Sunday, December 5, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie starts as chilling a book as you let it
be. Its the kind of book that requires some careful reading to fully
appreciate the horror of the world it creates. That's because the narrartor is part of and accepts that world completely. When you start to read against her placid observations (she's fine, initially, with The Society killing her grandfather because he's 80 years old!) you start to understand: this is the world of The Giver-- and nobody cares. That's when the book gets interesting. What if Jonas from The Giver didn't care when he saw his father killing babies?

A great companion to The Giver, Matched takes the innocent premise of that book-- that just knowing their society is evil will bring some people to revolt-- and moves it into a more modern realm: what if you know your system of living is wrong and don't care-- since you live a comfortable life? See what I mean? OY!

But then-- Cassia, the main character in Matched-- does begin to care. How?
Through poetry. I remember the precise moment when poetry slowed down
the whole world and called me. I was in sixth grade and encountered Harlem II by Langston Hughes in a literature text book. We didn't even read it for class. That poem, with its icy first line-- What happens to a dream deferred? grabbed me, spoke to me, made me realize that the written word pertains to me like nobody and
nothing else did or ever can. I believe from personal experience that there is a reason the Chinese burned libraries in Tibet before they destroyed anything else. Poetry can light your hair on fire and change you forever. It can make you act. Call me a crazy English major, but it can happen. Let's go with that.

Cassia's grandfather gives her an artifact-- a legal reminder of the old
days-- her grandmother's golden make-up compact. Hidden inside, her
secretly subversive grandfather has hidden Dylan Thomas's poem Do Not Go
Gentle. In Cassia's world, there are 100 approved poems, paintings and
pieces of music that everybody has access to. Cassia's father, a Society
Official, burns superfluous libraries for a living, as all that old
stuff isn't necessary any more. Do Not Go Gentle is not one of the 100.

Cassia's secretly subversive Grandmother was a Sorter in the old days,
helping to eliminate all but the 100 approved poems. She took one--
Thomas's-- and kept it. To Cassia, heart-sore and sad about her
grandfather's gentle death-- it is a beautiful curiosity. It itches
something out of her head and her heart. It makes her puzzle and think.
It drives her to distraction-- and eventually, to a great ending of the
book, which I won't give away. However, I will say that Matched does a
GREAT job of NOT committing the uber-sin of many YA writers. She doesn't
place her finger on a certain page number and decide, "Okay, time to
clean up, solve the character's problems in a kind and decent way and
end happily." Not that Matched doesn't end happily. It just doesn't end
in a manner you would expect. And I LOVE that.

Matched does sag a little in the beginning of the middle. I think an editor might have tightened up the book a bit. However, there is so much to explore and love about this book that I recommend it highly. NOT a Hunger Games read-a-like. But a great story that makes you think.