Matched

At the beginning of Ally Condie’s Matched, the first book in the Matched trilogy, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes is eagerly awaiting her matching ceremony. It is at this event that she will first lay eyes on the boy with whom she is to spend the rest of her life. This ceremony will reveal an essential part of the Society’s role for her. You see, in Cassia’s society, every eligible citizen who elects to do so is matched at age 17 with the person with whom he or she is most compatible. This practicing of matching has essentially eradicated all diseases, as it takes physical compatibility into account; it is also believed to promote the happiness of the citizens, who are additionally matched on a mental and emotional level. Cassia trusts in this process, as she sees how happy her parents are together. She also trusts in it because it is the only way she has ever known.

To say that the Society has taken the fight out of its citizens would be an understatement. But then, the Society seems like a sort of Utopia, one in which everyone’s every need is taken care of. Jobs are assigned, meals are made according to the diner’s nutritional needs and sent directly to the home, and even death is scheduled, receiving its own special banquet. There are no risks, and, in return, there is a more stable level of happiness. To rebel against a society that provides so thoroughly would only mean ensuring less happiness and endangering one’s “freedoms.”

Anyway, Cassia has no interest in rebelling, nor does she see any need to. At her matching banquet, she receives the most perfect match imaginable: her best friend and neighbor, Xander Carrow. Xander is handsome, kind, and someone Cassia already knows extremely well; indeed, before the ceremony, it was her secret wish that she would be matched with him. Cassia’s life, however, begins to change in unexpected ways shortly after this perfect banquet. Her beloved grandfather is scheduled to die on his 80th birthday, and there is nothing Cassia can do to prevent it. Worse yet, Cassia has finally viewed the microcard given to her on the night of her match banquet, only to make a horrible discovery: Xander wasn’t her only match. The Society made a mistake. The Society is capable of making mistakes. And her true love may not be Xander at all; it may be another boy she has grown up with but never considered romantically, Ky Markham. It may be anyone at all.

When Cassia’s grandfather dies, as planned, Cassia realizes that she was not as prepared for the moment as she had hoped to be. She no longer trusts in the Society’s rules or excuses. She starts thinking rebellious thoughts, in part sparked by her grandfather, who revealed to her a hidden compartment in the compact he gave to her shortly before his death. This compartment contains a poem preserved by Cassia’s grandmother, a poem that is not part of the 100 poems that the Society has approved. It convinces Cassia that she cannot “go gentle into that good night.” She must think for herself. She must fight.

While the premise of Matched is intriguing, the execution is more lackluster, in part because it centers around a rather lifeless love triangle. The question of who Cassia is meant to be with, and if that can truly be determined at all, is an interesting one, but one that just as often drags the story down. Because Cassia has been obedient for so long, she has trouble behaving in any truly rebellious way; thus, most of her reaction to the Society is tied up in her responses to these two boys. Choosing to love Ky is, in a sense, her way of rejecting society. But, of course, it is difficult to become too invested in either Ky or Xander when they function so symbolically. Perhaps this is the biggest problem with the novel: none of the characters feel particularly real. They all offer up glimmers of humanity, but in such a restrictive society, true individuality appears impossible.

This may mean, and I hope it does, that the latter two books in the trilogy will better develop these characters, who are just beginning to step outside the boundaries of their stifling society. Based on the excellent book covers, which feature a girl in various states of bursting through a bubble, I can only assume that the action will pick up as Cassia learns to stand up for herself and the people she cares about. There’s no denying that Matched is a compelling entry into the ever-popular genre of dystopian YA fiction, but it has yet to prove itself, to me, as a trilogy with staying power. I can understand the appeal for teens looking for a new addiction to supplant The Hunger Games, but I have trouble imagining that general readers will catch on.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong — maybe it’s already bigger than I realize. (The film rights have already been optioned by Disney.) I’ll need to read the sequel, Crossed, before making any further judgments. For now, I would recommend Matched to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian novel, and is willing to give a chance to something with a more leisurely pace. The fact that this series is willing to take its time may just be a sign that truly great things lie ahead.

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