Matched is one of many in the slew of dystopian YA novels being released this year. I totally love dystopian fiction, and there’s been a ton of it released since The Hunger Games came out and was such a success. Hooray! And Matched has been getting a ton of good press, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on an advance copy.
We are introduced to our narrator, Cassia Reyes, just before her matching ceremony. Cassia lives in a world set many generations in our future, known as The Society. Citizens do not seek individuality, but betterment of The Society, so they do not own property or many possessions, they eat meals that are cooked for maximum nutritional benefit (not taste), and they marry the person they are Matched with. Cassia is overjoyed to find out that she has been Matched with her best friend since childhood, Xander. However, when Cassia gets home and plugs in the microcard with more information about her Match on it, Xander’s picture doesn’t show up — Ky Markham’s does! Could The Society have made a mistake, or was Cassia meant to be Matched with Ky? This question haunts Cassia for the rest of the book as she discovers that The Society is hiding things from the citizens, and that they may not have the best intentions.
I wanted to like Matched more than I actually did. I enjoyed reading it, but I was expecting more political turmoil, more acts of rebellion, more anger. There’s not much action until the last fifty pages or so, and until then, I found myself frequently wishing that the pace would pick up. It turns out the book is actually more of a romance than anything else, and if you love romances, maybe you’ll like Matched more than I did. While I like a romantic story on the side, I am not a straight-up romance fan. The romantic element just wasn’t enough to hold my interest: for one thing, Xander and Ky are nearly interchangeable besides their family histories, so I didn’t have strong feelings about who Cassia ended up with. For another thing, author Condie introduced so many cool sci-fi elements that she hardly even touched, and I ended up spending a lot more time thinking about these things than Cassia’s Match.
First are the pills. Everyone in The Society carries a pack of three pills with them at all times. The blue pill provides enough nutrients to keep you alive for several days, as long as you also have water. The green pill is to “calm” you, and you’re allowed to take one a day. Nobody knows what the red pill does. The idea of these pills is so fascinating to me: why would such a seemingly perfect and self-sustaining society even think that its citizens would need the blue pill? In what situation do they imagine anyone would need to use it? The green pill reminds me of Brave New World, in which everyone is always doped up and happy. The green pill is clearly there to keep everyone from getting too worried or emotional, which keeps them under control, because happy people don’t question their government. When you find out what the red pill does, the reason for it is obvious. But nobody questions having to carry or take a pill when they don’t know what it does?
The Matching system seems surprisingly simple: Matches are determined based on personality and genetics, with the aim of producing the strongest, healthiest offspring. (This goal is paralleled by the work Cassia’s mother does at the Arboretum — she breeds plants to create stronger hybrids.) Everyone seems to be happy with their Match. Cassia says that her parents love each other, and never mentions divorce or an unhappy marriage, which left me wondering if The Society is actually very good at creating happy marriages, or if people just deal with it (and take their green pills) because they’re afraid of causing problems. You can choose to be a Single, but apparently you have to decide that before your Matching Ceremony at 18 and don’t have the option to change your mind.
So what’s the final verdict? I was really intrigued by the premise and the world that Condie set up, but I was disappointed by the pacing and some of the characters lacking real definition. The book ended on a somewhat open note, and I’m pretty sure there will be a sequel. I just hope that in her next book, Condie explores the world outside the city where Cassia lives more, and delves into The Society and what their real purpose is, because there’s so much there to play with. It has a lot of potential, but if this was a stand-alone book, I wouldn’t have been satisfied. So here’s to hoping Condie has another book or two up her sleeve!
Matched will be released on November 30, 2010 and is available for pre-order from booksellers now.
I received an ARC of Matched at BEA 2010.