Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Has My "Hands-Down Favorite Book of the Year" Met Its Match(ed)?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Remember when I boldly declared Incarceron to be my "hands down favorite book of the year"? Well, I almost had to retract that statement when I finished Matched by Ally Condie. While the novel didn't blow me away as completely as Incarceron, it seduced me so subtlely that I can't stop thinking about it. So, while Matched may not finish first in my 2010 favorites race, it earns a close, close second because, let me tell you, I have a serious case of book love here. It's not so much about the storyline since the novel follows a fairly typical dystopian pattern - it's more about the way Condie spins the yarn. It's got a soft, old-fashioned cadence that makes this futuristic drama read like a fairy tale.
Matched takes place in a world not so unlike our own. In fact, it's been created from the ruins of the society that came before, a population which destroyed itself by overusing technology, natural resources, and independent thought. Having learned from the mistakes of their ancestors, the Officials now control everything in the Society: meals are prepared based on an individual's carefully-calculated caloric needs; careers are assigned according to whom statistics deem most able; Aberrations are kept out to ensure a pure gene pool; lives are terminated at 80 so the elderly never feel useless; and girls and boys are precisely Matched to others whose histories indicate an ability to produce healthy offspring. Everyone follows the rules for the good of their world. After all, "This is as close to perfect as any society has ever managed to get" (114).

Since the Officials never make mistakes, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes expects them to choose her a perfect match. And they do. No one is better suited to her than Xander Carrow, the boy who's been her best friend since childhood. Most girls are given mates from other Provinces - Cassia's ecstatic to be Matched not only to someone from her own city, but to someone she already knows and trusts. She couldn't be happier. Until another face pops up on her matching screen. Another face with which she's familiar. Although the Officials blame the error on a practical joker, assuring Cassia the rulebreaker will be severely punished, the whole situation unnerves her. Seeing the faces of two boys on the Matching screen opens Cassia's mind to something she's never even considered before: the possibility of choosing something - or someone - for herself.
The more Cassia tries to convince herself that Xander is the only Match for her, the more her thoughts fly to the other boy. Ky Markham came from the Outer Provinces as a child and has always been secretive. What does he know of the world outside the Society? Why do his ideas cause her heart to soar, her mind to flood with unimaginable prospects? His ideas challenge and endanger everything she knows. So, why does she want more of them? More of him? The Society has already chosen the perfect man for Cassia. She can't break all the rules for something as illogical as love. Or can she?
While Matched lacks the complexity and nuance of other dystopian epics, it has a refreshing frankness that makes it more variegated than it seems at first glance. Condie asks all the usual questions, but also digs deeper, questioning things like the cost of abandoning creativity and passion in pursuit of greater efficiency or the effects of choice on the health of a human being. Not that the story is all deep, philosophical pondering. It's not. It's also an enthralling romance disguised as a tense, suspenseful adventure. I mean, really, what's not to love? Because, truly, I adored every word.
(Readalikes: Although it has a gentler touch, Matched reminded me of other dystopian classics like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood)
Grade: A-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense scenes
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Matched from the generous folks at Dutton. Thank you!

10 comments:

  1. I haven't read another book to pass my "HandsDown Favourite of the Year" either but how exciting to almost do that.

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  2. Oh, yeah. I do love this one. Her elegant, classy style tells the disturbing story in an almost soothing way - a dualism that I love.

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  3. Can't wait to read this one! It looks so good. Nice post!
    -Bea

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  4. YAY! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I was enchanted by Condie's writing and was totally sucked into the story. Can't wait to read more from her.

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  5. Finally! It seems like I've been waiting for your review of Matched for forever. And now I am so happy because if you loved it, I know I will too. (Since we're practically twinners) Thanks, Susan!

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  6. Fantastic review. I really look forward to reading this :)

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  7. I'm really starting to think we are long lost book twins. I've got to search for something you read and loved that I didn't, just so I'm not as weirded out. :) Great review!

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  8. oooh, this does sound good! I really enjoyed Incarceron - and just finished reading Anthem (by Ayn Rand) so obviously I'm in a good dystopian groove :)

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  9. Oh man! I can't wait to read this one! Glad to hear that you enjoyed it... Now I just need to get my hands on a copy to see for myself.

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  10. Marce - I know, right? I'm always happy when I find new books to LOVE, not just like :)

    Becca - That's exactly how I felt about it.

    Bea - It's good - you'll love it!

    Amanda - I've read several of Condie's books (she's written a handful of YA LDS novels), and MATCHED is, by far, her best book yet. I can't wait for the sequels either.

    Susan - LOL. Well, my ARC got really bent in the mail, so I spent several weeks trying to straighten it out before I gave up and just read the darn thing. I really did love the book, even if reading a bent copy just about drove me mad.

    We really are book twins, aren't we? Or book triplets, perhaps, with Melissa??

    Juju - Can't wait to see what you think of it!

    Melissa - LOL! It's uncanny, isn't it? Check out my comment to Susan above - we could be triplets!

    T - I'm glad you loved INCARCERON. I thought it was awesome! I haven't heard of ANTHEM - sounds like one I need to check out.

    Cialina - MATCHED has gotten so much buzz that I keep forgetting it's not even out yet. I was thrilled to get my hands on an ARC. I loved the book so much that I think I'll buy myself a "real" copy, too!

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