Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love In A Controlled Climate: Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie

Sometime I wish my life were more predictable.  For example when I wasn't sure if my grad school plans were going to work out or if I'd get a job after graduation, the appeal of a more securely planned future definitely appealed to me.  Predictability is comforting for us; at times, having our lives planned out for us based on science and research sounds great.  The plethora of dating websites promising better romantic partnerships based on proven matching systems illustrates the appeal of this general idea. 

But where does this comforting predictability cross the line into a sinister disappearance of individual choice? 

This is the big question faced by the characters in the future world of Matched by Ally Condie.  Cassia has been looking forward to her Match Banquet her entire life. The Society has used its clearly organized system and information gathered about Cassia to determine her best Match--just as it determines the best music for her to hear, the best literature for her to read, the best paintings for her to view, the best food for her to eat, and the best occupation for her to pursue.  So when her best friend Xander is announced as her Match, Cassia feel complete confidence in her Society-choosen fate.  But later her Match card reveals the mysterious Ky Markham's face for a second before reverting back to Xander and suddenly Cassia's ideal destiny no longer seems so certain--or so ideal.  

I heard a lot of hype about this novel and I wasn't sure what to expect.  The cover was attractive and librarians I respect (such as my mentor Courtney over at The Sassy Librarian) compared the book to The Giver by Lois Lowry, one of my favorite dystopian novels of all time.  I'm happy to say that the comparison is a good one and well deserved!  As in The Giver, the future created by Condie is one in which absolutely every aspect of a citizen's life is controlled by the Society.  On the surface, life seems perfect in many ways.  Due to the intense monitoring and research done by the Society's Officials, each person receives individualized meals and vitamins based on nutrition needs.  No one get seriously ill and no one dies until age 70.   However, this seemingly perfect society appears somewhat bland--and initially so does our protagonist Cassia.  She reflects her world, living as a model Society citizen.  But with the strange appearance of another boy's face on her Match card, Cassia suddenly begins to see the cracks in the world around her.  With her curiosity peaked, she begins to question everything she has ever known.  

The story could easily become that famous cliche: the love triangle.  However, Cassia's struggle to choose between Ky and Xander is as much as about her difficulty in breaking away from the safety of the Society and her maturing sense of justice as it is about romance.  I really enjoyed the way that Condie slowly revealed pieces about the increasingly sinister internal workings and motives of the Society.  She fills out the everyday aspects of life within the Society with great detail, immersing the reader in that world.  Yet she also carefully holds back a great deal of information about aspects of the society, leaving me with lots of intriguing questions.  

Crossed (Matched)This tantalizingly slow revelation of more inside information about the Society is one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of the second novel in the series, Crossed, which comes out this November.  After a crazy mix-up involving missing boxes of ARCs and scary lines of librarians at ALA Annual, I found my advanced reader's copy of Crossed waiting for me on my door step when I came home from work in mid July.  Without revealing any spoilers, I can say that this sequel is quite different from Matched but equally satisfying. The narration alternates by chapter between Cassia and Ky and the plot is much more action-packed.  It also answers a few of the questions I had about the Society and Ky's past while proposing a whole slew of new ones.  Cassia continues to grow bolder and both Ky and Xander become more interesting as their past secrets begin to come to light.  Her relationships with both boys become increasingly complex; beyond the first rush of attraction and romance, love is really complicated and I was pleased to see that Crossed acknowledges this reality so beautifully.  How much can we really know about another person? How hard are you willing to work to maintain a relationship after the swelling music and swooning confessions?  

Additionally, the second book persists in posing questions about privacy, government control, and the value of creativity in a society as well as the costs and responsibilities for the leader or leaders of a rebellion.  

These books are sure to be quick sells to a variety of readers and could be paired with other dystopian novels and series that feature extremely controlling governments or structured societies.  Examples might be The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, and Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Connections could also be made with adult novels with young adult appeal such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Dystopias tackling these topics could be especially interesting to pull together in a display or program around Banned Books Week, coming up this year on the week of September 24 through October 1!    

Matched by Ally Condie 3.5/5 stars 
Crossed by Ally Condie 3/5 stars

Also check out the neat website and book trailer for Matched! 

*This review is based on my reading of a copy of Matched I checked out from a local public library and an advanced reader's copy of Crossed I received from the publisher via a sign-up at ALA Annual 2011.


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