Monday, May 2, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Hard on the heels of The Hunger Games comes a whole crop of scary-future-society teen fiction,  Matched being one of the more high-profile dystopian reads of the year.  To me, the cover looks more like a lighter paranormal read--I think the girl in green looks like a genie in a bottle. When you read the story you realize she's meant to be a rebel in a big-brother style society.  She doesn't break free on the cover or in the story, completely, either.  It's hard to fight city hall.

Matched is a more subdued book than Hunger Games or the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, which I personally feel are the recent benchmarks for dystopian teen fiction.  In Hunger Games, the point of view is squarely with people who are suffering under a cruel dictatorship and are fully aware of it.  They may not feel empowered to do anything about it, necessarily, but there's no doubt in their or the reader's minds that they're being oppressed.  In Matched,we are shown an extremely controlled society from the point of view of the so-called beneficiaries (if we were in the Hunger Games world, the equivalent would be the people of the Capital).

The heroine of Matched is Cassia, a young woman about to meet the spouse who is chosen for her by the Matching Department of her society.   To her surprise, her match turns out to be Xander, her longtime best friend.  While Xander is delighted with their match, Cassia becomes gradually less enthusiastic after seeing evidence that she may have had another match, her neighbour Ky, who cannot legally be partnered with anyone because of his low social status.  Cassia and Ky begin to develop a relationship based on small, subtle acts of rebellion, such as touching each other or memorizing forbidden poetry.   But even as Cassia begins to question the level of control her society exerts on her and the loss of intellectual and emotional freedom that goes with it, she is torn by the awareness that the system works well for a lot of people.  Her parents are happily married and have good jobs, and the world she lives in is safe and stable.

1984, the dystopia that spoke to me when I was a teen, features an impoverishment of the English language by the government ("newspeak") in order to prevent dissent ("thoughtcrime").  Similarly, in Cassia's world, history, culture, and knowledge are continually being pruned out of existence by government workers so that only scraps of  the past remain.  Bureaucratic committees have selected 100 officially sanctioned poems, books, paintings, historic events, and so on to represent the whole of human creativity and memory, and knowledge of all other works is forbidden.  In Matched, the poems of Dylan Thomas, particularly "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", become symbols of all that has been lost, much as the works of Shakespeare symbolize the loss of culture in Brave New World. 

But Cassia is ultimately emotionally rather than intellectually driven.  Her epiphany comes when she realizes that "...the statistics the Officials give us do not matter to me.  I know there are many people who are happy and I am glad for them.  But this is Ky.  If he is the one person who falls by the wayside while the other ninety-nine are happy and fulfilled, that is not right with me anymore."   Once Cassia has decided this, however, her path is not so clear.  How do you stand up to a society which provides so much, and is so good at hiding what it takes away?

Matched is apparently the first volume of a trilogy.  Volume 2, Crossed,  will be released in November 2011.  Until then, here's an author interview with Ally Condie. 

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