Matched by Ally Condie: A New Giver for Older YA ReadersThere has been a lot of hype about Matched by Ally Condie and, while I trust lots of bloggers out there, it's hard not to approach all the exclamation points with a certain jaded quality. Particularly considering how the success of The Hunger Games has caused a veritable avalanche of dystopian fiction, it would be easy to dismiss this book as merely part of that wave.
At first I was merely struck with how the book was well-written and our protagonist, Cassia, (pronounced Cash-eah) was a sweet but rather bland individual who reflected her highly controlled society. The novel begins with her traveling with her family to her area's Match Banquet, a formal dinner where the region's seventeeen-year-old population gets to eat delicious food, wear beautiful clothing (that they aren't allowed to keep) and see the face of the person to whom they are matched. Cassia has a enormous surprise - her match is actually her best friend, Xander, with whom she traveled to the banquet. Her happiness (and that her family who does not have to watch her leave them to live in another area of the country) is tempered when she later sees on her match "card" another handsome face, also of a boy she knows, Ky.
The first few chapters seem as if the book is going to head in a direction of "which great guy", but author Condie's facile handling of Cassia's dystopian world has the reader quickly ponder the intricacies of her world. Everything is controlled in this world...EVERYTHING. The officials in society use severe knowledge limitation and statistics to control the populace and it seems as if it works most of the time in Cassia's little province. But with two boys in front of her and an official admitting there was a mistake, Cassia begins to see fissures in her society's seeming perfection, with a whole world opening up in front of her.
Because if society made a mistake with her match, what other mistakes exist? Cassia begins to question almost everything while at the same time getting to know Ky better and realizing that she is in love with him in a way her affection for Xander cannot match. Take a look at the book trailer.
I'm trying to figure out how best to describe this book and the word "quiet" keeps coming to mind. Cassia is not the strong female protagonist we've come to expect in a lot of dystopian fiction (think Katniss) but she's no shrinking wallflower either. She's an intelligent young woman who, faced with some big changes in her life (receiving her "match," the scheduled death of her grandfather, her future employment being determined), applies her ability to seeing all the flaws in the world around her, flaws her deep love for Ky further highlight as wrong. I really did get a The Giver vibe from this book, both in the elegance of some of the passages as well as the "wait....WHAT?!" moments as Cassia's officials went about their work (like her father's work in the library *shudder*). The romantic aspect certainly propels this book into a higher age bracket and the greater length allows for more exploration of certain themes, so this novel lands in a reader age group a little higher than Lois Lowry's classic.
As with so many books these days (seriously, does anyone just write a single book anymore?), Matched is part of a trilogy with the second book, Crossed, due out in November 2011. Considering how Condie left our protagonist, Cassia, it's not surprising that additional books would be necessary to continue the story. I was thrilled to hear in an interview with her (below, check it out for more hints) that this book was going to be from Ky's perspective. He is a character that I want to learn much more about!