Some authors embarking on a trilogy of novels might find the focus of their story narrowing toward the end. Ally Condie, somewhat to her distress, found her narrative road widening the longer she traveled it.
Chalk it up to the Provo-based author's ambition, which has served her every bit as well as her humble demeanor.
She planned it that way. She stuck to her plan. And there's no trace of disappointment in her voice when she talks about her Matched trilogy.
Condie wrote the first installment from the sole viewpoint of main protagonist, Cassia. After The Society matches her in marriage to lifelong friend Xander, a slow-burning fuse of rebellion is lit upon the discovery she might also have been matched to the mysterious Ky. That journey takes Cassia into Crossed, the second installment, where she ventures into the Outer Provinces in search of her mistaken betrothed, banished to almost certain death by The Society. The story is rendered in the narrative voice of Cassia and Ky.
For the finale, Reached, Condie was adamant the story be told in all three voices Cassia, Ky and Xander as the state of The Society and Cassia's matrimony reaches its tumultuous, yet lyrical, resolution. It ended up as the longest of the three books.
"I just had to see all three characters through to the end, even if there were moments when I wondered what I'd gotten myself into," Condie said. "But then if I ever thought of doing it differently, the task would have truly been insurmountable."
But not altogether impossible. As Condie points out, the smash-hit phenomenon of her young-adult trilogy wasn't an overnight success. Matched fetched a reported seven-figure deal in 2010 from Dutton Children's Books, a Penguin imprint, as well as film adaptation rights with Disney. But that headline-making deal was preceded by years of hard work in the LDS fiction market before she tried her hand at crossing over to mainstream readers.
The former high-school English teacher, 34, was accustomed to, as she put it, "crickets and me clutching my water bottle" at signing and reading events.
Two years after the launch of Matched, Condie took a phone interview just days before hopping on a plane for a book tour through Chicago, Miami, Houston, Washington, D.C., and a handful of other cities. She saved the date of the book's release, Nov. 13, to a reading for home-state fans. Hosted by The King's English at Rowland Hall St. Mark's school, the event will feature a full-size prop taken from Reached known as The Bubble.
"It's not so much a story about who a girl's heart beats loudest for, but about people's place in society and what makes good leadership," said Margaret Brennan Neville, buyer of children's and young-adult books for The King's English. "She did a really good job in a genre that's usually about plot, not ideas, when you get to the third book."
In a write-up last month, Kirkus Reviews judged Reached as a "breathless finale" that "blossoms into a medical thriller." "Her protagonists are no run-of-the-mill romance triangle," the review read. "Prepare to stay up all night."
Book critics have remarked that the success of Condie's young-adult trilogy is buttressed by the age-old story of a young woman torn by competing men. The love triangle of Cassia, Xander and Ky has parallels with Emily Brontë's Catherine Earnshaw, Edgar Linton and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, William Collins and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.
What sets apart Condie's trilogy, said fellow Utah young-adult novelist Robison Wells, wasn't just that the author transplanted that model into a plausible future, but also rooted the story in a society saturated in control mechanisms and tests that remind young readers of their own world.
"Ally's books strike those notes perfectly, giving us conflicted characters who are torn between their own desires for happiness and the relentless, empty dictates of a possibly failed science," said Wells, author of the YA thrillers Variant and Feedback. "The fact that Ally can take such a difficult issue and then write about it beautifully is a testament to her skill."
Condie said she wanted her story of Cassia, Xander and Ky to grow in maturity even as the narrative advanced technically. Readers, some of whom are growing through their teen years with Matched, have become so involved that they send Condie emails and letters to lobby for Cassia's choice of either Xander or Ky.
"They argue a strong, persuasive case either way," Condie said. "But I really hope that seeing the story through three different sets of eyes will convince them that everyone in the story ended up where they need to be."
Ally Condie reading and book launch
The Provo writer will read from Reached, the third young-adult book in a series that began with Matched and continued with Crossed.
When • Tuesday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.
Where • Rowland Hall St. Mark's, 843 Lincoln St., Salt Lake City
Info • Free, with signing-line tickets distributed on first-come, first-served basis. Call 801-484-9100 or visit www.kingsenglish.com for more information.