Matched by Ally Condie

Matched (2010)★★★★
by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

matchedIt seems too many reviewers are slamming this book because they feel it is a blatant rip-off of Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Well, we might as well string up Suzanne Collins too then, and burn the Hunger Games trilogy because its plot is very similar to the Japanese novel, Battle Royale. Deadly games is not a new idea — Stephen King wrote his dystopian novellas The Long Walk and The Running Man in the ’70s and you can be sure he wasn’t inventing anything new then either.

The point is, great novels come along and hugely inspire other writers, and quite often a lot of what we would consider “the best” “most original” stories, are themselves derived from even earlier works. Lowry herself is obviously hugely influenced by other classic dystopian tales, like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Soylent Green and The Handmaid’s Tale (and many others that would become obvious I’m sure with a little more reflection).

I absolutely adored the film Pleasantville which in its own unique way takes something fundamental from The Giver too (colorless world, the color red). But that’s okay, because ideas are meant to be shared, adapted, reinterpreted, re-designed. Sometimes a salient plot point stays the same but the characters change, as well as the stakes and outcome.

I applaud what Ally Condie has done here — yes, in many ways Matched is very similar to The Giver, but there’s also a sweetness and richness present that’s all Condie. Cassia is lovely, a typical teenager who finds herself questioning her society, her values, everything around her. She’s growing up, she’s falling in love, and suddenly the world she thought she always knew starts to look very different. Ky and Xander are heroes worth cheering for, equally as engaging as Gale and Peeta from the Hunger Games.

I love dystopian fiction — the chilling, gritty disturbing kind — and though Matched doesn’t quite make it to that level, I still loved reading it. The world Condie builds is thought-provoking and will keep even the most reluctant readers engaged because of its accessibility. The value of words is so achingly portrayed here as Cassia and Ky build intimacy from banned poetry, and pledge to one another to “not go gentle”. The scenes where Ky is teaching her cursive are particularly sweet and vulnerable. I very much look forward to reading the rest of the series. Crossed (Matched #2) is set for publication November 2011.

Freedom to Read Week is upon us, and Matched is the perfect mind floss to generate debate amongst the young and young at heart on the importance of personal choice. You fight for it. You don’t ever let it be taken from you. Sameness, calmness, serenity … these may sound like lofty goals, comforting words, but when they come at the cost of the individual’s right to explore, question, challenge, choose, then that cost is too high.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
(Dylan Thomas)

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