On the surface, it’s easy to see why publishers were eager to snap up Ally Condie’s new series "Matched." In many ways, its a spiritual heir to the dystopian future of the best-selling "Hunger Games" series, which is all the rage in young adult fiction at the moment. (That and those damn sparkly vampires).
Both stories feature a central heroine thrust into a position where she is forced to question a totalitarian regime. In "Games" we saw how the games made our hero into a hero and a symbol of the rebellion. With "Matched" its a bit different with our hero, Cassia thrust into a role in which she must first begin to doubt the effectiveness of the society on a more personal level.
In the world of "Matched" people have very few choices. Your career is chosen for you, your food is chosen for you as is your clothing. The Society has even taken the guess work out of deciding what your favorite artistic expression might be by narrowing down the list of artistic endeavors to 100 poems, songs, etc. The Society also wants to choose when you live and when you die (people who live to their 80th birthday are euthanized to cut down on the burden to the Society) and when and who you will marry.
In order to make the arranged marriages a little more palatable to the population, an elaborate Matching ceremony has been developed. Should members of the group choose to be matched and qualify to be matched, teenagers attend a dinner where their match is revealed. In most cases, the match is done to ensure compatibility when it comes to having children (couples can only have children between certain age). In most cases, your Match is someone you’ve never met before but will get to know before you eventually get married.
The concept of romantic love doesn’t necessarily enter into the equation, though its pointed out several times that most couples do learn to love one another.
As her banquet, Cassia is matched with her childhood friend, Xander. Both are pleased at the match and have an advantage others don’t–their history. Cassia goes home to view her datafile on her intended and instead of seeing Xander, at first she’s given a profile and picture of Ky. Turns out Ky is an outcast and not allowed to be part of the matching process due his background and the "sins of the father."
Ensured by several officials that the picture and data on Ky was slipped by an errant worker who will be punished, Cassia seems to be content to allow the glitch to pass. That is until she begins to get to know a bit more about Ky through their recreational activity of hiking together.
Add to this that Cassia’s grandfather hits his 80th birthday and gives Cassia a forbidden gift–a poem not included in the 100 selected poems. Cassia begins to question everything in her world and slowly begins to think for herself, all the while falling for Ky and becoming distant from Xander.
There’s a lot to like about "Matched," from the concept of the Society to the journey Cassia takes from faithful follower to questioning rebel. As I read, I found myself thinking about top ten lists and wondering just how and why certain things would be choose and how others would be deleted. Its a bit sad to think of a world in which there were only 100 books to choose from.
The story also asks some interesting questions about the nature of love. In every way the Society deems acceptable, she and Xander are an ideal match. But yet she falls for Ky after seeing his picture leads her to get to know more about him. The book wants to ask questions about whether loving someone is inevitable or a choice, but unfortunately it comes up a bit short on giving any solid answers or clues about the nature of love.
Where the story is a bit of letdown is the feeling that we’ve seen all of this before. It’s a classic love triangle of the good girl choosing between the good guy and the bad guy. In this case, the bad boy has some intriguing traits but in the end its still the same thing we’ve all seen before. Also, from the first time Cassia sees Ky on screen, it’s fairly obvious where all of this is headed.
The book clearly wants us to root for Ky and Cassia, to the point that it makes Xander a non-character for much of the story. Xander is far too willing to just go along with things and becomes a bit bland. The story misses a chance to really give Cassia a dilemma in who she will chose.
Of course, part of this could be that Xander is so conditioned to follow the rules set forth by the Society. Throughout the book, references are made to three pills each Society member carries with them. Society members know what two of the three do, but they are only allowed to take the red pills when told to do so by a higher authority. The book does answer the question of what the red pill is and what it does in the closing chapters. But the issue is that I’d pretty much figured out what the pill did long before we get to the big reveal. And the reveal is meant as a pivotal moment to the story and to Cassia’s journey. Clearly meant as a shock moment, instead it came across to me as something I’d already pieced together in the story.
And then the story suffers a bit from a quick ending to a cliffhanger. The last third of the story feels rushed and works too hard to get Cassia to her cliffhanger. A lot about the Society is revealed in the final chapters and most of it is interesting enough to make me want to come back for book two. But where the first two thirds of the book are allowed to develop, breath and allow the reader time to consider the implications of various things, the final third of the story doesn’t lend itself as well to that.