Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Matched - Ally Condie

What is it exactly that has so captured the world about futuristic, dystopian novels lately?  Does anyone have a good answer to that?  Because here I am with another one.

You would think after books like The Hunger Games or Divergent or most definitely Wool, I would quit while ahead.  I already know there are far more duds in this genre than delights.  Still, I soldier on, hoping for another winner.

I wanted to like Ally Condie's Matched.  I really, truly did.  It has enjoyed a level of popularity that falls just under that of books which make it to the silver screen.  

Condie's story follows a teenage girl, Cassia, who is coming of age in the Society.  We meet her as she heads to her Matching ceremony, where the identity of her future spouse will be revealed to her.  In what's meant to be a shocking twist, her match turns out to be her best friend, Xander. Problems arise when Cassia seems to have two matches.  The other, Ky, should never have been matched in the first place due to his social status.

One can easily imagine the love triangle that ensues.  It consumes most of the book, forcing any other plot line into secondary status.  This proved to be my main issue with Matched.  Condie focused far too much on the romance angle.  Regardless of other major events happening, Cassia viewed everything through the lens of her relationships.  Granted, she is a teenage girl, but I like a heroine to have more individual identity.  After all, Katniss, though in a love triangle herself, never allowed Peeta or Gale to distract her from her true mission (I thoroughly discussed this point in my review of The Girl Who Was on Fire).  

Had the triangle been good, perhaps I would not be complaining so much.  I found it weak and lacking in any real depth.  Ky and Cassia's forbidden love seemed spurious to me, while poor Xander obviously cared very deeply for our leading lady.  Again, my distance from the teenage years places me at a disadvantage here.  While I once felt the same irrational attraction between Ky and Cassia, I now find myself yelling at the print in defense of Xander.  Xander shows his loyalty and affection over and over, only to find himself rejected.  Xander is the safer, better choice as a mate.

I am not arguing that Cassia should take the safer, easier route in life.  The parts of the book I did enjoy found Cassia butting heads with the Society leaders and being willing to break rules.  Ky encourages that in her, which is good to have in an adventure story.  Even still, it's not as though Xander is standing around falling in line to do whatever he is told.  He takes risks, too.  He is a far more balanced and mature character than either of his counterparts.  

Condie did manage to weave in some interesting aspects to her dystopian world, though nothing terribly fresh.  The elderly, including Cassia's grandfather, are peacefully poisoned at age 80 (a fact which inexplicably took Cassia two-thirds of the novel to piece together).  Artifacts from the old time are confiscated and mostly destroyed.  The Society is facing rebellion in their outlying territories.  They punish those who do not conform.   Originality is an immense challenge for an author, I realize, but it is necessary.

Condie's one truly interesting plot point centered around the history of our world.  As with any dystopian novel, the reader searches for clue about how the world transitioned from our era to the fictional one.  Condie spends more time here than most, revealing that Cassia is only a few generations removed from the transition.  The Society in Matched chose to transition by selecting only 100 of most things to keep.  100 Poems.  100 Songs.  100 Histories.  The list goes on - or, rather, it doesn't.  Anything beyond those 100 pieces in any genre is forbidden.  

The most intriguing part of the whole book was the forbidden poetry given to Cassia by her dying grandfather. Unfortunately, our spineless heroine destroyed the words that were putting her in so much danger. She also turned away an opportunity to learn more about the failings of her government when offered a secret chance in a museum. At home, she asks her parents for more information about their own classified experiences, but stops at the first resistance or hesitation from them. The girl simply does not have the fortitude to back up her curiosity.  

I think Condie had a good start.  She had an idea that could have worked and worked well.  The pieces are in place for the novel to be a good one.  The potential is unfulfilled, however, thanks to a weak heroine and an overemphasis on her teenage love life.  I genuinely tried to like it, but me and this book were simply not a good match (pun intended).

Have you been disappointed by a book that had the right pieces, but didn't put them together well?

Pages: 369
Date Completed: August 21, 2013

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