Matched by Ally Condie
Has Hunger Games met its Match?
Ah, coming-of-age rites of passage. Who could forget their first kiss, their first date, and of course, their Matching ceremony? You know, the one where you get all dressed up, go to a fancy banquet at City Hall, and wait anxiously as the face of your Society-chosen Match, the person with whom you’re going to spend the Rest Of Your Life, flashes on a giant screen before you. Well in case you missed out on your own Matching ceremony, you can read about Cassia Reyes’ in Matched.
Cassia has the good fortune to discover her best friend Xander is her Match, and she couldn’t be happier. But when she goes home to review the flash card filled with Xander’s personal details, another face flashes on the screen – her neighbor Ky Markham. Cassia is confused. How can this be? The Society doesn’t make mistakes, or do they? Despite being assured by an Official that Ky’s face was indeed a mistake, Cassia’s curiosity about Ky builds, and she begins to question, for the first time in her life, the carefully controlled world around her.
Ky seems perfectly designed to derail Cassia from her complacent acceptance of her Match — and the quiet, uncomplicated life that unfurls from that acceptance. He was never meant to be in the Matching pool; he is an Aberration, a citizen who has been reclassified for an Infraction committed by his family. He came to the province of Oria from the Outer Provinces when he was young, and soon became a (quiet) part of Cassia and Xander’s group. Ky stays so successfully beneath everyone’s notice, that it takes the flash on the screen for Cassia to really see him. And for her to really see her world, too. She and Ky begin to share secrets and contraband poetry, including a long-lost Dylan Thomas poem that isn’t one of the Society-approved hundred poems (the entire world of songs and books have been whittled down to an immortal 100 by the Officials to prevent overstimulation). The rogue poem’s words become a refrain for Cassia – “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And she knows that in her world of statistics and sorting and the absence of choice, she can never again go gentle.
And here is where I have to give Ally Condie tremendous props for world-building. I was itching as though it were me, not Cassia, who was trapped in a suffocating bubble, as the Society was painted for me through her words. Cassia seems to appreciate its structure in the beginning when she coolly presents the rules she has lived by her entire life. The Society chooses Matches based not only on personality compatibility but on a biological level (which genes are a good fit), and over the years these Matches have produced happier, healthier citizens. Diseases like cancer are a thing of the past. Food, exercise, work and leisure are regulated and tailored to promote the health of each individual, and for most inhabitants, the system works. But as the benefits of the Society are rattled off by Cassia, you can see the sacrifices that pay for them, and the picture isn’t pretty. Workers are divided in such a way as to make them helpless without the Society’s guiding hand – for example, farmers know how to grow food, but not how to cook it.
The Society is an amalgamation of some of the best dystopias out there. The Community from The Giver also assigned professions, spouses, time of death, and even had nifty pills to calm certain anxieties and urges. The book also takes some cues from 1984 in the total invasive omnipresence of the Officials – from time to time Cassia is even forced to wear sleep nodes so her dreams can be monitored. And the eradication of history and culture, brought into gory book-destroying detail is a nod to Fahrenheit 451. The most frightening dystopias are the ones that take away freedoms but offer a shimmering façade of tranquility and peace. And it takes true courage to see through that, and to decide it is not enough.
Matched is a beautiful, lyrical ode to awakening. Cassia goes from cooly detailing her world at first, to pure passion and poetry as she discovers love (and unmatched love at that: the greatest form of rebellion). Some readers will be fans of the love triangle, which is well done – Xander is actually a really good match for Cassia, and she does love him. So you wonder: if Ky’s face hadn’t popped up, or if the tables had been turned and it was Xander who was forbidden, would she feel differently? Ultimately though, I don’t see this as a girl meets boy love story. Love is a catalyst in this story of a girl waking up and realizing she’d rather not go gentle, no matter the cost.
Check out the video trailer for Matched here: