Several years ago, I dedicated my blog to love for the month of February. This is back when I blogged every day and didn’t write as many reviews, and by the end of the month I was absolutely sick of romance. Daring to tempt a repeat and happy with the moderate success of Octerror, I dedicate Reading Malone to Aphrodite for the month of February and all the romance it stands for. With that in mind, I’ve selected a subgenre of books to highlight this month—YA Fantasy/Sci-fi Romance.
Teenagers are full of hormones—especially around Valentine’s Day—and I used to find that most of my romantic fantasies were inspired by the books I was reading. The characters and their relationships, while fairly unrealistic at times to be honest, were gateways into an understanding of what I wanted in a soulmate, a long term relationship, and out of life itself. While I was mildly limited with selection back in my day (supernatural romance was pretty much it), teens and YA lovers of today have plenty of choices when it comes to romantic tales.
Matched by Ally Condie is the first book in a dystopian trilogy that focuses on a tightly-controlled society ruled by algorithms. The Society matches up seventeen year olds with their future spouses based on genetic compatibility and other known factors. Cassia Reyes has been looking forward to her Matching ceremony for years—the first step toward a productive, healthy, well-planned life—and she is surprised, and pleased, to find out that she’s been Matched with her best friend, Xander Carrow. However, a different face pops up after Xander’s, another person that Cassia knows—another possible Match?
This is a multi-faceted dystopia that is well-organized and fairly realistic in terms of its functionality. In order to ensure that the human race survives at its best capacity, the Society monitors youth functions, marriages, work positions, child-bearing, and even death. However, there are small fissures in between the cogs of the machine and things may not be working as well as everyone thinks.
The gradual change in Cassia’s attitude toward the Society is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. At first, she completely buys into the Great Dream of a Perfect Life, but each new thing she learns chips away at that vision until it’s completely distorted. At first, it’s seeing Ky’s face after Xander’s and then it’s the illegal poem that her dying grandfather transfers to her. The slow reveal of the Society and its faults instead of a big exposition dump works well to speed up the pacing and create a nice page-turner.
However, as many other reviewers have noted, there are some notable similarities between Matched and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Dystopia is a newer subgenre explosion in YA, and there’s a little bit less to draw from in terms of inspiration. The idea of a utopia that’s not all it seems isn’t new and it can be harder to innovate when there’s not much to work with or against. Whereas The Giver uses education to illuminate the faults of the perfect society (fighting ignorance with knowledge), Matched has an obviously-flawed society that just hides it behind lies. It’s a little too obvious with its sinister instead of believable.
The other issue lies in the antagonist/climax toward the end of the book. Perhaps a bit ambitious for a first book, the scope of the antagonist is the entire Society and “The Man.” Other dystopian societies have smaller antagonists to deal with before moving onto the bigger picture—In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen must fight against the other competitors before she moves on to fight Panem and President Snow. There is no small antagonist in Matched, and this leads toward a stall in pacing where there’s this big build toward nothing. I’m sure that the sequels will patch up some of these issues, but as a first novel it feels like a bit of a letdown.
It’s also another “empty calories” YA book where it’s enjoyable and fun to read at the time, but there’s nothing to fill a reader up once the story is over. There are some nice facets to this story, and it is a good addition to the dystopian romance subgenre. I recommend Matched to readers who loved The Giver when they were younger and thought, “I wish there had been more romance.” It’s a good book when you’re looking to pick something up, read it all in one day, and then walk away with a vague feeling of satisfaction. If you’re not tired of dystopian love-triangle books then this wouldn’t be a bad thing to add to your collection. Pick up a copy and see if this book is a good match for you.