Things don’t always happen the way you plan.
Ally Condie turned to writing as a creative outlet after quitting teaching career to remain home with her young family. Her first attempt at a novel was soundly rejected by national agents. She revised the book and resubmitted it twice before Deseret Book published it. “Yearbook” hit bookstores in September 2006.
Ally published four more novels under the name Allyson Braithwaite Condie, but it wasn’t until December 2009 that people started talking about the writer from Utah with the “golden story.”
What has now become known as the Matched trilogy was snapped up by Penguin after a highly publicized auction. Before the first book even hit bookstores, Disney had bought the movie rights and “Matched” was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2010.
Fast forward to today, and fans are eagerly looking forward to devouring the third and final book in the series, “Reached.”
“Reached” is the continuation of Cassia’s story. Cassia is a teenager living in the not-to-distant future. She lives in a world where the Society makes all the decisions for people — what to eat, where to live, who to marry. But when Cassia is inadvertently “matched” to two different people — Ky and Xander — she begins to see the flaws in what she once thought was perfection.
Ally’s latest book is the culmination of years of work. And though Ally never had a formal outline for the trilogy, she says “Reached” ended the way she initially thought it would. Some of the lead-up scenes to the ending, however, changed quite a bit.
“To me, that’s part of the fun of the story — taking the journey along with the characters and being open to surprises,” Ally told Cracking the Cover.
Some of the biggest surprises came as Ally worked to develop Ky, Xander and Cassia. “I was surprised by different parts of each of their stories,” she explained. “And I knew they were each strong in different ways, but sometimes the ways they had to be and were strong weren’t always expected or planned out, but then felt right once I knew the characters more fully as the series progressed.”
The Matched books differ from other series in the way the stories are told. In “Matched,” Cassia is the narrator. In “Crossed” Ky’s voice joins Cassia’s. And in “Reached” readers get to hear the third voice in this love triangle as Xander is added to the mix.
“I knew after writing the first book that we needed to hear from Ky and Xander, too, if we wanted to have the complete story,” Ally said. “It was fun and challenging to add Ky in ‘Crossed’ and Xander in ‘Reached.’”
A key element running through the Matched series is the idea of rebellion. And while many are focused on that fight for freedom, Cassia hones in on what that freedom really means. The Society controls everything, even personal expression as simple as writing or drawing.
In “Matched,” Cassia discovers poetry. She learns to physically write letters. In “Crossed,” she discovers new paintings and drawings. In “Reached,” the idea of self-expression blossoms, and Cassia is the one to foster it. She becomes, in a sense, a curator.
“I have a mom who is an artist, and she often has shows in galleries,” Ally said. “I think that’s where the seed came from, and then also from street fairs and other places where people bring and share their art — I thought how strange it would be to live in a world where that wasn’t available. I think it makes life richer for all of us, and that seemed like something Cassia would realize and want to create.”
“I think it will be more difficult a little farther down the road,” she said. “Right now, even though I’m finished with the series, most readers still haven’t read the final novel, so it doesn’t feel over. I’m really looking forward to talking about the story with them — in fact, I can’t wait! But I do love these characters and their journey and so I’m sure at some point it will really hit me.”
Ally still loves writing as much now — maybe even more — as she did when she first started down this path. “‘Reached’ is my eighth novel, and I can’t imagine my life without writing now,” she said. “It’s something that has become more and more a part of me, and is integral to who I am and how I cope with and experience ‘real’ life.”
“If I could go back to 2004, when I submitted my first manuscript, I’d say, ‘It’s OK. This path isn’t going to go the way you imagined, and that is actually a really good thing,’” Ally continued.
“Without getting too cheesy, I have to say that I feel really lucky and blessed that everything happened the way it did. My time with Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain helped shape me into the writer that I am now, and Dutton/Penguin has been supportive of this series beyond my wildest dreams. And, of course, most importantly, the readers have been amazing all along. Just one reader who truly loves your story can make the whole endeavor feel worthwhile.”
The “Reached” launch party will be this Tuesday, Nov. 13, at At Rowland Hall, Lincoln Street Campus, in Salt Lake City. Doors will open 6:30 p.m. And signing-line tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
You can pre-order a signed copy of “Reached” through The King’s English Bookshop, which is sponsoring the event. Call (801) 484-9100 or order online. Orders will be available to pick up at the event, in the bookshop or they can be shipped. Be sure to specify who you want it signed to if you can’t make the event yourself.
*Read the complete transcript of Ally’s interview with Cracking the Cover. Check out Jessica’s reviews of “Reached,” “Crossed,” and “Matched,” and read Jessica’s previous interviews with Ally: 2010, 2011.
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