I wish that there was a way to really express how perfect this book was. In the bare bones of style, Condie’s writing has a beautiful, musical quality to it. She is the master of the small shift, bringing our protagonist to her character change bit-by-bit, utterly real and even more touching for it.
Before I go on and on about the wonders of the book, I should tell you a bit about it. Cassia Reyes is seventeen, and when we meet her, about to be Matched. In her (dystopian) Society, young people are matched to their spouses by data and numbers. When you are seventeen, you are told whom you will marry at age twenty-one. It is usually someone in another area of the Society, someone you will not have known until you are promised to marry them. But for Cassia, the night proves to be far more interesting because she is matched to her best friend Xander. However happy she feels with Xander, in the days that follow she begins to fall instead for another boy, Ky. Though she knows that they can never be together, Cassia persists, wanting to know about his tragic past so that someone can know him. Right after her Match, Cassia also gets a strange gift from her dying grandfather: a poem. When the Society was created, they saved only 100 poems, songs, paintings, and other works of art. Those deemed the “best” are appreciated, but never really studied. Cassia’s poem is not on the list of 100, but she memorizes it, and feels connected to its words. As she discovers more about Ky, more about herself, and more about her world, she begins to doubt its supposed perfection.
I will try to discuss the novel without a lot of spoilers, but it will be difficult to really delve into its perfection without a few. So, be warned beyond this point.
The first thing I love is that Cassia’s eyes are opened because of words. Because of a poem. Though written by a writer which makes it a bit biased, Matched does show the power of the written word. The Society saved the 100 poems, but none of them were like Cassia’s. Hers taught her to fight, and constantly throughout the book she tells herself to not go gentle (the Dylan Thomas poem found here). Her poem told her to rage, to take what should be hers. She easily sees why it would have been left off the list of saved poems.
Cassia herself makes a wonderful transformation during the course of the novel. In the beginning, she cannot wait to see who the Society thinks is best for her. She believes in their doctrines, in the luck that gave her Xander, and in the policies that dictate her life. Cassia has known nothing else, so the change takes longer than the average reader might like. Some of us would scream at the pages, wondering why Cassia can’t see how she has no real freedoms. But we are outside, and we have not been raised told that the Society knows what is best for us. When she reads her poem, it awakens something within her. Getting to know Ky pushes her out of the dark. Cassia finally begins to understand why her grandfather saved that poem. Like awaking from a dream, we see Cassia transform before we even fully realize that it has happened. It does not feel rushed or forced, but natural, almost organic. And as Cassia changes, the reader is privy to other characters who have perhaps realized their injustices before she did.
It would be impossible not to compare Matched to Hunger Games. After all, they are both dystopian novels, focusing on young girls who have to overcome their oppressors. But the difference is in the overtness of the injustices. Katniss has always hated her government because she watches children go to their deaths every year. It is easy for her to speak out, to feel rebellious. But Cassia has never really been endangered by the Society, never really forced to do things she did not want to do. Cassia always felt that she had some sort of choice, before she realized that she had no choice at all. Her rebellion, for me, is more deep than Katniss’s. It takes more courage to fight against something your friends and family still thinks keep them safe. It would be easier to enjoy a life with Xander, to work in the career that the Society wants for her. Cassia’s own mother has made the same choice. But Cassia can no longer go gentle. She wants to choose for herself.
It is Cassia’s quiet desires that really make this novel (which will eventually be part of a trilogy). There are no “action-packed” sequences, but the plot does not suffer for their lack. Matched focuses instead on the human desire and right to guide our own lives. And it does so more beautifully then any Young Adult novel has the right to do so. (You can now argue with that statement in the comments. Heck, I’ll probably argue with it later.)