Reached brings the Matched trilogy to its conclusion. The revolution starts, fueled by a plague that puts victims into a coma. The Society can’t pretend everything is just fine anymore, and the Rising provides a cure and starts to take over. But then the plague mutates, and the cure and immunizations don’t work. Everything spirals out of control, with Cassia, Ky, Xander, and a handful of supporting characters at the center of it all.
It’s a satisfactory conclusion, and it ends on a hopeful note. Lessons have been learned, and regardless of what happens next, hopefully people won’t repeat the same mistakes.
It seems to me that a book written in first person present tense ought to be relentless in propelling the story forward. Somehow, this book feels reflective—the characters do a lot of thinking and a lot of waiting, which seems to dispel much of the tension. With short chapters and the point of view rotating among Cassia, Ky, and now Xander as well, the book certainly doesn’t drag, but it’s not a breathless ride, either.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
This continues to very much be a romance that happens to be dystopian. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been a teenager in quite a while, but that got on my nerves a bit. The world is crashing around their heads, and they’re essentially worrying about sending notes to each other. Although love very much propels them forward, I didn’t feel like it was enough to propel the plot forward.
That said, there is an examination of different kinds of love. Xander is alarmingly well-adjusted about the love of his life being in love with someone else. Yet Cassia and Xander do truly love each other, despite not choosing to spend their lives together. It seems obvious that if things had gone differently, they could have been very happy together. But they grew in different directions and in the end they’re definitely better off as friends. Xander does find love, and it talks about the courage required to love again when it didn’t work out the first time.
Ky and Cassia never falter in their devotion to each other, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t loved other people in their way. Indie falls in love with Ky and he has a strong connection to her, but it’s different from what he feels for Cassia.
There’s some kissing. Hands touch. That’s really about it as far as physical affection goes, although needing and wanting each other is mentioned in passing.
There are many kinds of families and they show their love for each other in different ways. Frequently that means making difficult sacrifices of one kind or another.
The biggest thing that the Society took from people was choice—in many ways, they felt that removing choice from the equation made people safer and happier, and they weren’t totally wrong about that. When the Rising happens, there aren’t actually that many more choices because finding a cure for the mutated plague is most important. Therefore people are quarantined, pressed into service, and kept in the dark. It’s supposedly for the good of all, but it also means the Rising isn’t so different from the Society. However, eventually choice wins out—the hopeful ending is a vote for leadership. We don’t know the results, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that the people can choose their own leadership—even if they make a mistake—is a victory.
Disease and Death
The plague is pretty scary. We see plenty of people succumb to it, and eventually it affects Ky as well. This drives home the need for a cure, which is central to the plot. Ky and some others recover. Cassia’s dad and Indie don’t. Another character dies of a heart attack. The descriptions of the disease can be slightly graphic, but the deaths are mostly off screen. However, there is a strong sense of loss, particularly for Cassia’s father. Deaths from previous books still affect the characters in this book, too.
There is a sense of an afterlife. At least two characters who die come to say goodbye to characters who are in a plague coma. Dealing with death and loss is a theme throughout the book, but mostly in a philosophical way. It’s not bludgeoningly sad most of the time.
Still lots of secrets being kept, although now they’re mostly being kept from our three main characters so there aren’t awkward machinations to keep the reader in the dark. It’s hard to know who to trust, and even friends sometimes inadvertantly betray them, thinking they’re doing what’s best. Part of the hope for the future is that a lot of the secrets came out into the open—it will be impossible to put everyone back in the dark.
The Society is obviously problematic—we’ve known that since part way through the first book. The Rising seems like a good antidote, but slowly we learn that, not only aren’t they really much better, but they’re so intertwined with the Society that there’s really very little difference. Both keep control through secrets and fear. They’re constantly watching everyone and using information as a currency to get what they want. There’s a lot of doing really wrong things for possibly well-intentioned reasons.
The Pilot is supposed to lead the Rising and save everyone. Although there is a person who claims to be the Pilot, there are many others who might be the true Pilot. Many characters want to put their faith in someone, but every leader ends up being disappointing and imperfect.
Poetry, Music, and Art
Creativity continues to be a driving and healing force in the books. Stories, art, dance, music, and always poetry are important ways to communicate, express yourself, and heal yourself and others. The worst thing the Society did was to dispel creativity—there was no need to create because it had all been said, sung, written, and drawn already. Why repeat what someone has already done? Yet almost everyone still had art of some kind within them.
This serves as a metaphor throughout the trilogy. As people become more free, they also start daring to create again. Learning to write is one of the most freeing and powerful things a person can do. We know that Xander needs to heal because he doesn’t have art inside him yet. He doesn’t sing, he doesn’t dance, he doesn’t write. Until he starts doing those things, he can’t start to recover from everything he’s been through.
It’s through art that Cassia is finally proactive. She helps others by sharing her poetry. She encourages other people to create—in fact, this makes her seem somewhat dangerous and suspicious to the leadership of the Rising.
Science and Math
Xander is a medical scientist—he cares for the sick, he researches a cure. There are a lot of details about viruses and mutations in the book. Grasping all of it isn’t essential to understanding the book, but it’s there for people who find it interesting.
Cassia has always been a talented sorter. It’s driven home in this book how very mathematical and scientific that is. When the results aren’t turning out as predicted, she can tell that something isn’t being taken into account properly. She isn’t a healer, but her mathematical mind helps find a cure.
Overall it’s a satisfying end to a thought-provoking trilogy. At some point I became very aware of not being the intended audience, but I still enjoyed it. I think younger readers will be able to overlook a lot of the things that annoyed me. I’d recommend the whole trilogy for thoughtful and reflective readers starting at about 10, but it’s aimed pretty squarely at older tweens/younger teens. If your child is curious about dystopias but isn’t quite ready for the blood and gore of books like The Hunger Games, this is a good place to start.