Author: Ally Condie
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: November 2010
Hardcover: 384 Pages
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.
The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.
Stand alone or series: Book one in a planned series
How did we get this book: ARCs from the publisher, picked up at BookExpo America 2010
Why did we read this book: We both had Matched on our radars for a while, and when we got the chance to listen to author Ally Condie talk about her book at BEA this year, we knew we had to get ARCs. And, when November finally rolled around, it was time for a good ol’ fashioned Smuggler Joint Review.
Matched proved to be a veritable rollercoaster, even before I started the book. I first saw the cover months ago and really liked it. Then I read the blurb and thought it sounded too focused on the love triangle (and I do not like those) and decided it wasn’t for me. Then, I saw the author on a panel at Book Expo America and enjoyed what she had to say and it seemed that the focus of the book was actually the dystopian society that the characters live in and I ended up pursuing an ARC. Because of all that, when the time came for this joint, I will admit to having mixed expectations. Another thing to take into consideration when reading this review: I haven’t read a lot of Dystopian fiction and out of the few I did, The Giver by Lois Lowry is definitely my favourite and the one that is most fresh in my mind.
The premise for Matched is thus: at some undisclosed point in the future people live in what they perceive to be a Utopia. Based on their expertise at statistics, The Society runs and controls everything: from what songs you can hear, what movies you can watch to what artefacts from the old days you can have; from what job you will do to deciding how many hours of free time you have; from setting a curfew to sending pre-cooked food everyday to your house; from deciding when a person will die (at 80) , to deciding who you will marry. It is the latter that the protagonist is about to experience when the story starts: she has turned 17 and is about to be Matched to the person who she will eventually marry to. To her surprise, in a rare occurrence, she is Matched to her best friend Xander. This is a surprise because usually a person is Matched to someone they don’t know. Cassia is delighted because after all she has known and loved Xander for a long time and trusting that the Society has made no mistakes , she knows she will love him as a Match too. However, later on, when she opens the file that contains more information about Xander, the photo inside is not his: it is that of another boy, another boy she KNOWS: Ky. After that happens, Officials explain to her that errors occur, that was a mistake, Ky is not eligible to be a Match to no one and that Xander IS her real match, she can just relax. But then the seed has been sown and Cassia experiences mixed feelings which include a certain regret that she knows her Match already and won’t live through that exciting period of getting to know each other and the unsettling feeling that the Society may not be perfect after all. Then, her grandfather gives her a Poem and it is not one of the 100 allowed – it is an old poem, one that she should not have and then she is uneasy, because she likes those words and she wants to keep them but she can’t.
The premise is certainly an interesting one and I liked that the main focus is not the romantic elements of the novel but Cassia’s slow realisation that the Utopia is actually a Dystopia.
But. Even though the idea of a society controlling everything is obviously not new, it all depends on the particular storyline and its execution as well as the characterisation and specific elements of that particular dystopia. Unfortunately I don’t think Matched succeeds when it comes to any of those parameters. I read 200 pages out of its 366 pages and had to stop.
Where did it go wrong for me? Well, for starters, I was reminded at every turn of The Giver. The story starts the same way (with a public ceremony where the main character is going through an official Sorting or some sort) and it progresses the same way. In The Giver an older character passes on details of the past via memories to the main character and that sparks what happens next. Here, an older character passes on details of the past via a poem to the main character and that sparks what happens next. I realise that those two events are probably not exclusive to these two novels but since they both deal with Dystopias, it felt too close for me.
The world building is not very clear and I was confused with regards to the logic of certain situations. For example: we know several characters from Cassia’s point of view. Her parents, her grandfather, Xander, Ky and a few friends. I am now going to play statistics games because statistics are so important to the maintenance of the Society: 90% of these characters at some point break a rule and are on the verge of suffering consequences for it. If in a very small sample of inhabitants of this world, there is so much rule breaking how does that transcribe to the entire Society? How can this work at all? If a lot of people are breaking the rules, then a lot of people are in fact, AWARE that this Utopia is not an Utopia at all, thus rendering it effectively an autocratic government and so then how can it even sustain itself, how could it have started.
Another thing that didn’t make a lot of sense to me and that is with regards to the very premise of the novel. At one point, Cassia says that kids and teenagers are allowed to play kissing games with each other and fool around before being Matched. BUT that does not make any sense whatsoever. The Society pride themselves in their coolness and in their almost mathematical decisions. Surely a Society that know everything, that control everything should know how difficult it is to control teenage hormones, so why such leniency here when everything else is monitored?
But none of these things were actual deal breakers. The deal breaker for me was in the lacklustre writing. Even though it is certainly competent writing and at some points it has even beautiful turn of phrases, the majority of the book felt clinical, detached, repetitive and with more telling and exposition than anything else. For example, I am told, over and again by Cassia how much she loves Xander and how he is her best friend but I hardly ever saw any actual examples of that.
An example of repetitiveness comes from Cassia’s description of how she must empty of her mind to do her work as a sorter. She tells how her mind works when she is sorting in a long paragraph, by listing all the things she won’t be thinking of because she needs a clear mind to sort. This explanation is repeated three times in the space of 200 pages. I get what the author is trying to do but I don’t need to be told more than once. And THAT is exactly my main point of contention: the explanation of things that the Society or Cassia does or does not do, read more like an encyclopaedia than a novel and this sort of monotonous speech is all through the book, it is all spelled to me as though I wouldn’t be capable of understanding what is happening and “get” the horror of it all. A great example comes when Cassia talks about her grandfather’s approaching death ceremony:
“All the studies show that the best age to die is eighty. It’s long enough that we can have a complete life experience, but not so long that we feel useless. That’s one of the worst feelings the elderly can have. In societies before ours, they could get terrible diseases, like depression, because they didn’t feel needed anymore. And there is a limit to what rte Society can do, too. We can’t hold off the indignities of aging much past eighty. Matching for healthy genes can only take us so far.”
So this is why the book did not work for me. I reached page 200 and didn’t care one way or the other and I think the reason is the sense of detachment I had due to the clinical writing. I decided that I had given it a fair chance and put it aside. A DNF from me.
Although I did finish the book, I have to concur with Ana’s assessment. I too was excited to dive into Matched, and I too felt similarly disappointed and underwhelmed with the book in its totality, in terms of actual concepts, dystopian world building, writing style, and in general believability. Needless to say, I had sizable issues with Matched.
Like Ana, the most glaring and immediate problem with Matched is how eerily similar the book is to Lois Lowry’s classic novel, The Giver – which happens to be one of my favorite books, period. The family unit, the scenes in school, the selection night of being Matched, the omnipotent and ever-present officers, the regulation of color, clothing, emotion, vocabulary, and thought, the treatment of the elderly…the list goes on. The more I read, the more uncomfortable I felt with the entire book – because the best parts of Matched were cribbed directly from Lowry’s The Giver, and the portions where Ms. Condie attempts to strike out on new ground (sort of) fall very, very flat. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the text: overall, my biggest problem with Matched was in its lack of cohesion and believability.
Let’s take a step back and think about Cassia’s society. In her world people can: read poetry, draw (in primary school), read and write on their tablet/computer devices. There are references to concepts such as angels, songs, and even God(s). Ergo, people in Cassia’s society know about these creative and challenging concepts, right?
Someplace deep within me – Is it my heart? Or perhaps my soul, the mythical part of humans that the angels cared about? – tells me that I can
WHY then does Cassia find it impossible to write? Or inconceivable to draw? WHY DOES NO ONE CREATE? The concept of mimicking letters that every child in this society have learned is…what? Inconceivable? Apologies, dear readers, but I am not buying it. This society, supposedly having been in place for at least five generations has people that know who Sisyphus is, have access to poetry (government approved, but still poetry) and yet not a single member of society has ever considered to write anything down? At one point in the book, Cassia cuts and pastes together a freaking handmade card for her Grandpa. And yet, Cassia’s dilemma?
If only we still knew how to write instead of just type things into our scribes. Then I could write them down again someday. Then I might be able to have them when I am old.
It does not compute, and Cassia’s excuses for not writing hold no water. In comparison to The Giver – a society with absolutely no color or concept of music – Cassia’s world seems a bit ludicrous. On that note, the enforcement of rules in Cassia’s world seems incredibly lax for an evil overarching dystopia. Also, with the concept of God and angels and souls and all that, I find it hard to believe that everyone seems all hunky-dory with enforced euthanasia (whereas in The Giver, people believe their elderly are being sent “outside” and onward to a better place). There’s also some ado about tissue samples needed for…cloning in the future? It’s never explained (like so many other things in this society). Ms. Condie never really sets any definite parameters for her world – for example, what is the difference between Matching versus being a Single? How does one choose that life? And what does it mean for the people that choose these lifestyles? I finished the book none the wiser.
Ana’s touched on this next gripe above, so I’ll be brief, but I do have to agree that the book suffers a severe legitimacy problem concerning human emotion. The romance is strictly G-rated, with Cassia’s greatest thrills coming from the touching of hands (oh my!) or fluttering of hearts with each embrace or chaste kiss. The conservative romance angle would have been perfectly fine had it not been for the complete sanitation of any emotion or sexuality from the actual society at large. I can believe that Cassia’s world is rocked by some hand-touching. I can’t believe that in Cassia’s world overall not one pre-Matched child has never felt/acted on any kind of attachment, love, attraction, whatever. Once matched, that attraction is “allowed” and only then do thoughts of attraction step into the picture. This is ridiculous for a couple of reasons: it is human nature to form emotional attachments and attractions – to claim that prior to being shown her match, Cassia had never even subconsciously dreamed of being with another boy is as disingenuous as it gets (this is only exacerbated when Cassia sees a flash of ANOTHER boy’s face on her Matched screen and immediately falls for him – are human emotions really so malleable? Again, I don’t buy it).
And finally, I must mention the writing style – which drove me bananas. As Ana points out, there’s a TON of repetition, but more distracting was the forced attempt at poeticism throughout. Each chapter ends on an attempt to sound poetic and deep…but instead came out corny and bizarre. For example:
I decide to keep the envelope, to put Ky’s artifact inside before Iput both in the pocket of my extra plainclothes for safekeeping. But before I do, I open the case and watch the spinning arrow. It settles on a point, but I still spin, wondering where to go.
My heart is on fire and I have to keep my mouth shut tight so that I don’t try to burn these Officials with the flames.
I didn’t put the book down as a DNF as Ana did, but instead read the book through to the end, where the plot collapses in a pile of ludicrousness (in which EEEEEVIL manipulating officials have been playing puppet master all along, in a kind of incompetent, generic version of the maestros from Scott Westerfelds Uglies series). I did like the idea of Matched and the character of Cassia (meh, well, kind of), but ultimately the flaws of the book far outweigh any of the meager positives. Unfortunately, Matched simply did not work for me.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt:
Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night? My wings aren’t white or feathery; they’re green, made of green silk, which shudders in the wind and bends when I move—first in a circle, then in a line, finally in a shape of my own invention. The black behind me doesn’t worry me; neither do the stars ahead.
I smile at myself, at the foolishness of my imagination. People cannot fly, though before the Society, there were myths about those who could. I saw a painting of them once. White wings, blue sky, gold circles above their heads, eyes turned up in surprise as though they couldn’t believe what the artist had painted them doing, couldn’t believe that their feet didn’t touch the ground.
Those stories weren’t true. I know that. But tonight, it’s easy to forget. The air train glides through the starry night so smoothly and my heart pounds so quickly that it feels as though I could soar into the sky at any moment.
“What are you smiling about?” Xander wonders as I smooth the folds of my green silk dress down neat.
“Everything,” I tell him, and it’s true. I’ve waited so long for this: for my Match Banquet where I’ll see for the first time, the face of the boy who will be my Match. It will be the first time I hear his name. I can’t wait. As quickly as the air train moves, it still isn’t fast enough. It hushes through the night, its sound a background for the low rain of our parents’ voices, the lightning-quick beats of my heart.
Perhaps Xander can hear my heart pounding, too, because he asks, “Are you nervous?” In the seat next to him, Xander’s older brother begins to tell my mother the story of his Match Banquet. It won’t be long now until Xander and I have our own stories to tell.
“No,” I say. But Xander’s my best friend. He knows me too well.
“You lie,” he says, teasing. “You are nervous.”
“Not me. I’m ready.” He says it without hesitation, and I believe him. Xander is the kind of person who is sure about what he wants.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re nervous, Cassia,” he says gently. “Almost ninety-three percent of those attending their Match Banquet exhibit some signs of nervousness.”
I have to laugh. “Did you memorize all of the official Matching material?”
“Almost,” Xander says, grinning. He holds his hands out as if to say, What did you expect?
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: You can see the official book trailer, as well as a bit from author Ally Condie talking about her book, online HERE.
Ana: DNF – Did Not Finish
Thea: 4 – Bad, but not without some merit
Reading Next: Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin