Monday, 5 November 2012

Ally Condie's "Matched"... or, go ask Ally. (review)

"One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.  And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all."
- Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"

 We selected dystopian fiction for book club this month.  For me, this was pretty much like winning the genre lottery.  Next to my deep-seated love for magical realism, dystopian runs a close second in my favorite genre race.  I love the world building, I love the despotic governments, I love the underdog, (often underage) heroes/heroines, and I ESPECIALLY love that there is no guarantee of a happy ending.  When you're reading a dystopian story, anything goes.  Anything and everything could happen.  I absolutely adore the flexibility that this genre has that comes with this lack of rules.  It's not bound by the historical accuracy of westerns and historical fiction.  It is not bound by the required good feelings and happy endings of romance novels.  And most curious of all, it seems that any level of violence becomes pretty much completely acceptable if the novel is dystopian, even if the intended audience is children/teens.

So for dystopian month, I selected a book that I have been itching to read for months.  With the impeding release of Reached, I thought it would be a fantastic time to read Ally Condie's popular triology Matched, so I read the titular book of this series.

Now let me preface this review by saying I have read A LOT of dystopian works.  And while that doesn't make me an expert, it makes me an avid reader, super-huge fan, and a pretty picky clientele.  I was very intrigued by the whole premise of the mistaken match, and devoured Matched over the course of about four days (this is incredibly fast for me, I am a very slow and deliberate reader).

The first thing that I noticed about Matched is the simplicity of the language.  Now while the lack of variety in adjectives or five-point words could be annoying for the reader, I treated the level of the writing to reflect the context of the story.  The characters' restricted access to literature and other forms of expression explain the simplistic verbiage; it is written as the first-person protagonist Cassia would speak.  It is rife with simple words and short sentences which are low on detail.  But every now and then there is a sentence that will pop out as being much more complex, and these are instances where Cassia is questioning the Society.  As a result, I found this style of writing to be highly reflective of the mental state of the characters.

However, I do have to complain about the slow pace of the work.  While I still found it highly engaging, I worry that this may have been because I love the genre so much and less that I was desperate to find out about what happened next.  The story feels like it is dragging its feet a bit.  And while this was probably to allow for more character development and the progress of the relationships between Cassia, Zander and Ky, I feel like the story could have used a few less of the moments where not a lot is happening.  Apparently the pacing improves and things get a bit more fast-paced in the later books of the series (which I have on hold at the library!).

Matched reminded me of several other books that I've read.  I felt that it is a bit like a combination of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  The perspective is like The Hunger Games in reverse; we see the world of the privileged city dwellers instead of the abused outliers living in rural regions.  And Brave New World came to mind because of the societal control aspects, the constant monitoring and assigned careers, as well as the plight of those marked from birth as unacceptable.

In terms of the violence that is usually found in dystopian works, I found that Matched was actually pretty non-violent and generally low-key when it came to physical threats towards the characters.  But keep in mind that this is in comparison to the hyper-violence in comparable works including The Hunger Games and Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking triology.  Much more is implied in Matched, which I think greatly compliments the aspects of the Society as being both a menace and a protector, and fits well with the bland wording as well.  The reader is not quite sure exactly what sort of fate will befall a citizen if they fall out of favor with society.  And not knowing/not seeing the evil and the violence quite as much helps to make the book that much creepier and enticing.

So in conclusion, I would say that Matched is not the scariest, nor the most violent, nor the most eloquently written dystopian fiction work that I have ever read.  But it is exceptionally well-balanced, and creates those feelings within the reader that only seem to come with dystopian works... the little worry in the back of one's mind that this could happen to us.

Watch for a follow-up review of the next book in this triology, Crossed, in the near future.

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