Title: Matched (Matched Trilogy Series #1)
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Matched by Ally Condie is a story with an aftertaste. For weeks after reading the story I contemplated the world that Condie had dreamed up and how life would be if her fiction was our reality. Condie’s dystopian novel drags readers through a society that enforces personal restraint by removing the burdens of choice. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely mentions in a lecture on restraint that rules – religious, civic, personal – coral people into good behaviors (eating right, driving safely, etc.). Condie’s fictional Society demonstrates the extreme of rules or restraints through the life of seventeen year old Cassia and mirrors what Ariely discloses – that restraints and their concomitant good behaviors often come at the sacrifice of personal freedom. The eternal questions are how much personal freedom should a person give up to live in a civilized society and who determines the definition of civilized?
Condie addresses these eternal questions by creating a society that statistically determines its citizens’ nutrition, careers, mates, family structure, and lifespan. The society that Cassia lives in is aptly named the Society. The Society’s intentions are ones universally embraced – healthy citizens, no crime, happiness. They have statistics that support their invasive intervention in their citizens’ lives. Cancer has almost been eradicated and each citizen contributes to the communal structure. Cassia’s world is partially enviable. How wonderful would it be if no one you knew suffered with cancer, if every person worked to the best of their ability, and most importantly, if a hot meal was prepared for you everyday, three times per day?! Just think, no cooking, in my house that means no smoke alarms blaring!
The utopia of never having to make a meal again tarnishes paragraph by paragraph with each squeeze on Cassia’s freedom. Meals are delivered, yet Society has purposely organized the farm-to-table process to not allow any one person to be self-sustaining. Only select people know how to plant, others to harvest, and others to prepare food; the full process is an enigma to the Society’s citizens. Every activity has been likewise dismembered; creating an efficient but dependent community. Further, all communications are minutely monitored. No one has paper for writing or creating. All writing is done via a keyboard and a computer monitor that is in the middle of the living space provided to each family. Thoughts are the only thing allowed to be private and even those have been influenced by evangelizing respect of the Society. Only 100 paintings, poems, and songs remain from the Society’s salvaged apocalyptic past; a dearth of creative expression.
Cassia’s belief in the Society begins to erode with the death of her grandfather; another controlled event. When its citizens turn 80 years old, they are put to rest for all eternity. Statistically after 80, all sorts of dreadful aging begins in earnest. Aging that the Society deems unnecessary. On his deathbed, Cassia’s grandfather encourages her to think, to question; a mental exercise that the Society has gone to great lengths to prevent its citizens from doing. In a compact mirror case that he bestows to Cassia, he shows her a hidden compartment that contains two non-sanctioned poems, one of which is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” He, and his mother before him, rescued the poems from destruction at a risk to their family’s security and well-being. The import of her grandfather’s risk and words prod Cassia to re-examine her assumptions.
Questioning authority directs Cassia toward doubting the Society’s benevolence and its determined mate for her, her childhood best friend Xander. A rare computer glitch shows an alternative match for Cassia, Ky. The Society’s attempt to suppress the accident vandalizes Cassia’s naïve image of the Society. Her friendship and eventual romantic involvement with Ky exposes her to the odious, secretive actions that the Society is willing to take to ensure conformity. Cassia’s final attachment to the Society’s rules and propaganda are wrenched free when they ship Ky off to fight a pernicious war.
Matched is thought provoking, despite the, at times, stiff and droning writing. Other reviews reference Lowry’s The Givers as a better read for accessing a similar dystopian story. Cassia and Ky’s confrontation with Society’s machinations continue on in Crossed, Match’s sequel.