Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Review of "Matched" by Ally Condie

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on September 14, 2011**

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Date: November 30, 2010
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

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.

My Review:

Before I begin my review, I have something to say: I want all of you book-summary-writing people to pay close attention.  No, even closer than that.  That's right - right into the computer screen...



Seriously! The jacket summary makes Matched sound like it's the dystopian version of Twilight or just another version of Uglies.  If I were Ally Condie, I would take exception to those comparisons, because Matched has so many things that neither Twilight nor Uglies do not (starting off with interesting characters and a coherent plot).  Actually, if you want a decent summary of Matched that gives a good overview of the story, I would suggest the one on the Wikipedia page:

"For Cassia, nothing is left to chance--not what she will eat, the job she will have, or the man she will marry. In Matched, the Society Officials have determined optimal outcomes for all aspects of daily life, thereby removing the "burden" of choice. When Cassia's best friend is identified as her ideal marriage Match it confirms her belief that Society knows best, until she plugs in her Match microchip and a different boy’s face flashes on the screen. This improbable mistake sets Cassia on a dangerous path to the unthinkable--rebelling against the predetermined life Society has in store for her."

Jeez - some dork from Wikipedia can do your job much better than you can!! (or if you are that Wikipedia dork, why did you not do that better job in the first place??)  Marketing FAIL!

*deep breath* Okay, on to the review.

Just so you know, I listened to the audiobook of this because the wait line for the book at the library was horrendously long.  I don't have the actual book and searching for details in the audiobook is cumbersome (and my Google Fu is failing me), so some details will be fuzzy.  Sorry if that bothers you.

I have read reviews that Matched is basically an extended version of The Giver (which is one of my favorite books, period).  My response: Yes and No.  There are similarities to the Community in The Giver (the Society chooses your job, your mate, watches every little move you make and dictates when you will die).  However, Matched goes further than The Giver does - it explores the Society a lot more than The Giver does, even looking into different sections of the Society and its citizens much more closely.  This works in favor of Matched, because the main character is working things out on her own - she doesn't have a wise mentor like in The Giver. This is not a bad thing nor does it take away from the effectiveness of The Giver as its own story.  They are two very different stories set in similar circumstances (and written for very different audiences).  In fact, I would call Matched "The Giver meets The Hunger Games."  And you will hear no complaints from me on this.  This is what Uglies was supposed to have been and failed at.

Matched starts out with Cassia Reyes on the night of her Matching Ceremony.  She and scores of other kids throughout the country who have turned 16 in the past month have gathered in their respective City Halls where they will learn who the Society has Matched them with, based on genetic compatibility and the likelihood of such matches producing quality offspring.  This is genetic and societal engineering gone mental, but the book never says it outright.  Mostly because this is from Cassia's point of view and she doesn't have a word for this sort of thing. - the calories in the food are monitored as they are distributed, which means that the Society can and does give its citizens smaller portions if it chooses to do so (as it does to Cassia - SPOILER!)  But when Cassia gets her microcard with information about the lucky boy she's Matched with ...[insert jacket summary here].

So, the impetus for this story is that Cassia isn't sure who she's supposed to be Matched with.  But separate and apart from the only-for-teen-angst love triangle, the story also deals with the deal of Cassia's grandfather.  Now, I compare Grandfather in Matched to Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated TV show, not the movie).  Grandfather has been raised in the Society, but he also has the benefit of being among the first generations who lived under Society rule.  One imagines that he remembers a little of life before the Society (some details in the book led me to that conclusion) and he becomes a bit of a rebel.

The beautiful thing, however, is that Grandfather was very quiet about his rebellion.  Even his own family has no idea of the rules he has broken.  On his 80th birthday (which is the day that the Society decrees that all citizens must die - before they become too old and useless, you know), Grandfather gives Cassia a compact as her one allowed artifact and he shows her how to open a hidden compartment where he has hidden finds two outlawed poems - "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas and "Crossing the Bar" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  She reads the poems and the words of those poems make her realize that she can think for herself (it doesn't happen overnight, but the process of her character development is AMAZING!  "Pants," Cassia is not).

Oh, by the way, there are only 100 poems allowed in the Society.  Also, there are 100 showings (which I think are supposed to be movies), 100 history lessons, 100 songs, 100 books, 100 paintings, etc.  Everything that didn't make the lists of 100 gets destroyed.  I don't know if Condie has made up the exact lists in their entirety, but the few examples from the story suggest that the 100 whatevers were chosen to placate and pacify the masses  and lead them to accept Society rule - not kick them up into a rage or anger them against the Society.  But the two poems Cassia finds in her compact do exactly that - she begins to rebel within her own mind and question everything she's known in her life.

For the most part, the love triangle takes a backseat to the main plotline (DEAR SWEET GALLIFREY, THANK YOU!)  The first third of the book is made up of Cassia learning from the poems Grandfather gave her.  For a long time, I forgot why the book was called Matched because Cassia spends so much time deciding if she will go gentle into that good night or if she'll rage against the dying of the light.  But then the boy she was faked-Matched with, Ky Markham, sees Cassia reading the illegal poetry.  Ky has his own set of unique problems (and a whole list of reasons why he shouldn't be Cassia's Match - which I'll let you, dear reader, discover when you read the book).  Cassia and Ky don't so much fall in love as they team up to teach each other about new words, learn how to create things and more or less become a couple of little rebels.  Seeing Cassia learn how to create words of her own is a fascinating scene and it makes me think about how lucky I am that I can do that all on my own.  And I think about in the past and the present who don't have that ability.  They are told what to do and what to think - whatever benefits the Society they live in.

Really, that's the whole horror of the Society - nobody has a choice.  Well, we all know that's the point of a dystopia.  But Matched one step further - it highlights the fact that nobody gets to create anything.  Everything from birth to death is mapped out for a person to follow.  It is the ultimate Cradle-to-Grave society.  Everyone has a place and if you step out of that place, there will be Consequences-with-a-capital-C.  Nobody will be remembered (unless they perfect that cloning thing - which I think is going to turn out to be a sham) and nobody has an impact on the world.  It's a collection of people living not for themselves but for the Greater Good (tm - Hitler, Mao, Grindelwald) - working for the government machine and nothing else.

Bottom Line: If you want an engaging, thought-provoking, interesting dystopian story that's not as violent as The Hunger Games, then Matched is a great choice.  The next book in the series, Crossed, is due out this November. My prediction is, where Matched was more cerebral and we spent most of the time with Cassia learning about her new paradigm, Crossed will be more action-oriented and physical.  I can't say too much without spoiling it more than I already have.

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