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Review: Matched, Ally Condie & Arranged Marriages

December 15, 2010

Matched, a debut work by Ally Condie, was released in the UK on 2nd December, 2010, after a fierce bidding war at auction in over 28 languages. It has reached #5 on the NYT Bestsellers’ List, with its film rights quickly snapped up by Disney. For more information, visit http://www.matched-book.com for the book, or the author’s website at http://www.allysoncondie.com. The trailer can be seen here.

It’s true. I have a weakness for pretty books with pretty girls in pretty dresses on the front. The prettier the girl/dress, the more I want to read it. The entire reason I bought this book without reading it was EVERYTHING to do with the cover, and that turned out to be a a horrible mistake (dreadful book). Contrasted with this book, also bought out of the greenest coverlust, which turned out to be AMAZING.

So I admit I am shallow, when it comes to books. I judge them by their covers (doesn’t everyone?). And Matched has a cover that made me really want to read it because LOOK AT HER isn’t she lovely?

Matched is the story of 17-year-old Cassia coming of age, in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The Society rules, and it rules everything – from calorie-intake per meal to leisure-time activities to future job. The Society models each individual’s every choice based on statistics and probabilities, predicting what they will do before they do it – and picking out who they will marry before they have met them…and, in a pleasantly ironic twist, introducing them to each other at the Match Banquet, the Society’s version of a debutante party.

Cassia meets her Match – and with a one-in-millions chance, she’s thrilled that he turns out to be her best friend, Xander. But the datacard that is meant to contain his information shows her, for an instant, another face.

‘What do you think she would say about my Match?’ I ask him. ‘About what happened today?’

He’s quiet, and I wait. ‘I think,’ he says finally, ‘she would ask you if you wondered.’

And that is what Matched is all about: what if? What if the rules are wrong? What if they’re right? What if you don’t want to be with the person that probability and analyses predict as your most likely match? What if you do? What if you try to find out the truth? What if you don’t? What if you ask questions? What if you don’t?

She would ask you if you wondered.

Teenage fiction is always at its best when it asks bigger questions, like about choice and identity and self-determination – because, despite Tessa Gratton’s recent rant (with which I wholeheartedly agree, although perhaps with different examples), there is some pretty rubbish YA out there – and Matched takes a step up by asking the counter-question – what if I don’t? You follow Cassia as each question she asks leads to ten more, none of which she can answer simply, if at all.

Matched, though, is not the first book of its kind – it reminded me strongly of The Declaration (Gemma Malley), and The Hollow People (Brian Keaney). But what makes Matched most compelling is that it isn’t only about dubious regimes in dystopic worlds and making hard choices – it’s also about love. Love, and choosing whom to love.

“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, and then I know that he is. He’s in pain. I am, too. It strikes me that perhaps this is part of what we are fighting to choose. Which pain we feel.

I would be the last person to admit that there is something anything compelling about romance. But there is, unfortunately. Maybe it’s my girl-genes talking. Romance aside, though, Matched is well-written (and edited), and shows surprising depth and nuance, especially in painting the character of Ky, and I can’t tell you anymore about him because…you’ll just have to read it if you want to know.

There’s also a lot more to this book than calorie-controlled meal portions and love: there are lots of interesting questions about deciding what is valuable, the power of knowledge and the power of words, autonomy, and intellectual freedom. My sister, a Hunger Games fangirl (I’ve been holding off reading HG until all of three books were safely out), said, ‘it’s really good – it’s like the Hunger Games except you actually LIKE the main character!’ So there you go. A genuine teenage opinion.

I can’t figure it out. I’ve thought and thought about it and turned the words over in my head. I wish I could see the words again on paper and puzzle it out. For some reason, I feel like everything would be different if I could see them outside of myself, not only in my mind.

I’ve realised one thing, though. Even though I’ve done the right thing – burned the words and tried to forget them – it doesn’t work. These words won’t go away.

And now we’re about to segue into something totally nothing only somewhat to do with this book: The Big Oo-er, ARRANGED MARRIAGE.

I’m Bengali, right, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have strong views on arranged marriage. I’ve been in rooms where the mere mention of it caused ripples of shock, horror and indignation – on the flip side, I”ve also been with people who think any other way of marriage is just plain stupid. Like so stupid you could pad a cell with it.

It’s difficult not to compare Cassia’s struggles with the struggle that a lot of young Asians face: their destiny, often, is to be ‘matched’ in a way that isn’t so different from what is portrayed in this book. The main difference would be that instead of the matches being generated by a computer, they’re generated by the Aunty Network (and I’m not kidding, these aunties are more powerful – and occasionally frightening in their matchmaking zeal – than computers). Yet, at the same time, they see their parents and many others, perfectly happy, genuinely in love, well-matched, and they think…what if I’m wrong? And then, in equal and opposite measure…what if I’m not? And back and forth and back and forth, until we finally ask the question, ‘well how do you KNOW?’

And I think…you don’t. You never really know. You just do your best to make sure you do justice to whatever comes your way, whether it is by someone else’s suggestion or your own, but there are never guarantees. You always have to step into that unknown, whoever’s arm you’re on, and however you come by it. It is, as Dumbledore once said to Harry, your choices that make you who you truly are. Choosing to accept another’s choice is as much a valid choice as making your own choice.

That isn’t to say that it’s all a bed of roses for us chumps, nor that it’s all bad. Like with most things, it’s a very mixed and often very confusing process and experience. The only real problem is that all the people involved in our lives tend to want something different to everyone else – but times are changing and so are we. What was good for our parents or for other people might not necessarily be what is good for us.

But it also might be. And therein lies the heartache. What if they’re right and you’re not? We come back to the same question: how will you know?

A friend of mine who has been seeing someone for a while now – and having just had their first fight – admitted recently that she’s still full of uncertainty. When everyone is talking about ‘The One’, how can you be sure? Is he The One? If you have fights, does that mean is ISN’T The One? What are the signs?

I think that’s the problem, really. Maybe there is a ‘One’ – and maybe there isn’t. But YOUR ‘One’ is who you decide it is. You don’t enter a relationship and wait to see if it works. That’s dumb. Like sitting in a car waiting for it to move. Key. Ignition. If you’re in a relationship, you make it work. You make the decision that This Is The One – it doesn’t spontaneously happen that ‘this is the One I will be mystically bound to for supernatural reasons’ or ‘this is the soulmate I’ve been waiting 87 lifetimes to meet who was born under the light of a full moon’ or even ‘wow our starsigns are compatible lulz’, and it most definitely cannot be a question, ‘is this The One?’ ‘Cause that ain’t committing.

No. This is the one I have decided to commit myself to: it is, as Aleksandr Orlov would say, ‘simples’. As a general rule (with the exceptions that prove it), Ones don’t spontaneously happen. We have enough self-determination that we can choose the recipient of our commitment. If despite our efforts, things don’t work out…well, that’s life. Some things work out and some things don’t. But when it doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be because you didn’t try.

Off you go, now. That’s enough life-lessoning for today. Although before you go, I should ask – do you have an opinion on the business of arranged marriage?

All quotes are taken from ‘Matched’, by Ally Condie, supplied to The Rock Pool for review by Razorbill, an imprint of the Penguin Group.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Allumer permalink
    December 15, 2010 1:25 pm

    Arranged marriages can work. But for every truly happy arranged marriage, I think there is an indifferent or even horrible arranged marriage. This could probably be said for non-arranged marriages too, with the huge difference being that the mistake is all your own and rather than it being arranged or even forced on you by others. Makes all the difference.

    I’ll be honest and say I view arranged marriage as somewhat of a feminist issue. I think it impacts young women far more than young men because in cultures where arranged marriages are practiced it is the woman who is expected to always obey, to cook and to clean, to be intimate with and bear the children of a man who might be perfectly fine but who she doesn’t like, all the way down to someone who abuses her. Men have all the options, women have a few, and of those few, they are often completely ignored or twisted in spite of the Sharia.

    Also discounted is what a lifetime of having your life “arranged” for you does to some young women’s psyches. I knew a girl who, despite being interested in something completely legitimate (some science) was told she could be a doctor or nothing. So she suffered through medical school, knowing that after ten years of learning things she didn’t care for, she would then be forced into a marriage she didn’t want. And that’s what happened. And she ended up in a mental hospital after they found her wandering around a highway in the middle of the night in the rain in the grip of a severe mental breakdown. She didn’t allow her father to see her even once. Probably because it was the first thing in her entire life she had been allowed to “arrange,” rather than him.

    • Allumer permalink
      December 15, 2010 1:43 pm

      Also, and I can’t believe I have more to say on this – but I think arranging marriages should be like the whole love thing, i.e. love the way you know that person wishes to be loved. Arrange someone for the person who is actually getting married, not for the parents or aunties who are going for what they think is best or trying to relieve what THEY would have wanted.

  2. December 16, 2010 9:36 pm

    ‘Arrange someone for the person who is actually getting married, not for the parents or aunties who are going for what they think is best or trying to relieve what THEY would have wanted.’

    I feel you’ve hit on the heart of the problem here. The thing I hear most from people is that their parents mean well, but they keep picking people they think are perfect, without much reference to what their kid wants or thinks (‘what, he’s perfect, why don’t you like him?’).

    How strange, I never thought about it in the context of gender before. But you’re right, women are distinctly disadvantaged and sometimes disenfranchised of their right to choose (you’d think, the way the world is now, freedom of choice would be assumed, but apparently not). I think my view of this topic oscillates quite significantly, probably depending on my mood.

    Marriage in general, when you’re following certain rules (i.e. not dating), is so complicated and difficult, it frustrates me when people make it more difficult than it should be or needs to be, purely based on their personal prejudices, foibles or preferences. It’s one of those things where it has the potential to be fantastic if everyone works together to make it work, instead of plot, counterplot and manipulation.

    But hey, I don’t want people developing bad opinions because of what I say – everything above is true, and happens on bad days, but it’s also true that a guided marriage process can be a godsend – you don’t have to do the finding, the checking out, the vetting and the general putting-yourself-out-there because everyone else’ll take care of that and YOU can just sit around with your presidential veto. And there are millions of genuinely happy couples who went through that process. Maybe you know one.

    (So it really all comes down to individual stupidity or un-stupidity, as do most things.)

    Wow, I really have no brain today.

    • Allumer permalink
      December 16, 2010 11:08 pm

      I do hope you know I meant “relive” not “relieve?”

      I definitely know happy arranged marriages. Our Sheikh did a few and those people are still together. And to be honest, I’m not sure how far you have to go in having other people organize things for you before it’s called an arranged marriage. My marriage was almost totally taken care of for me except for the “Ooooh, yeah, me likey, he’s so cute!!!! Squeeee!!!!” part. But he wasn’t chosen for me; he inquired about me. I could have said no with absolutely no flack from anyone, but as you well know I would have wrestled him to the ground, hog-tied him and hauled him to the masjid rather than let him go.

      As for gender, I think those of us who are fortunate tend to think of ourselves as so free and un-oppressed (and we are, as it should be in true Islam), forget that many women have to deal with corrupt families and corrupt legal systems in cultures where misogyny is a revered trait and women are considered sub-human.

      I don’t have a problem with arranged marriage in the least if it involves the family trotting out eligible youngsters as long as they shut their mouth and nod when their son or daughter says a reasonable no. It’s the pressure and sometimes forcing that bothers me.

  3. May 9, 2014 2:29 pm

    i honestly think you are completely stupid for real you should know by now it wasnt arranged they match you with who you wanted dduuhhh

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