Author: Ally Condie
I knew I would love this book when I first heard about it in April. Honestly, there are some titles I have a sixth sense about. I don't know how it happens, but I can feel that ethereal connection with them. Reviews across the blogosphere have been mixed, so they worried me prior to actually reading the book. Many bloggers loved it. The Book Smugglers hated it (and I thoroughly enjoy their blog, so that really concerned me) and Steph Su felt it had promise, but still thought it was a meh-ish read compared to other books this year. After a lot of pondering and the realization that it would be released in a few weeks, I picked up my lovely advanced readers copy and went to it.
By the end of the night, the book was finished, and I had yet another finished copy that I had to put on my Christmas list. I wonder if you can tell where this review is going?
Cassia has lived in the Society all of her life. Their rules have always felt fair, and everyone is happy and lives to the ripe old age of 80 before dying peacefully. They can also choose to be Singles (which can date for fun, but don't ever get married), or Matched. Like many people, Cassia wants to be Matched, and is very excited for her Matching ceremony. To be Matched means to have someone of the opposite sex chosen that best fits your personality and type. You 'court' and eventually get married and have kids around 24. Being Matched is good, and Cassia can't wait to partake of this wonderful experience.
In a gorgeous green Matching dress, Cassia has her ceremony and finally gets her Match mate. Xander. People rarely ever get Matched with someone who lives close to them, but Xander has lived in the City with her forever. He's also one of the most eligible males around, and she thinks it's amazing to be paired up with him. She does love him. Cassia is elated to have things go off without a hitch.
Except they do. On the microcard that each of the two Matched get with basic information on the other appears another face. A face other than Xander's. Ky's. Ky also lives in the City, but he is a social outcast. He already has his assigned occupation and has been considered quite odd by their group of friends. Ky's face on the microcard scares and intrigues Cassia. What is Ky really like? And how exactly does the Society make a mistake when their so close to being perfect?
Matched was probably my favorite series opener of the year. It's got so many YA components that usually don't work, like the love triangle and the girl torn between two great guys, yet it holds its own as being unique and mind boggling.
Cassia is a main character meant to be studied. At the beginning of the novel she is very reserved and accepting of the Society's strict rules and ideals, which would off-put some readers. Her growth throughout the novel is intense and very obvious. I really felt like she showed great character change, and it was all subtle and well played out. Her thought process was not an instant 180, and that made it very believable. Her tear between Ky and Xander was also understandable, though she didn't fool herself over what type of love she felt for each of them. One was clearly better than the other, and she was honest about it. That made me very happy. Characters that can't even notice the line between friendship and amour urk me to no end. Cassia has a great thought process, and is a heroine that I can't help but adore, and I really felt she had a legitimate and deep connection with Ky.
As for Ky and Xander, both of them were pretty good male leads. Xander didn't suck me in as much as I would of liked - he's very goody goody and Vanilla Awesome Guy - but some readers will fall in love with him anyway. Ky was awesome. Ky wasn't just the brooding outcast. He actually had deep thoughts that went beyond Cassia is pretty. Early on he teaches Cassia how to write in cursive, which is something the Society doesn't encourage, and challenges her way of thinking. I loved it. He's artistic and creative and disappointed by where he is in the Society on the social class ladder, but he knows he has to change the world to make it a better place. He's a thinker and a doer, and he knows that Cassia needs to see things through his perspective to understand exactly how flawed in morals the Society really is. He totally impressed me, and I'm going to be firmly in Team Ky for a long time.
The other thing I really have to rave about was the writing style. Some have commented on its simplicity, and I will say that it is accessible to younger, middle school aged readers as well as teenage readers, but that's not a bad thing for this novel. The Society has a firm hold on how 'creative' their residents can be, and they have decidedly limited vocabularies and creative limits, especially compared to our standards. This means the wording will be simpler and more concise, and the language isn't going to be obviously deep and metaphorical. This is due to Cassia's first person present perspective (which is extremely well done and totally engrossing, for those of you who can't stand first person present) and the fact that she grew up in the Society more intensely than Ky. However, Condie's prose still has a certain lit and flow to it that's effervescent. It turns a vocabulary that would normally sound stilted into something that is beautiful. Not to mention her plotting was very admirable, and I felt like it had just the right amount of hardcore events and introspection on Cassia's part. Both of the male protagonists also had equal page time, which developed the characters and their relationships much better than in some other novels.
I've had a lot to say about Matched, and for good reason. It really got into my head and make me think about the place creativity and individuality has in our world, and just how perfect things are without perfection. Odd, I know, yet incredibly inspiring. It won't tug on everyone's chords the way it does mine, but I really think this book is something special. It will find a large and eager audience, and the publisher may have been right with the 7-figure advance. (To be fair, I don't give a flying fig about advances in relation to a book. They aren't always a judge for quality.) If you want something that will make you think and still give you an interesting dose of romance and dystopia, this will so be your book. I highly recommend it.
Cover: This cover is something I cannot live without. Her dress is gorgeous, the bubble is a nice metaphor, and the shiny-ness is positively YES making. I think I love it more than Incarceron's Blue Key cover. That's a lot of cover love.
Rating: 5.0 Stars
Copy: Received from Allison at Penguin (Thank you a hundred-thousand times, Allison!)