Review: Matched, Ally Condie & Arranged Marriages
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.