Sunday, June 26, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie is yet another dystopian offering in a year crammed with Young Adult dystopia. Unlike other books I've read this year however, Condie has created a unique dystopian world that is well developed, coherent and presented in believable way to her readers.

The world Cassia lives in is starkly totalitarian with the Society deciding virtually every aspect of life in an attempt to create a perfect society. The Society chooses whom you will marry as well as your work position. Meals designed for optimal nutrition are delivered each day to your house. However, perfection comes at a cost both to society and the individual. Creativity is stifled with the banning of most knowledge from the past including the art of writing. Citizens must wear the drab clothing they are assigned.

The Society deemed that there was too much clutter and information. So t
here are lists of 100 Best of many things such as poems, books and movies. The Society also orders the death of its citizens by the age of 80 regardless of health. A final banquet is held with family and friends to say goodbye.

Strangely to help citizens of this perfect society cope, all members carry special tablets. The first tablet people carry is a blue one that supplies enough nutrients to keep a person alive for several days. At age 13, a green tablet for calming is added to the container. At age 16, a red tablet it added but it can only be taken at the direction of a high-level Official. Cassia doesn't know what the red tablet does.

Cassia Maria Reyes lives in Mapletree Borough in Oria Province, with her mother, father and younger brother, Bram. The novel opens with Cassia and her parents on their way to attend her Match Banquet which is required for everyone, once they turn seventeen. It is at this banquet that Cassia, along with others learns that she has been matched to Xander Thomas Carrow, for life. She doesn't have to wonder what her match will be like because Xander is her life long childhood friend.

The match is unusual because most people are not matched to someone they know or live near. Each person receives a microcard containing more personal information about their match. When Cassia views her microcard several days after her Match Banquet, she is stunned to see a picture of Ky Markham pop up. Ky moved into Cassia's borough 7 years ago. Cassia doesn't know Ky very well as he is not a big part of her social circle. He received his work position which is at the Nutrition disposal center. The work is hard and considered lowly.

The picture of Ky showing up as a match on her microcard leads Cassia to "wonder" whether Xander is her "perfect" match. During a visit from an Official, Cassia learns that Ky is an "Aberration" and is not allowed by The Society to marry. Although she is reassured by the Official that this was an error, Cassia decides to talk to her Grandfather the day before he is scheduled to die. When she sees him the next day, her grandfather encourages Cassia to "wonder" about the future and the possibility of her own choices. He also shows her a piece of the missing past - poems that never made it onto the Hundred Best Poems list and were forever deleted from existence. One of those poems, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas resonates with Cassia. She struggles to understand what this poem might mean and what her beloved Grandfather was trying to tell her before he died.

From this point on, Cassia becomes more involved with meeting Ky through her hiking activity. She knows Xander because he is her childhood friend but she now wants to learn more about Ky. She learns that Ky is not what he seems to be - an average guy who appears to blend in. Instead he is someone from the Outer Provinces who knows how to write and loves poetry. She wants to know how he came to be an Aberration and what happened to him and his family in the Outer Provinces.

Cassia gradually begins to understand that things are not as they appear to be in her Borough, in her life nor in the world at large. While everything is seemingly controlled by the Society, there are hints that the perfect ordering of life in the provinces is falling apart. Although we don't know the exact nature of the disorder, we know there is some kind of conflict between the Provinces and the Outer Provinces and that the Society is losing this war. Like the girl on the cover, Cassia feels like she lives in a glass bubble.

Both Cassia and her mother have to make decisions in their work stations that result in disastrous consequences for themselves and others. Cassia's mother keeps the Society's rules to save those she loves but the result is disaster for her family who are relocated to the Farmlands in Keya Province. Cassia's decisions in a sorting test result in the disappearance of her beloved Ky. It is his disappearance and the cover up by the Society that further convince Cassia that she must continue to rebel in her own way. Cassia decides she must try to find Ky at any cost. She tells Xander that maybe making her own choice will help others to have choices too about how they live.


Matched is well written and very engaging. The story is told in Cassia's strong voice as she struggles to make her own choices and forge her own path. Cassia is sensitive, intelligent and caring. She is devastated over the (meaningless) death of her Grandfather who was still healthy and vibrant at 80 when he dies. Matched is one of the few young adult novels where the parents are normal, caring individuals who try to do the right thing and who actually help the teen character.

Undoubtedly one of the most poignant and well crafted characters is Cassia's Grandfather. When she shows him a letter she has copied for him as a gift on his last day he tells her that while they are lovely words, they are not her own.

"You have words of your own, Cassia," Grandfather says to me. "I have heard some of them, and they are beautiful. ....I want you to trust your own words. Do you understand?"

He encourages her to seek her own path as much as possible. To aid in this he shares a special secret with her that Cassia gradually comes to understand.
Grandfather also encourages Cassia to try not to use the green tablets, telling her she is strong enough to do without them.

I especially loved the clean romance in Matched, which made it a refreshing change from the typical YA fare. The characters experienced strong feelings for one another but always considered their how their actions might affect one another.

Matched is the first in a trilogy. The covers of the novels will reflect the tablets and their colours. The first book, Matched  which has the green tone image of a girl caught in a bubble in a green gown is representative of Cassia caught within the bubble of the Society and its rigid and controlled structure. The second book, Crossed is due to be released November 1, 2011. It's cover will be blue and will feature a girl breaking out of the bubble, symbolic of Cassia's rebellion against the closed life within the Society and all its rules and attempts at controlling every facet of life.

Matched is a great book for those teens who love dystopias. I'm eagerly awaiting the second book!

Book Details:
Matched by Ally Condy
New York: Dutton Books 2010
369 pp.

No comments: