Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie Review by Tiger Holland

Review from "Welcome to All-Consuming Books reviews by Tiger

Ally Condie
Dutton Books, November 2010
Source: My friend Karen at For What It's Worth Reviews,

Cassia and her best friend Xander go to their first and only Match Banquet, an event where the Society tells them which person in which far-off City they've been assigned to marry, and to their surprise, they are Matched with each other. It's almost unheard of for perfect matches to live in the same town, let alone be best friends, so they're very out of the ordinary. Then later when Cassia is viewing the information about her Match, another face flashes across the viewscreen—another guy she knows, quiet, withdrawn Ky Markham—before being replaced with Xander. This happenstance starts Cassia wondering whether Ky could actually be her true Match. But Society always picks the perfect mates, and how could Society be wrong?

One of the nicest things about Matched is the worldbuilding, which feels very plausible. It's a scary dystopia because it's masquerading as a utopia, and nobody in the Cities recognizes how awful it is to have their freedoms so limited. Society has streamlined all cultural choices, and they've preserved exactly one hundred pieces of every type of art from the old days to be passed down to future generations—the Hundred Poems, Hundred Songs, Hundred Paintings, Hundred History Lessons, etc, as if no one would ever be able to learn more than that. Each citizen only learns their specific job without any access to outside information like the internet, so they're all interdependent and can't revolt. Marriage is not required and citizens can choose to be a Single, but they can only have children if they're Matched, and some people, like Ky, who are Aberrations, can never be Matched.

The romance between Cassia and Ky is a major focus of the story (Xander really doesn't have an equal amount of page time), but I couldn't quite see why she should pick him over Xander. They're both great guys without any serious personality flaws, though Xander's very book smart and orderly while Ky is poetic and artistic. The odd thing is, Ky only seems to be on Cassia's romantic radar because of the suggestion in her mind that the Society had selected him for her, but had to discount him as an Aberration. I think I'd like it better if he was a guy that she liked on her own, because her interest in him is still ultimately orchestrated by the Society, since Cassia has known Ky for seven years but she never notices his many charms until his image shows up on her screen. Initially, I couldn't see any reasons why Xander, who is brainy and thoughtful and always knows how to handle a situation, should take second place simply because Cassia knows him so well and he's not surprising. (But that's just me. When I watched the Disney movie Pocahontas and listened to her sing-complain about having to settle for “a handsome, sturdy husband who builds handsome, sturdy walls,” I was thinking, “What's so bad about sturdy walls?” Reliability is not a negative trait.)

In time, Ky grew on me—there's a lot of sadness to him, and he's very creative and smart. It's a wonderfully well-written story, with a sad fairytale kind of vibe, and it's worth a read for the worldbuilding alone. Grade: B+

Poetry bonus: Cassia's favorite poem is “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a gorgeous villanelle by Dylan Thomas, also figures prominently in the story.