I first saw Matched, by Ally Condie, on a website on which a user review complained that the novel was all too similar to Lois Lowry's award-winning novel, The Giver. My Language Arts class had recently read and discussed The Giver, so I was intrigued. I began reading the novel to decide for myself if this complaint was valid.
At first, the plot seemed unique. Cassia Reyes, Matched's protagonist, is a 17-year-old girl living in the controlling, supposedly-utopian "Society." For Cassia and her fellow citizens, most important decisions are determined by the government, using data, statistics and probability. Cassia is on the cusp of adulthood; at the beginning of the novel, she attends her "Match Banquet," during which she is introduced to her future husband, or "Match." Most of the teenagers at the Match Banquet, Cassia included, expect to see their Match's face on a screen, and to smile and wave at a boy attending a different Match Banquet at a far away location.
Cassia is shocked when her name is called and the screen remains an ominous black. Cassia is shocked when she is Matched with a boy sitting across the room, a boy she has known for her entire life. Cassia is shocked when she is Matched to her best friend.
When she returns home and inserts her microcard into the port to read more about her Match, her best friend's picture pops up. But after a moment, it disappears, and is replaced by a picture of another boy.
This is the beginning of a mysterious, tangled love story. Cassia's complex love life reminded me of Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, in which Bella Swan must choose between the dangerous vampire and the reliable werewolf. Cassia finds herself struggling to choose between her reliable Match, and the other face on the screen, who is more dangerous and intriguing. At times, this dilemma became tiresome. I found it difficult to relate to a character who wanted to risk everything — her family included — for a boy who didn't seem worth the trouble.
Matched brings up some important questions: what are we, as citizens and people, willing to fight for? What liberties do we sacrifice for safety? What safeties do we sacrifice for liberty? Cassia is a respectably rebellious character. People like Cassia, who are willing to risk their safety for the sake of liberty, are essential to society, whether they are respected or not.
As in many stories about utopian societies, Cassia realizes that the Society is not as perfect as its pristine facade. This is the area in which Matched becomes cliché© — Cassia's revelations are very similar to those of The Giver's Jonas.
I give Matched (Dutton Juvenile, 2010) seven out of 10 stars. Despite some lack of originality, Matched is unusual and interesting in ways that The Giver is not. Ally Condie's writing is of undeniable quality. Even the most insignificant passages seem to have deeper meaning. For more of Condie's concise prose and Cassia's lovesick escapades, readers can pick up the sequel, Crossed, on Nov. 1, 2011.
Caroline Lu is an Andover teenager and student who reviews books for young adults.