Matched by Ally Condie
Matched (Matched (Paperback – Trilogy))
Most of the novels that I read are ones that are written by authors that I’m familiar with, or ones that the publishers have touted. Every now and then, though, I’ll randomly pick something up because it sounds interesting. Sometimes that “something” is a book that I’ve stared at for a while before finally deciding to read. Matched is an example of the latter, and I’m sorry that I stared at it for so long before reading it.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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 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.”
This book has, inevitably, been compared to The Hunger Games. The comparison is both fair and unfair. It’s fair because both are young adult, both are dystopian novels, and both have a love triangle. There are a fair amount of similarities. If you compare the two just on these criteria, The Hunger Games definitely comes out on top.
But there is one very important difference between them, and that is in their portrayal of their society’s horrors. In The Hunger Games, the author makes no attempt to hide or mask the brutality and cavalier disregard for human life. This is, in part, what makes it successful, as it allows the book to be heavily action-oriented and to contain some in-your-face shock value. But in Matched, the society is portrayed as peaceful, desirable, and stable. Readers will be aware that there’s something that’s just not right, but it’s not visible for the greater portion of the novel. The tyranny and cruelty sneaks in, revealed only by degrees, and when it’s finally brought into the light the horror hits just as hard as if it were a knife in a young girl’s stomach.
I deeply appreciated this unique pacing. I was drawn into the story, and I was always uncomfortably aware of the dichotomy between the apparent logic of the way this society is structured and the questions that pop up as events unfold. The questions that are raised are ones that ought to make you uncomfortable too.
I was a little put off by how quickly Cassia seems to become obsessed with Ky, but it does make a kind of sense. In her world, the Society is infallible, and the possibility that she might have ended up with someone else just as perfect for her would likely prey on her thoughts. Maybe a bit more obvious struggling with that very idea would have set the state a little better, but it’s not a huge flaw.
This is one of those novels where the setting is just as much of a character as the people are. Condie has done a stellar job at building a future world under complete control of a single governing body. It’s reminiscent of 1984, but with (initially, at least) a much more positive spin. And one of the most cunning things that the author does is to make you see that positive aspect, even for things that take away the freedoms that we currently enjoy. This isn’t a novel that just comes out and says “These things are bad!” but instead shows you both sides and then shows you the consequences. That niggling little voice of self-doubt in your own head fuels the story just as much as the written words.
There’s not much more that I can say about the novel without spoiling much of what makes it so good, so I’ll leave you with this: Matched is one of the most skillfully written dystopian novels on the shelf. Rather than shoving horror down your throat, this one ranks with the greatest of suspense tales, where darkness lurks almost unseen until the moment of greatest vulnerability. I hope that you read this book, and I hope that it makes you think.
Also by this author: Crossed
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on November 4, 2011.