Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review: MATCHED by Ally Condie

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution. Also, if you're wondering where Dystopian Discussion: Part Three is, I'll be posting it on Wednesday.
Rating: Two Stars—Meh


Oh dear, I so wanted to like MATCHED. The cover was beautiful, the premise was intriguing, and the writing was decent. It even made the #1 slot on the New York Times Bestseller List, so I couldn’t go wrong. Right?

I’ll admit, it wasn’t AWFUL awful, and literature is terribly subjective anyway. Ally Condie is reasonably good with words—that’s not why I disliked the book. And Cassia’s (our main character’s) grandfather is such a great man—even though he doesn’t have more than a few scenes, I feel I got to know him well. At the very least, I got to know the parts of his personality that mattered. On top of that, I liked Cassia’s brother and parents. While they don’t have a great deal of substance to them, they are interesting, compelling, and sympathetic.

Another aspect that interested me was the inclusion of poetry. When I found out that MATCHED features Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, I was all like SIGN ME UP, PEOPLE. And then, when I discovered MATCHED also mentions an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem, I donned my party hat, tossed confetti in the air, and hurled myself at the Ally Condie bandwagon.

I was sorely disappointed. And since misery loves company, I feel inclined to share my complaints with you lovely people. You’re welcome.

The Pills. While the pills they carry around in their little cases aren’t a hugely original concept, I saw potential there, especially when the narrative hints at Em’s potential addiction to the green pill (a chill pill, if you will). However, just as Condie introduces this thread, she lets it slip through her fingers. Even though it’s a small detail, not overly essential to the plot, I think this might be what disappointed me the most.
In a messed up society like Cassia’s, even those who do not necessarily believe themselves to be unhappy are, on some subconscious level, bound to realize that not everything is all right. Everyone in MATCHED is sickeningly content with their lot. Apart from Cassia’s grandfather, no one even seems to consider questioning the system. So I thought it lent believability that people like Em are quietly drugging themselves, potentially trying to numb the parts of their minds that want to fight, however suppressed they might be. I wanted to see how everyone was deeply dissatisfied, despite not realizing why. If that were the case, the world of MATCHED would have felt so much deeper, so much more real. Because, really, it doesn’t count as a dystopia if nearly everyone is happy. Unfortunately, Condie doesn’t follow up on this pill addiction—doesn’t even mention if this is common, or if Em’s dependence on the chill pill is unusual. All we get is a brief scene where Em has an anxiety attack because she has become too dependent on the pills to calm her down when she’s stressed. Nothing deeper. *sad face*

At this point, all of you who disliked the book are probably wondering why on earth I’m missing the most obvious, most glaring issues. All right, all right, I’ll mention the love triangle. Happy now? (I’m just messing with you—I’ve been desperate to rant about this ever since I got, like, fifty pages into the book and saw what was coming.)

The Icky Love Triangle. So let’s break this down. In the beginning, we have Cassia and Xander—best friends since diapers, or whatever—riding on a train to their Matching Banquet where they will be assigned to their future spouses. Bascially, Cassia is over the moon, nervous and excited, but most of all happy. Then, tada! She’s matched to Xander—how lucky can you get? (Warning: The banquet scene may leave you craving chocolate cake. Read at your own risk.)

At the ceremony, Cassia is given a microcard containing information about her Match, as is customary. Later, when she finally reviews this card, something unexpected happens. At first, Xander’s gorgeous mug appears, but then (GASP), another boy’s face appears for the briefest instant before the portscreen shuts down. So what does Cassia do, once an official has come to her and explained that it was just a glitch, that the boy she saw (Ky) is not intended for her, and that she really is matched to Xander, her best friend?

Well, if she were sensible, she would just brush it off and continue on with her happy, heartsty life. After all, she has everything she could possibly want. Everything. But is she grateful for her good fortune? NO. No, she actively decides to fall in love with Ky, a boy she never thought about and hardly noticed before he showed up on her portscreen. She throws away her beautiful, shining future with both hands just for an illicit romance with a guy she hardly knows. Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Now, I realize I sound cranky (it’s because I am), so let me explain myself a little more eloquently. I would have been fine if Xander were just some snot-nosed freak or an upstart, pompous pig. I would have been fine if Cassia had already been in love with Ky, but found herself matched to Xander, a boy she couldn’t care less about. I would have been fine if she’d broken the rules, cheated on her match, and defied the government because she loved Ky too much to let him go. But I wasn’t fine with this. Xander is great for her—he is brilliant for her. Goodness, they’ve been friends their entire lives—that goes for a lot. At any point she could have decided to shrug off her passing curiosity about Ky—because, given the circumstances, it’s understandable for her to be curious. Instead, at every turn, she goes out of her way to pursue Ky.

Basically, I spent the whole time wanting to whack her in the face with a dictionary. Awful, horrendous things could have happened to her, and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash, because she would have brought all those things upon herself (I promise you, I’m not this callous in real life). And I’m not saying I never forgive characters when they make stupid decisions, but it’s one thing for a character to flub up a little—it’s quite another when someone, like Cassia, puts on her stupid hat, buries her brain alive, and proceeds to dance on its grave for the ENTIRE NOVEL. Pardon me—I have the sudden urge to stab myself in the eye with a knitting needle.

Pacing/Tension. Unfortunately, Cassia’s nonsense is not the only issue I had with this novel. I honestly didn’t care that it was slow-moving—I don’t read books like WAR AND PEACE, ANNA KARENINA, and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT because I expect them to be fast-paced. But pacing and tension are two different things, and I prefer my reading material to have at least one, if not both. With MATCHED, there is hardly any driving force. The romance just plods along, and even the climax hardly feels like a climax.

World-building, Flat Characters, and Cruel Cassia. Furthermore, the world struck me as too small, too penned in. There are hints about unrest around the fringes of our happy little society, but since we’re reading about Cassia, we pretty much stay where we are, smack dab in the middle of a paper doll town filled with lollipop people. Like some of the other characters, both Xander and Ky are flat and far, FAR too perfect. Also, it bothered me that, while Cassia has decided to actively pursue Ky, she doesn’t have the decency to let poor Xander go. Honey, if you don’t want him, don’t keep running his poor, darling heart through the wringer. If you’ve decided on someone else, then give Xander up for goodness sakes.

My Last Gripe. On top of that, the entire book seems like a poor rewrite of Lois Lowry's THE GIVER. We have arranged marriages (which work much better in THE GIVER because emotional control smoothes out many of the hitches Condie conveniently ignores), euthanasia, nice bad guys, freakishly content people, a tight community with scheduled activities and curfews and whatnot, and etc…

So yeah, I might have had a few problems with this book, and I’m not sure whether I’ll read the sequels, CROSSED and REACHED. Who knows, maybe I’ll give them another chance, since I hate leaving trilogies unfinished. But they’re definitely not high on my priority list.

However, the cool thing about books is that, while some people will hate a certain novel, others are bound to love it. And I know at least one of my friends is head-over-heels for MATCHED. That being the case, you’re welcome to disagree with me, but if you want my opinion, I’d say you’re better off reading THE GIVER.


  1. I really wanted to like it, too! But I'll agree that the love triangle rather killed it for me, and even if it was an interesting concept, it definitely didn't work for me. Blah. :P Now that I think about it, I do see that there are similarities to The Giver, and I wouldn't have made that comparison—but The Giver was more artfully written, I think, so there's that... Anyway, great review, and I'm glad I'm not alone in my opinion. :)

    1. Yeah, I felt like it had so much potential, and then it tripped on a brick and fell flat on its face. :( I still liked elements of it, but the love triangle prevented a full appreciation. And I feel like I enjoyed some of the aspects more for their potential than for anything else. But also, I'm not a big romance person, so I can see other people being drawn in by the love triangle. I guess it's a personal thing.

      I agree--I think The Giver had a lot more artistry to it. The best thing about Matched was that it made me want to read The Giver again, which I've been wanting to anyway.

      Thanks! And likewise--I'm glad I'm not the only person who felt this way. :)

  2. I wanted to like Matched, but I agree with your review. I really didn't enjoy Crossed, and I couldn't bring myself to start Reached. I gave Matched two stars as well :)

    1. :) Yeah, I read the first chapter of Crossed, and I'm even less sure now whether I want to finish out the trilogy now, especially because I know how it ends.

  3. I DNF this one on 20% last year simply because it confuse and bore me. I agree, this book has potential to be a great book, the setting and the concept is actually interesting, but somehow it didn't work for me. And yes, the love triangle is ridiculous too. I really don't understand Cassia's mind :/

    Tiffany @ The Bookish Thought

    1. Yeah, it was a bit boring--I think the pacing was too slow for me. I considered DNFing when I realized where the plot was going, but I hate not finishing books. But it was really frustrating because I agree, there was potential, and I liked several aspects of the setting. But the love triangle ruined it for me. I don't understand Cassia either--or at least, I'd rather not understand her.

      Thanks for commenting!