Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

 

‘On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia meets her Match. Society dictates he is her perfect partner for life. 

Except he’s not.

In Cassia’s society, Officials decide who people love.

How many children they have.

Where they work.

When they die.

But as Cassia finds herself falling in love with another boy, she is determined to make some choices of her own. And that’s when her whole world begins to unravel…’

There are some mixed reviews circulating about Matched – some found the lack of action disappointing, others, like myself, enjoyed the quieter pacing of this one. Reading it felt a bit like observing the calm before the storm. For a dystopian, there are barely any fighting scenes or signs of rebellion in this first part of Cassia’s story – while this might not sit so well with some readers, overall I enjoyed the slow build up that Condie has offered up here.

Instead, we really get to really explore Cassia’s world, focusing on her life and that circumstances that lead her to first start questioning the Society. Weaved throughout the story was a ton of information regarding the many rules, regulations and restrictions imposed upon the characters; with technology that can predict everything a person will do based on statistics and careful, life-long monitoring, as an outsider looking in, any actions or choices made by the characters rarely felt like their own.

Meals are basic, each one individually prepared for them depending on nutrients required per the day’s activities and delivered at a certain time – it is (of course), forbidden to share food (which straight away made me suspicious). Every house has a ‘Port’, which gives everyone directions for the day – and I’m not entirely sure it can’t be used to listen in on conversations either. All household rubbish goes into an incinerator, which is monitored. Dreams are monitored. Only those who live in a house (and Officials) may enter that home – so visitors are not permitted. No running in allowed (in fact outdoor activities seem to be extremely restricted altogether). Free time is limited and organized for you. There is a city curfew. History has basically been wiped from existence – only a Hundred Poems, a Hundred Stories, a Hundred Paintings etc (naturally, all chosen by the Society) have been kept, the rest destroyed as culture was deemed ‘too cluttered’. Then there are the mysterious Pills everyone must carry and take without question when ordered. Society matches you to your future partner scientifically, to ensure high fertility and ‘good’ genes. Society dictates when you die – on your 80th birthday – the optimum age before your health declines. Matched paints a detailed picture of an isolated and rigidly controlled environment.

Condie does an excellent job of creating a seemingly calm, peaceful, logical, Society, dedicated to the health and welfare of all it’s citizens, with a sinister undertone and often chilling results. We don’t yet know all that much about the Society (and I would say this is where Matched falls down) – when and why it first came into power,  how the people outside the Society live and more importantly, who, is actually in charge, behind the scenes. Condie has intentionally (I hope) left these questions unanswered to be explored further in books two and three, as Cassia presumably discovers the true motives behind the Society and the world she has grown up in. But I can’t help thinking Matched would have been a fantastic first novel if the world building had been covered in greater detail.

Cassia isn’t what I would describe as the classic strong heroine – she is a regular 17-year-old girl, quite quiet with every-day thoughts, concerns and hopes for the future. When faced with evidence that all is not right with the world she lives in she is confused, frightened and angry. It takes a long time for her to begin to question everything around her. This definitely made Cassia a more believable character to me – if making the pace of the story a little slower than I liked at times. I found it fitting that it was love for her grandfather, her discovery and growing love of forbidden words and poetry, and her developing feelings for someone not chosen by Society, that gave Cassia the courage to risk everything for her freedom to choose, despite being terrified of the consequences. Hopefully we will get to see a more active Cassia in Crossed. 

Another YA book, another love triangle! I know what you’re thinking – why is there always two guys fighting over one girl? But I think it works pretty well here (though I do wish that authors would switch it up a bit). I liked both of the male characters and their romantic potential. Ky and Xander – though clearly defined right now in their roles as ‘main romantic attraction’ and ‘platonic friend – potentially more’ – are both well written and I’m not so sure who Cassia will end up with eventually – if either (now that would make a change!). They are both strong characters who we have only just scratched the surface of in Matched. There is a lot of potential for both to grow into their own in the following books. I liked Ky a lot, and could understand completely why Cassia falls for him. Xander was sweet but slightly bland, (more to do, I think, with how Cassia views him then anything else) – we don’t get much of a chance to get to know him – until the end, when suddenly he becomes a lot more interesting! I get the feeling (and sure hope) that he is going to play a major role as part of the rebellion in Crossed, giving Ky some competition and a great story-line of his own independent of his attachment with Cassia. Ky was an intriguing character – I loved how we learnt fragments of his past, his life in Society as an Aberration, how he teaches Cassia to write, how he warns and helps her even before they become close. Xander also risks himself to help Cassia and her family and it was refreshing to have two good guys, but very different with a different view of the world due to their experiences.

The relationship between Ky and Cassia was subtle and well paced – often there seems to be little reason for why two people fall in love in YA other than superficially. The reasons Cassia is drawn to Ky, how she falls for him and why she loves him felt realistic. There is an instant connection between them but their relationship is built on a shared love of poetry, the way they see the world, their hopes, their family, their interests. They each learn from one another and inspire one another. Both Ky and Cassia grow and are different people by the end of Matched because of knowing one another. At this point, I don’t think a romantic relationship with Xander would have challenged Cassia’s character in the same way. I would have liked to have seen a few more ‘swoon-y’ scenes amidst all the longing and tension and quiet moments  (she is a teenager in love for the first time after all!) – especially since Ky is clearly going to be the main reason why Cassia eventually risks her life and decides to go against the Society. But I can see why Condie chose not to take their relationship too far, too fast – Ky and Cassia are cautious and hesitant with each other because of the danger they are in and the relationships they have been exposed to – couples who are matched by Society (more for breeding purposes then anything else) and regulated every step by Officials. Attraction, desire, flirting – all of this is alien to them.

Matched is well constructed and in places, beautifully written. It is by no means perfect, it is a slow book and a lot of people will be put of by the pacing, the lack of answers about the Society, the world-building and dislike the love triangle. But the narration flowed nicely and the ending in particular is very strong. I personally found it a very enjoyable read and cannot wait to find out what happens next. I especially loved that Cassia found freedom in words. As a reader (and an artist), the censorship of literature, poetry and art by the Society gave me an overwhelming feeling of loss for these characters. I could relate perfectly to how Cassia felt after reading that forbidden poem for the first time. The characters were well fleshed out; I am eager to learn more about them all, and I sense quite an intricate plot in the making (lets hope I’m proved right!) In many ways, this almost felt like a prequel to the main story, and I suspect the action will begin in book two where we learn more about what exactly is going on. For a dystopian there wasn’t a really sense of suspense or tension or even great danger (yet) – which was a shame and the romance needed a little something more to set up the next book. But overall, Matched was a strong start to what could potentially be an excellent dystopian trilogy.

‘The scene is overdone. It’s ludicrous, especially after the quiet scene at Grandfather’s that I witnessed on Sunday. This isn’t what death looks like. One of the actors falls to the ground dramatically. Garish red bloodstains cover his clothing. I hear Xander give a snort of laughter next to me, and I know that he feels the same way I do. Feeling bad that I’ve ignored Ky for so long, I turn to him to share the joke. 

He is crying. Without a sound.’

~ page 90.

‘What poems could be worth losing everything for?

The very first line stops me in my tracks and brings tears to my eyes and I don’t know why except that this one line speaks to me as nothing ever has.

“Do not go gentle into that good night.”

I read on, through words I do not understand and ones that I do. I know why it spoke to Grandfather:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” 

And as I read on, I know why it speaks to me:

“Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightening they

Do not go gentle into that good night.” ‘

~ page 96.

Recommended Reading Age: 13+

8/10

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