Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Matched, by Ally Condie

"A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality."
---John Lennon, via rock4ever95's Facebook

I think it's beautiful. And yes, I did just go stalk through weeks of posts to find it.

For the past two weeks, I've been reading Matched, by Ally Condie. My copy is an ARC, so I don't get the awesome cover that originally caught my eye in the store, but I finally got my hands on it, so I don't really mind.
On the cover of this ARC are a bunch of quotes from different people in the publishing house. One of them says something like "Readers who love The Giver and The Hunger Games will not be disappointed." This is true.

A summary before I get into my review:

A long time ago when Cassia Reyes' great-grandmother was young, the Society decided that humanity was over-cultured, so they began sorting through everything, to discard the things that were not "needed." Now there is only the Hundred Poems, the Hundred Songs, the Hundred Paintings, and the Hundred History Lessons. Data is gathered about everyone constantly, so their every action is predicted. Dreams are monitored. Food is assigned based on individual needs. Everyone owns only Plainclothes, Workclothes, Swimclothes, and Sleepclothes. 
Except for your Matching Banquet, when guys get to wear suits, and girls choose from the Hundred Dresses.
Sometime in the year after your seventeenth birthday, all of your data is analyzed to Match you with the person you are most likely to have the happiest life with. You receive a microcard containing a picture, a brief description, and courtship guidelines. The Society arranges supervised (at first) conversations-- and later meetings-- between you and your Match, until the Marriage Contract is signed at twenty one.
Cassia's Match is a rare occurrence. She's been Matched with someone she knows-- her best friend, as a matter of fact. But when she opens the microcard, a different boy's face appears. A face she also knows.

The thing I initially loved about this book is that the Society isn't obviously evil. The Matches really are happy. People really are healthier than ever before. The principles behind the Society are bad, of course, but the system actually seems to be working well.

Then Condie starts to reveal little problems here and there. There's the pills everyone is required to carry: one green for calming, one blue for emergency sustenance, and one mysterious red pill that can only be taken if an Official demands it. (The red pill is brilliant.)
The reader doesn't start out seeing all of the flaws in the system. We know they're there, because that's what books like this do, but we discover them along with Cassia.

Dystopia/negative-utopia is not necessarily my favorite genre (although it's definitely up there), but it is the genre that I've enjoyed the most consistently so far. And I think the world-building in Matched is very, very well-done. In fact, I just pretty much adored this book overall.

(And for those who know what I'm talking about, Cassia's grandfather gives Lester Trapp a run for his money in Most Awesome Old Person. I'm glad Trapp won, but...)

In a lot of books of this genre, the flaws of the system are discovered by stumbling upon a secret, or by finding a covert organization working on a rebellion. Or perhaps they're just obvious and the citizens are too powerless to do anything about them until the start of the novel.
But in Matched, Cassia comes to realize the problems of the Society just by experiencing and thinking. She comes to realize the problems through love, both romantic and otherwise.

The question is raised: If you've been set up with a person against your will but end up loving him/her anyway, is that love genuine? Does it still mean as much?

I enjoyed this book very, very much, and am eagerly anticipating the sequel. 
I'm a bit annoyed with the ending, though. Not because it was bad, but because a certain plot element is rather similar to something at the end of my own novel. And I thought I was being clever.
Actually, Matched reminded me of my own writing from early on. Cassia is similar to the main character of my own attempt at a post-apocalyptic story (although Matched is far better-written than mine), and there were several plot-things that were things I definitely would have done, or at least would have done if I'd thought of them in time (which is partially why I began this post with that quote--because he's the one that helped salvage the dregs of my own initial plot-- thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou).

But yes: Matched had lots of things that made me go "Ooh, that's brilliant!"

I definitely recommend it. Hopefully this review wasn't too all-over-the-place.

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