down to the third and final book "Reached" Is due out on Nov. 13

Friday, June 15, 2012

Matched, Ally Condie

Another dystopian love story. Why are we as a society so......obsessed? Or is it morbid curiosity? And WHY WHY WHY can the thousands or so readers realize that these types of things COULD happen to US if we are not CAREFUL about what we allow our law makers to do???

This was such a great read. It was like Farenheit 451, The Giver, 1984, The Hunger Games all rolled into one new perspective. The one in which the Society is not openly oppressive; well, I take that back, Cassia, the main character and narrator, lives in the City, which could be sort of like the equivalent of the Capitol from the Hunger Games. Where they have it so good, they don't know what the Society is really like. But in other ways, it's nothing at all like the Capitol. Or what we know of the Capitol anyway.

In this Society, all the choices are made for you, because the Society knows best. Based on good solid data and evidence from studies. Everything is predictable. Statistics are reliable. And when everyone follows these things like blind sheep, everyone can live a happy, 'fulfilled' life. Free of danger, free of pain, free of sickness. All you have to do is surrender......true freedom.

With the exception of Farenheit 541 and The Giver, I have read the other books within the past few years. The former I read in high school and I can still remember a LOT of it. How it made me feel. The impression it had on me. The latter I read in the 6th grade and it simply creeped me out at that age. I suppose I should read it again as an adult, but part of me is still creeped out. I don't think I knew enough about society and agency etc. enough to really appreciate it then.

Anyhow, there are common threads in which a government maintains control that I've noticed throughout all this type of literature.
1) Isolation-from other parts under the same rule. If you can't communicate, you can't orchestrate an uprising, therefore, the government can ALWAYS be bigger than its potential rebellions. United we stand, divided we fall. Requiring everyone to only know what they need to know for the good of the Society and not one iota more-and being expected that no one else needs to know what you do either, and expected that you wouldn't ask anyone personal details either-isolates people on a personal level.
2) Imitation-relationships that are fabricated so well they seem real. Being "Matched" to your "Perfect in every way for you" mate, 'applying' for children, being regulated on how many children you can have-in some societies, not even being allowed to be biological parents. Not being allowed to have romantic relationships at all. All of this also can fall under isolation as well.
3) Food Control-when the basic need of food and water are regulated, the fear of starving to death is a strong deterrant
4) Guilt for Ambition-that if you want something for yourself, you are obviously selfish for wanting it. Like Cassia once says "Who am I to try to change things, to get greedy and want more? If our Society changes and things are different, who am I to tell the girl who would have enjoyed the safe protected life that now she has to have choice and danger because of me?" And how people would just disappear if they started to think to much, know too much, be too ambitious even in doing their own job- like in 1984.
5) Reduction of knowledge-in 1984 there's is the only society in which the dictionary gets smaller every year. In Matched, there were committees that selected the One Hundred this and that-songs, poems, history lessons, books, etc. claiming that things were getting too cluttered. That having access to more than that is simply overwhelming to the human brain. When really it is just too strongly empowering and inspiring to allow into the public's grasp. Knowledge IS power. Just look at what the knowledge of things does for people!
6) A means to tamper with private lives-"Big brother is watching you" whether it's through ports, two way televisions (which by the way exist now and have brought up the possibility of privacy infringements), bugs, dream monitoring, personal surveillance, curfews, inhibitory drugs that suppress normal human appetites (The Giver), or memory (Matched with pills, 1984 with torture), etc.
7) The control over media (if it exists) and/or communication-In 1984, the main character's vocation is to be a 'fact checker' and make sure that the news of today matches the predictions the government made yesterday. He goes back in the archives to find the old predictions and if they are not congruous, he changes it and rewrites it so the government is always right. The contradictory original is incinerated. Leaving no evidence. They also erase the existence of people if necessary. In Matched, the Society controls what is played in the music halls and movie theaters. In the Hunger Games, all are forced to watch the games. In Matched, when things don't go the way they planned or anticipated, they try to cover it up, twisting and turning the truth to make it seem like they were in control all along. To make people second guess themselves. To try to put more trust and faith in their system. They only show one side to every story, and that is the one in which their system is the only one that ensures the good for everyone.

I most recently read the Hunger Games triology and while at first they seem completely opposite with each other, having one government rule with fear and violence and the other by coddling and 'caring' for its citizens, they really are more similar deep down. It was great to look at it from this angle in Matched. That a government doesn't have to be scary or force horrible violence, starvation. Sometimes just letting the government TAKE CARE OF US is enough to hand over enough power. Sure, I don't want the burden of having to do that, oh, YOU'LL take care of that? Sure, thanks! And slowly we are lazy and don't want to make any decision making for ourselves. Slowly we've turned over all our freedom to choose to someone who will do it for us. We trust in some unknown entity that we will be protected, fed, clothed, given a job to feel purposeful and fulfilled in our life, give us a mate we are guaranteed to be compatible with, even give us the gracious allowance to have families if we choose, eradicate disease to prove they have our best interests at heart. The promise of feeling minimal if any pain at all. Being safe. But what's the cost? This Society is the wolf in sheep's clothing. Benign to most-unless something happens to make you think otherwise-and most of the time it's not worth the high stakes of pursuing a doubt.

It's been said that democracy can only work in a society that WANTS it. And you have to want it bad enough that you are willing to take the bad along with the good. That you are willing to preserve it when it is threatened. Even if that means you have to fight physically for it. Even if it means you have to die for it.

Another quote I remember goes something like this: "Even if you choose not to decide, you have still made a choice." If YOU aren't going to decided, who do you want to do it for you? And even if you were to trust a person, or body of persons now with those decisions, will you ALWAYS have trust in that person or persons? What happens if the person/s change? Personal freedom of choice-for good or bad-is the only way a nation can preserve true freedom. This means that we chance being hurt-emotionally or physically. This means that there is no guarantees. But how could we truly know the sweet, without knowing bitter? Is freedom to make your own choices and live the way you want (within reason) worth this to you?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

I am hooked. The narrator is 11 year old Flavia de Luce, the youngest of 3 girls living with their widowed father. Flavia is an interesting cat enthralled with chemistry (which I LOVE! I absolutely adore chemistry) and particularly poison. When she stumbles upon a corpse in the cucumber patch outside her window early one morning, she determines that she will get to the bottom of it all.

Don't be fooled. She's not Nancy Drew. She is refreshing and intelligent, sometimes impertinent. I'm having fun coming up with my own conclusions and am anxious to find out if any of them are right or not!

Update: I loved the ending! Some of my hunches were in the right directions, and others couldn't be further from the truth. Oh, and I love the sibling rivalry subplot too. I found out there's a sequal!