Cassia is seventeen years-old today and it is also the day of her Matching Banquet; tonight she will meet the boy that she will eventually marry. She does not get to decide who she will love, the society and its officials do. As she travels to the Banquet with her family, she knows that her life will never quite be the same after her Match is done, but she has no idea just how much. Because the society have made an error and Cassia catches a glimpse of it. She finds herself falling in love for another than her Match and starts to wish she could make her own choices. And when you wish things like this, things soon start to spiral out of control, with consequences for all those around Cassia.
With strong reminiscence of classics such as Brave New World (it also reminded me of an old 1970s sci-fi movie called Soylent Green which I watched in class when studying Brave New World), Matched is part of a new generation of dystopian novels which has been flooding bookshop teen shelves lately. As with all dystopian novels, behind the facade of the “perfect” society lies the much darker side of an hyper-controlling government (we know little of them here apart from the officials) who leaves nothing to chance: what you do, who you marry, what you eat, when you die. Control is everywhere. But again, true to the genre, cracks start to appear. Cassia, pushed gently by the influence of her grandfather and then Ky, starts to see another way. A way where there is choice; a way where creativity is welcome rather than crushed; a way where people can have a voice.
This novel ticks all the boxes of the popular trends that will enable it to become a hit : the great dystopian themes, the mysterious dark boy who is obviously a bit of a rebel, the good girl on the verge of turning bad, and the love triangle.
So is it worth all the hype ? I am not sure personally. It was good, with glimpses of greatness, particularly towards the end, but I didn’t find it mind-blowing.
The writing is beautiful, lyrical at times and conveys a great sense of place. Intertwining bits of classic poetry with a futuristic setting certainly has an amazing effect. The fact that “words” are forbidden because of their sheer power is a great concept too.
My main issue was the characterisation. The characters, apart from Ky maybe, were too wooden and one-dimensional. I didn’t really care for any of them, and especially not Cassia. I did like her relationship with Ky, and I did root for them (I found Xander a bit insipid, although he redeemed himself at the very end) and enjoyed seeing their relationship develop. But I didn’t feel the romantic tension that many other reviewers felt. Frankly, until some of the revelations started to pour out at the very end, I was actually finding it quite boring at times, and it is a shame because it started with a great opening chapter which got me hooked. But it lost me later and I think it’s because the pace was wrong, or at least I didn’t feel it fitted the concept well.
But as I said earlier there are also some great things about Matched. The society created in this book is a tribute to the author’s imagination and plot structure; there are a lot of details in the book and it must have taken a lot of time to work it all out. I suppose you can do pretty much what you want when writing a dystopian novel but I think Condie was very clever and create a very structured society that strips people of choice, individuality and at the same time convincing them that they are happy because having these things taken away makes them equal. It is also makes them trapped. Cassia, although reluctantly at first, finds herself in a situation where she reassesses what these rules really mean. I think the fact that it is words, whether it is the forbidden words she finds in her possession or the process of handwriting, also forbidden, which she learns from Ky, that are the key to her realisation is a very powerful concept. I wish the story had followed the brilliance of the original ideas. It is not a bad novel, but it just didn’t grip me; however I think if you enjoy dystopian books, it is still worth checking out.
The ending was fairly open-ended, and I gather this is the first of a trilogy. There will definitely be a film, as Disney (!) have bought the rights.
Matched is out December 2nd.
Sent for review by publisher