December 10, 2010
Review: Matched by Ally Condie
written exclusively for SYTYCW Blog by Jeannie N. (@gojeannie)
"I did not expect to love his words. I did not expect to find myself in them. Is falling in love with someones story the same thing as falling in love with the person himself?"
Before I launch into the brilliance that is this story, I have to go ahead and put it out there: It's hard to read a story about a dystopian society without comparing it to The Hunger Games, Logan’s Run, or The Giver (some of the many examples out there of this genre).
There. I said it.
Admittedly, I did find myself doing just that (comparing it to The Hunger Games, especially) when I started reading Matched. (Yes, yes, I even tweeted about being "Team Ky" or "Team Xander" *facepalm*) They are marketing this book as the most highly anticipated new young adult series to come out this year and after racing through this book in 2 days I can definitely say that it has earned that status in my eyes.
The story is about Cassia who lives with her parents and younger brother, Bram, in a society where every major decision has been statistically calculated and made for you by the ruling government, The Society. Everything from what you eat, what your vocation is, who you will marry to when you will die. All for the sake of the betterment of the human race. The Society limits every inhabitants choices so much that even in school there are only 100 pre-selected books, poems and works of art to study. Young adults gather together in entertainment centers to listen to “The 100 Songs.” All other works are destroyed or labeled “artifacts” and are locked away in “museums.” There aren't any details about how long the Society has been controlling their people and no hints as to who or what is the head of the organization, but one thing is very clear: The Society has been at is a very long time. At least 2, maybe 3 generations.
At Cassia’s Match Banquet she finds out that she is matched to her best friend, Xander, a rare match for anyone to be with someone from their same province much less someone they grew up with. Rare but not a statistical impossibility. But when she goes to view her “FAQs about Your Match” (not what it’s actually called) she sees another face flash up at her. It’s Ky, the quiet boy who moved to her province under mysterious circumstances years ago and who she’s never really noticed. Until now.
Yes, this is another story involving a love triangle. Before you decide to flounce this book, because I can understand that you are pretty tired of being asked if you’re going to be “Team Obvious Underdog Guy” or “Team Yeah, It’s Not Gonna Be You Dude”, I want you to legit give it a chance. Ally Condie tells a story by weaving subtleties better than any Young Adult author I know. How subtle do I mean? I actually like to describe Matched as a story where nothing much happens but you get sucked into the world she created. You find yourself reading a tidbit of something and hoping that the book further expands on it later on because you are seriously DYING to know more. For example, all the citizens under The Society must carry a pillbox of 3 pills, blue, green and red. The blue and green pills are explained in the first few chapters but you don’t know what the red pills do until almost the end. Brilliant. Or frustrating. Depends on what kind of reader you are. If you generally like things spelled out for you up front then you may not enjoy Matched as much as I did, but if you like to be led through a story with breadcrumbs and whispers then you will love Matched.
Ultimately, Matched is about Cassia’s struggle to choose between Ky and Xander, but the bigger story is not a choice between two different boys, because The Society actually doesn’t give you a choice, but really this story is about choosing something that is not expected of you and what you would sacrifice to have the opportunity to do it, even if it isn’t the best or perfect choice. The Society prides itself to the point of arrogance that they know what’s best for everyone, therefore taking away whatever free will their people have ever had. They justify this by standing on the laurels of low/no crime rate, disease-free living and productive lifestyles. Their people are pacified by this and are forced to show respect to The Society that basically enslaves them. But there are those that remember the stories of the old way of life, like Cassia’s grandfather who has some of the most heartfelt and tender moments in this book. It’s these stories that get Cassia thinking about making her own choices, choices she never knew she had. Condie uses a Dylan Thomas poem as a device for this metaphor since it is not part of the 100 poems allowed and it is outlawed. Fans of Thomas will appreciate her use of “Do Not Go Gently Into the Night” both for the message the poem sends to authority and for the fact it is a well-known work that we all have pretty much taken for granted. New fans of Dylan Thomas will want to Google every poem he’s every written. We all have choices and we mostly take those choices and the freedom to make them for granted. Matched will make you think twice about that, I’m sure of it.
“And I know he understand as he looks straight at me, deep into my eyes. His lips move silently, and I know what he says: the words of a poem that only two people in the world know.”
One final word about this book. This is book #1 of a trilogy and no matter what the author thinks, the ending does INDEED leave you on a cliffhanger, so be warned! The next book in the series, Crossed, will be available November 30, 2011. Ally Condie also makes herself fairly accessible to her fans. You can follow her on Twitter @allycondie.