Meh. My general rating of Matched would be about 2.5 stars, based solely on the idea that I'm giving Ally Condie the benefit of the doubt and that she still more interesting things in store... perhaps even things that aren't the YA romance version of The Giver.

This is the summary given on the book's website:

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.
Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.

Cassia is believable as a character who sees nothing wrong with the system that's in place to keep her happy and healthy, but when a large number of things come together to unsettle her, she's no longer quite so sure that everything is as perfect as she once thought it to be. At her Matching banquet, she and her best friend Xander are matched -- and it's an incredibly rare event when two people are matched from within the same community. She's delighted and clearly he is, too. When she receives the computer card with information on her match, she's a bit amused, as she already knows everything about him... and then the card shows her the face of another boy in her community and everything changes. The mere suggestion of an alternate future is the tip of the iceberg. Cassia's grandfather is scheduled to die (people die at age 80 in this world) and suggests life is not all it should be. He shows her a hidden trick to the watch she had inherited -- which conceals a poem that wasn't destroyed when their society decided that too many things made it impossible to really appreciate them, so 100 of every poem, book, and song were kept while all others were destroyed. Raids on homes stir some unrest. The fact that Ky, the boy she's strangely drawn to, is explained away as someone who will never be matched... well, Cassia now has a number of questions and can only be satisfied with answers that will be difficult to come by.

The utopian/dystopian society is a pretty common trope in today's young adult literature, but it's impossible not to cite The Giver as the inspiration for this one. Cassia's world is completely regulated -- food is distributed and specifically tailored to each person, matches are set for marriage, jobs are given out according to capabilities, housing is assigned. Everyone carries two colored pills with them at all times (one of which helps with anxiety and the other is only to be taken when asked to do so by an official). When Cassia starts to question things, suddenly she starts to see a large number of things that she'd never seen before -- indications that the world isn't perfect and that there is a resistance to it all. Her naive understanding that the greater powers wouldn't see what she's up to is in keeping with the "realistic" depiction of someone waking up to all this, but it's still somewhat frustrating that Cassia is so slow to pick up on things. There's also nothing particularly interesting to Cassia that would endear her to a reader, beyond the simple fact that she experienced the glitch that showed her an alternate future with an alternate match. On the whole, I found the characters to not be as well-developed as I wanted them to be, and yet Condie was able to pepper the story with interesting details. (The swatch of dress fabric that each girl gets to keep from her Matching dress, the use of food as a means of control, the limited choices given to people as recreational activities.) The world itself was well-drawn, but the characters that inhabited it all seemed to be filling sketched-in roles to further the plot. Kyle is quiet and strong, a little too perfect and yet that's all necessary to move the plot along. Xander is annoyingly understanding of Cassia's confusion. Cassia's parents are more complicated than Cassia realizes at first and the story might have benefited from their greater involvement.

On the whole, I just don't understand this novel's appeal, unless teens today just never read The Giver, as there's an abundance of dystopian novels out there right now that. There's enough here to suggest that Condie has bigger ideas for the rest of the installments in this series, but obviously it was hard for me to really lose myself in the story as I didn't find many things to feel particularly original. A re-telling or update is one thing, but this seems to be passing off so many themes as its own that I found it somewhat distasteful. Coupled with characters that I didn't feel any deep emotion for and, well, I just don't understand why this has held on to a bestseller spot for weeks now. Hopefully the rest of the series will allow Condie to show some real creativity beyond small details.

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