I began reading Matched with no preconceived notions about what was coming or what the writing would be like. I’d never heard of Ally Condie nor read any of her books. I did no research on her at all – I simply slid the book out of the envelope from Penguin and began reading. It says a lot about Condie’s talent that I was a third of the way into the book before I realized the story was being told in the first person present – something I normally avoid.
Matched is the story of Cassia, Xander and Ky – three 17 year olds who live in the future…some time. We never learn exactly how long in the future the story is set, except that is far enough away to be ‘after the warming’ and have air trains, but close enough that artifacts such as a compact engraved with 1940 are still around.
Society is now heavily controlled, not by guns and violence but by control itself. Choices have been narrowed to the bare minimum and everything possible is done for – not to mention delivered to – the individual. Everything is decided by the Officials so that Society runs well.
All Society individuals carry three tablest – a red, a blue, and a green. The blue contains sufficient nutrients for an individual to survive several days without food and the green is calming. Nobody is sure about the red but many believe it is fatal as it can only be taken on the orders of an Official.
People do not cook – their food is delivered based on what each individual requires in terms of calories and nutrients. Each person specialises in one area of work and learns no other in any form. Those who plant grain, do not grow it; those who grow it do not cook it.
At 17 those who have chosen to be matched, rather than remain singles, attend a Matching Banquet – where they are presented with the best possible match for them based on personality and phsyical traits. The choice is made by the Society Officials.
Cassia’s match is unusual in itself when she is matched with a boy not only from her town, but one with whom she is friends: Xander. Thrilled that she has been matched with someone she cares about, she returns home to view the data card, only to be presented with someone else’s face. This second ‘match’ is also a boy she knows – Ky.
A visit from an Official informs Cassia there has been a mistake, she must not worry, her match is in fact Xander and that everything has been fixed. When she is warned she must keep the mistake to herself, she asks if she may tell her grandfather who is about to ‘celebrate’ his 80th birthday. Permission is granted only because members of Society die on their 80th birthday – the one day they may choose the food they wish to eat.
At his final banquet, Cassia’s grandfather gives her something forbidden. Two handwritten poems which both entrance and terrify the young woman until sick with guilt she destroys them.
The loss of her grandfather, the turmoil of the matching error, and perhaps good old adolescent contrariness, all begin to play on Cassia’s mind and she begins to make friends with Ky. Before long, she has fallen in love.
Caught in a triangle, the guilt of posessing and destroying something forbidden and terrified of the outcome for her family, Cassia begins to question the control Society Officials have over people, and finds herself resisting the path matched out for her by those studying and controlling the data.
When Cassia receives the final test to place her as a Sorter she discovers she has sort Ky and on impulse makes a choice she hopes will give Ky choices Society no longer has. Unfortunately the decision results in Ky being sent away and Cassia learning there had been no mistake – she, Xander and Ky were part of a controlled experiment to see what would happen if individuals were allowed to react with emotional choice. Cassia, her family and the surrounding neighbourhood are ordered to take the red tablet, setting the scene for Book Two in the series: Crossed.
Beautifully recounted by Cassia, Matched is one of the best books I have ever read and would certainly be, with the follow up Crossed, my pick for this year.
Flawless story telling, sympathetic characters, and a disconcerting sense that Society, as imagined by Condie, is closer than we would like, make Matched a compelling read.