Matched: A YA novel that piques curiosity

I picked up Matched mainly because of Entertanment Weekly’s glowing review at the back cover that it is “The Hottest YA title to hit bookstores since The Hunger Games.” Being a big fan of dystopian romances and an even bigger fan of the Hunger Games trilogy, I decided to give former high school English teacher Ally Condie’s debut novel a shot .

Seventeen year old Cassia Reyes was just like any other girl in her society– a society where any excess is forbidden, where only a hundred films, a hundred poems, a hundred songs, a hundred books remain to keep man’s history of chaos from happening again. All her life, Cassia was content in having things chosen for her and finding her mate was no different. When Society picked her best friend, handsome, kind and dependable Xander Carrow as her perfect match at her Matching Banquet (where all eligible youth are simultanously paired off throughout the country), she is relieved and elated. She knew Xander better than anyone and unlike her peers, she doesn’t have to go the extra mile of traveling and meeting their matches in an awkward first date chaperoned by an Official. By all means, she should be the envy of every girl in her Second School. But just as she was about to check the standard issue microcard containing Xander’s information, another face pops on the screen as her match– a childhood friend named Ky Markham, an adopted child whom society deemed ineligible for a match because of infractions committed by his real parents, a boy so surrounded by mystery that nobody really knows where he came from. As Cassia grows more curious about Ky, Society’s watchdogs begin to take a deeper interest in the two as they begin to discover more about the true cost of the “perfect” society being “enjoyed” by its citizens.

I think that comparing Matched to The Hunger Games would be thoroughly unfair for the former because their similarity ends in both being a dystopian romance. Hunger Games employs a grittier approach that boggles the senses whereas Matched is the exact opposite. It describes a society so organized that all its citizens are guided by strict rules. It is a different form of terror where the mere thought of relocation or getting ostracized is enough of a deterrent for its people to steer away from the dictates of its Officials.  Condie’s Society is actually more reminiscent of the structure Lois Lowry’s The Giver, only less mysterious and brooding. The plot is familiar in most novels of the same genre — that people who know nothing, and are unaware of injustice happily follow the rules blindly, but when they begin to know something more than what they do, they are empowered into taking action. Matched is no different.

More than the love story, the book is intriguing in the sense that it gets the readers to wonder what it would be like to read only 100 books in their lifetime, listen to the same songs over and over, look at the same artwork, and eliminate all new creations just as soon as they are made. I imagine it would totally suck, like for example, a member of society has tastes dissimilar to the sorters who chose the 100 particulars that would remain. What beauty would he appreciate in his lifetime? Or the thought of not knowing how to form one’s own words (as with the Matched’s Society) but only having a pool of pre selected words in which to form one’s ideas? Or that one is forced to surrender important family heirlooms — their remaining connection to their history, without knowing why? I just can’t imagine myself in this position but Matched really made me think.And its a scary thought to consider.

As for the sense of urgency I was expecting from this book, I felt that the main dilemma of Cassia and Ky was quite basic (no Team Xander in this book because the build up of the Cassia/Ky pairing was very solid) because the danger was not imminent — not in the magnitude of Twilight, the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, that is, wherein there is always a threat against the lives of the lead characters. The villains in Matched are quite careful not cause a stir and disrupt the order in Society so aggression  against the two main leads was not in the cards. I also felt that certain parts of the booked dipped as it slowed down the pace, focusing mostly on Cassia and her confusion, when Ky was the more interesting character. I did appreciate Condie’s rich characterizations and her spot on description of a teenage psyche – Cassia’s turmoil and confusion in dealing with a problem that is unfamiliar to her in her young age, the burden that both Xander and Ky have endured albeit in different situations, their hidden rivalry since their boyhood — generally, the youthfulness of the characters’ perspectives on life, which gradually evolve as the book moves further along. Condie’s years of observation of kids as a high school teacher have certainly paid off.

All in all, the book is simple but well written, but will better be appreciated by teenagers who can relate about the travails that young adults go through at this age. I think this read might even be good for them in order to make them realize how good they’ve got it.  However, it was obvious that Matched was written not as a standalone but as part of a bigger set. It serves as a set up for Cassia and Ky’s next journey, and I am more optimistic about Crossed, the sequel because it is told in their altering perspectives. The next question — does this book deserve the big screen treatment?  Given the pool of good looking young actors that Hollywood has to offer, combined with movie magic that brought to life many other YA books, I believe it could work.