OK, so at first I was going to compare this to the “Big Two” Sci-Fi/Fantasy trilogies, but I’m going to have to go with the “Big Three” (Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent ) and though I’ve read all the other books in the other series and only the first in this one, I was lucky enough to read it knowing that there were two more books to follow. That being said, I ate it up knowing that it was:
- Young Adult Lit
- Half Romance and Half Sci Fi (and typically, I want romance OUT of my sci fi)
- It’s the first book in a series.
Overall, I liked this best out of the Big Three Sci YA trilogies/quartets. Is it AMAAAAZING sci fi? No. But it does some important things WELL and it does them BETTER than the other series. To be brief: Better world building than Hunger Games in a similarly functioning society…I can visualize this one well and I liked that it just kept getting built and described. Unlike Hunger Games, there are references to the past that are NOT vague and confused. There are tangible objects, poems, intellectual stuff and ***SQUEEEEE THERE ARE ARCHIVISTS AND LIBRARIANS **** and in a society where everything is controlled to produce the best possible outcome, the aforementioned ~*ARCHIVISTS AND LIBRARIANS*~ are rebels with a cause…to keep the flame of Prometheus glowing!
Yes, there is a love triangle. In fact, sadly, I almost didn’t read this book because the description on the front is all about the romance. But I was not disappointed; this love triangle is not creepy, forced, or arbitrary. Xander and Cassia really DO have a friendship that has lasted several years, but unlike Katniss and Gale, Xander is NOT Cassia’s only friend and confidante. In fact, most of the book is spent with Cassia questioning why her relationship with Xander has changed, and whether she can talk to him openly like she used to. Even Cassia’s relationship with Ky is not forced. He has a past, he is kinda brooding, but also quirky and fun, and he is a close friend of Xander and Cassia’s friend circle, not some random guy that pops up to keep the plot moving or force a love triange. And get this: I actually liked reading the romance. No, really. It was natural, it made sense. Cassia can connect with someone in a way she never had before, and is introduced to an entirely (literally) new side to her world, and she has to choose between the comfortable, easy path and the difficult, human one.
I thought the female lead, Cassia Reyes, was the strongest female lead out of the other series, with Katniss coming in a hot second place. Divergent sucks…do not read it or indulge its terrible narration unless you want to be REALLY let down after what you believe might be an interesting setup, and everyone knows that Twilight, at least the first three, are great beach books, mainly due to good atmosphere and fluffy fantasy fulfillment (namely, being an average girl pegged “DAH ONE” by unattainable male).
A lot of people peg Matched to be a The Giver ripoff, but I honestly felt like it pulled from both The Hunger Games and The Giver but actually developed the worlds and characters better. This is no fault of The Giver which, I believe, is purposefully written almost as a dystopian fable — it certainly feels that way. It is laden with symbolism: the particular objects children are allowed to acquire at certain ages, and the particular memories that happen to coalesce at the end. It is a cautionary tale.
Other reviewers found Cassia to be a Mary Sue, grating and boring. I actually did not. I found Katniss and Beatrice to be far more Mary-Sue ish, and Cassia is the one I was cheering for. I read a review that stated that it’s really dependent on the reader and whether he/she can relate to Cassia’s mind and choices. I personally enjoyed reading her thoughts and watching her ideas flourish and grow as the events unfolded. Unlike when reading Katniss, who is “me, me, me, every detail of every outfit I ever wore, my boyfriend, my struggle,” Cassia is a girl who starts off very ordinary and who we are able to watch change as she is introduced to ideas and questions. I did not enjoy the “greatness-suddenly-thrust-upon-them” plot in the Hunger Games and Catching Fire because it felt forced. All of a sudden, the entire system has its eye on one 16-year-old and her boyfriend over…really, something arbitrary. It would have been cooler if Katniss and Peeta were forced to actually stay in the arena and fight each other to the death or be faced with death themselves, or something.
I loved hearing the inside of Cassia’s mind much more, because it felt more genuine when she got emotional. We are introduced to Cassia actually a year later than we are introduced to Katniss, yet we have far more backstory and learn much more about the relationships between her and her parents, grandfather, Ky, Xander, and even other friends, whereas in The Hunger Games , we really don’t get much except for Katniss’ rushed backstory about Gale taking a liking to her immediately, Twilight-style, for no reason, and Peeta’s lifelong crush on her due to one incident once long ago. I liked that Cassia actually had to develop her relationships. She has a truly deep friendship with Xander, from childhood, that is intensified by the fact that she knows they must eventually marry. This puts a lot of pressure on her– she is relieved that she knows him and knows she likes him, but is also confused and jealous because other girls get to meet and know their Matches, and because she is *SPOILER* beginning to fall in love with someone else. I felt like this worked in Matched far better than in The Hunger Games . It also works here because Cassia is at the perfect age to begin to question the Society and what works and what does not. She herself is a data sorter, so she is equipped –and has a talent for it — to make decisions in the Society based on the statistics and what would be “best” while leaving emotional decisions out of it. This is poignant in a scene later in the book, when the stakes are beginning to rise, and Cassia is asked to sort some data that actually does have consequences, and I was delighted to see that we were walked through her entire dilemma — should she play God? Should she play along to Society’s wishes? Should she tip the scale? Should she let certain information remain in the dark? Cassia is smart enough not to fall into any traps (AHEM…KATNISS) and is one step ahead, but I found myself cheering inwardly for her even when she didn’t know what the next move should be. I felt like, in that situation, I would feel the same feelings as Cassia. I was on the same page.
Now, some of you say this book lacks plot. It lacks tension. It lacks climax. It lacks conflict. Some of you say, “you can’t have a book where it’s Cassia vs. the whole of Society!” Matched takes the idea of the Districts/Capitol from The Hunger Games and tells a story of a girl living in the suburbs of Matched’s world’s city, in which, like in The Giver , it is simply known as the Society and in which everything is perfectly controlled for the best possible outcome. Everything you can think of is tracked and recorded for data and statistics, including meals and calories, exercise routines, and even dreams and yes–matching you with your ideal partner. However, unlike the Hunger Games, we don’t focus on the “Reality TV” cautionary tale mixed with “Dictators are Most Potente Evile,” cautionary tale, but instead we focus on SUBTLE.
Well, first of all… good plots are not Good Everyman vs. Evil Other Character. I liked the addition of actual grey characters, namely, Cassia’s father, who, just to give an example, is one of the Officials. There are many kinds of Officials, all of whom are present to enforce the rules. There are no “bad/evil” characters, only circumstances. Example: Cassia’s father is forced to remove artifacts (the word for family heirlooms/objects from the past) from other homes, while his children bawl that their artifacts, the only things left to remind them of their recently deceased grandfather, are seized by other Officials.
Cassia’s younger brother, Bram, is the perfect mix of sensitive little boy and whining younger sibling. Cassia’s experience with falling in love, with someone of her own choice, as well as witnessing many other things in the book, is what creates tension: it’s Cassia vs. Herself. It’s the Self vs. Cognitive Dissonance (i.e., the idea that you’re doing something wrong and breaking the law when you’re really not). There is no evil, no bad thing (although there are some hints at darkness creeping in the back corner just out of sight…) and that is what the book does best. It does Cassia’s tension. We are feeling her fears and worries and we are simultaneously trying to live normally while dark thoughts encroach on the life we thought we knew. And it happens so slowly, so naturally, that it’s no wonder people got confused. They wanted it to be like Hunger Games or Divergent where things happened fast, and rebellion was starting in the middle of the first book. In Cassia’s story, she is not the poor victim, she is in the comfortable cushion, and she is becoming uncomfortable. She becomes aware that she is being watched in everything she does, and suddenly she gets that chill down her spine that perhaps Society isn’t so perfect after all (an ode to Big Brother as well as The Cave).
In fact, I got the prickly feeling that there were things purposefully not explained, which are enigmas both because we are in Cassia’s head and she doesn’t know them yet, and also because this is the FIRST book and it is setting up for bigger things (I hope…)
ARE THERE PLOT HOLES? Of course. There is one in particular that didn’t need to be included at all and involves a particular Official…and another which insinuates that it’s illegal to write in cursive, but you can type on a computer…Maybe that’s because computers can be monitored? I don’t know. IS IT PERFECT? Hell no. But just give it a try, because there’s a lot to love, and if you’re like me and SICK OF STUPID HUNGER GAMES/DIVERGENT COPYCAT SCI FI, then this might just be a refresher, because though it draws from those themes and definitely plays into the 2008-2013 YA lit fad, I just think it does it so gosh-darned well and really cares about where it’s going.