Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

One of the (many) great things about insideadog is discovering new and forgotten books. Published in September 2011, Matched was one of those titles I was aware of but never felt compelled to read… until a teenager on the insideadog forums posted this:

My favourite quote is from Matched by Ally Condie. Matched has been my favourite book for quite a while and this quote really inspired me. “Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.”

- Georgia9709

Cassia Reyes is about to be Matched. At the age of seventeen the Society informs its citizens of their ideal mate, so they can start producing healthy children at the optimal age of twenty-four. The Society looks after its people. The Society does not make mistakes. So when Cassia encounters a glitch, she starts to look at her society, and what they tell her is her future, in a whole new way.

The quote Gerogia9709 posted resonates with me, and the good news is that it isn’t an isolated occurrence – Condie has an insightful and succinct way of looking at emotions and relationships, and a skill in nailing them to the page. Her observant descriptions do risk her characters sometimes feeling a little academic – more of a writing tool than an independent (and irrational) voice - but I believe that this is actually a strength of the book. Firstly, because such astuteness is fitting – both to a society that is so rigid in its structures, and of Cassia as a “sorter” occupation/personality. Secondly, because Matched does have a love triangle element, and there’s not much I cannot stand more in a book than the overblown angst and emotion of love triangles. In Matched, the love triangle never feels like this. It, like everything else in Cassia’s world, is just something for her to process.

This is the real highlight of Matched. Condie has imagined and expressed a fascinating dystopian world, tinged with elements of communism and Omelas, yet the focus remains on Cassia’s story and journey. We often seem determined to look at our world as if it were neatly labelled and compartmentalised. And dystopian fiction often has a tendency to emphasise this - for example, the control of a population and/or the destruction of the natural world by a big, bad corporation; the loss of personal choice, individual identity, and independent thought are all common themes in dystopian works. Matched has elements of this, but it comes nowhere near proselytising about it. Amongst such tropes Matched manages to find a unique voice by completely witholding judgement. Matched gently probes and unfurls the world of Condie’s creation… Would you follow an order for the greater good? For the safety and security of your family? Is human behaviour predictable? Would you ever think to disobey if it weren’t suggested as an option?

It is these sorts of questions that make Matched an engaging read, as well as a lingering one. I am pleased to have (finally) discovered it. And the best thing about being late to the party, is I don’t have to wait to read the other books in the series – Crossed and Reached.

Penguin

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