Review: Matched by Ally Condie
Rating: After a reeeeeeally slow start, blah characters, and derivative world-building, I finally started to get what all the fuss is about. Mostly because of Ky and the poetry. If you loved this book, I totally get why, but most of it just didn't do it for me.
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.
The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.
In which I first judge a book by its cover:
GORGEOUS. Simply flipping gorgeous. That bright green color, her hair, the glass orb, the lettering; all of it is stunning. My paperback version is the extra special version, so it's got shiny bits around the orb and along the edge. I'd been waffling about trying out this series for a while, but when I saw it in the bookstore, it grabbed hold of my magpie, shine-loving heart, and I bought it.
In which I then judge a book by its insides:
The beginning of this book is such a snore. Honestly, there is no tension. Dull Cassia is going to her Matching ceremony in a green dress with her best friend Xander, who is not wearing a green dress. There, the Society, the all-knowing, all-powerful governing body, will mathematically determine who her Match will be. Cassia, who is wearing a green dress, is really excited about this. Hold on, did I mention that Cassia is wearing a green dress? Because she sure does. About eighteen times in as many pages (this is unfair of me, I know, but it honestly bugged the shit out of me. I almost wanted to start a drinking game. "HEY SHE MENTIONED GREEN TAKE A SHOT!").
I really like the set-up of Matched and the idea of having the most fundamental of choices (the choice of whom to love) taken from you. I like the concept of being torn between two boys who exemplify the inherent struggles of your world: the boy who is mathematically perfect for and whose love has been dictated, or the boy that makes your
Nope. There were no shenanigans. All went as planned. This is... not interesting. We don't get that "Holy cupcakes, I have two soul mates! Are you saying the Society made a mistake? Impossible!" moment for another twenty pages. The snail-slow pace of this book might not have been as big of a problem if the characters had been totally fascinating, but they just aren't. While Cassia's voice and her descriptions are beautiful, it takes a while to connect to her. It's only through seeing her interact with her grandfather (the first character who tugged on my heartstrings) and Ky that she really blossoms into a strong and active character with powerful feelings.
Xander is a complete non-entity. I've heard he grows in personality as the series progresses, which is good, because in the first installment, I was basically like, "Of course I don't want her to choose Xander. Xander is boring. He's been missing for fifty pages and I didn't even remember until just now, and that's only because he showed up again." He and Cassia did have a nice scene together towards the end, so there's that.
And I don't even remember the names of Cassia's other friends besides Em, and that's only because I have a friend with that name also. My Em has way more personality (hi Em!). I will concede that Cassia's dad started to show some strength of character as the novel progressed, and that Cassia's brother Bram was totally adorable.
Ky is the one who made this whole story come together. He's a sweetheart, and, while not overly brimming with personality either, possesses serious depth of feeling. He and Cassia's grandfather manage to stir something inside Cassia, and whatever that was finally managed to stir something in me, the reader. That was when the poetry came through-- not just the love of poetry that the characters experience, but the actual poetry in the writing. And I must say it was truly beautiful. I don't want to spoil too much about it, but as someone who (clearly) highly values the power of words, creativity, and original thought, watching Ky and Cassia rebel against the Society in their small way was really touching.
I'm not really going to get into the love-triangle-ness of it all, since I've got a post coming up about YA love triangles probably tomorrow, but I do think this one is pretty tepid. Strangely enough, I would have liked it better if the triangular aspects of the plot were ratcheted up a little. It would have made for more interesting tension if Cassia were really conflicted. And again, the pace. Sweet lord. I'm not saying I require a rigid three act structure in all my novels, but some basic twists would be nice. Or some rising action, at the very least. Or even just action.
The word-building is solid, if unremarkable, but is unfortunately ripped straight out of The Giver, from the Matching, to the assigned jobs, to the treatment of the elderly, to drugging the population into submission. What really elevates this story is the quality of Condie's writing and what is actually a very lovely romance. There are some beautiful passages in there, and I kind of fell in love with Ky along with Cassia.
Sidebar: who can tell me what the EVERLOVING HECK that sorting business was? What was it? What was she doing? I don't understand. I particularly did not understand what she was doing when she was sorting over at SPOILER's job. What does sorting entail? Also, how is it that the people in the Society are capable of reading and typing on a computer, but cannot write? As in they cannot physically form letters with their hands? There were a lot of world-building aspects that I didn't get, scientifically speaking, but I'm not really knowledgeable enough to say if they were plausible or not.
And the structure is kind of not there. A Big, Dramatic, Crushing Thing happens near the end, but it's not necessarily a climax, even if it was the best part of the book. I like it when the shit hits the fan. Cassia struggles against the one Official who seems to be actively out to get her, but that whole deal is kind of vague. I wanted more backstory and more information on the Society, though I get why Cassia wouldn't know it. But what's the deal with Singles? How do they decide who the Anomalies and Aberrations are? Why isn't the blatant, codified heteronormativity of this government ever addressed?
The destruction of knowledge and culture wrought by the Society is pretty heartbreaking. I will be reading the sequel; I grew attached to the two main characters, and I'm interested in seeing where their story leads. The Society itself is pretty boring, but SPOILERSPOILER now that Cassia's left her dull city and actually has a mission to accomplish, I'm hoping things will get more interesting SPOILERSPOILER. For some reason I couldn't break away from this book while I was reading it. Despite my issues and the fact that I was kinda bored at times, it sucked me in. I blame Ky and the pretty, pretty cover/words. I do like that Cassia did learn to have her own words and make her own choices, and I liked how the basic concept of this book was how important freewill really is in a Society that tells you when to die, how many kids to have, when to have them, and who to have them with.