One of the review blurbs for Matched reads “If you like a ton of romance with your totalitarian government, this novel is for you!” Out of context, I’m not sure if that’s from a positive or negative review, but it’s certainly appropriate to this book.
Cassia lives in a world where the Society controls everything. In many ways, it’s a happy world. They’ve gotten rid of most diseases and people live healthy lives. People almost never die in accidents or as a result of crime. Divorce is unheard of. However, it’s the unquestioned control of the Society that allows this situation to exist.
Society decides who everyone will marry, if they will marry at all. This is to ensure happy marriages and healthy children. Typically, you don’t know the person you’re Matched with until the ceremony. Then Society controls your courtship until it’s time for the wedding. Cassia, though, is Matched with her childhood friend Xander, which means they already know each other. But when she looks on the microcard to see what Society wants her to know about Xander, she sees another face—and it’s Ky, another boy she knows. Although an Official explains to her that this was a prank and it means nothing, it plants seeds of doubt in Cassia’s mind. What if Society doesn’t know best? What if you could be perfectly Matched with more than one person? What other mistakes might Society be making that are to the detriment of the people?
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The Society controls pretty much everything—how much and what you eat. What you wear. What you own. Where you live. What you do for a job. Who you marry. What you do in your spare time. Having decided that there was too much sensory input, generations earlier they picked 100 songs, 100 poems, 100 books, etc. to keep and they destroyed everything else.
Although it seems like a fairly happy and carefree existence, slowly you realize that many things we take for granted as good are no longer there. Many things we see as bad are part of their everyday existence. It’s enough like our own world (obviously our own world generations in the future) that most readers will see the parallels. One thing that stood out to me is that almost no one knows how to write—they type everything, meaning it’s seen by the Society. They can’t create on their own; they can only manipulate what they’re given.
In addition to controlling who you marry, the Society also controls when you die. People live to be 80, and then they have a feast with their family and friends and they die peacefully on cue. This saves them from the ravages and diseases of aging. Early in the book, Cassia’s grandfather reaches his 80th birthday, so we get to see this first hand. SPOILER: The way they control this is by poison. The undesirable people who get jobs in food services know this and are slowly being poisoned themselves by preparing the final feasts.
There is no violence in their day to day lives, although they get to watch movies that serve as warnings about what can happen when you don’t trust Society. Cassia assumes these are cheesy and over the top. But Ky reveals that those aren’t actors—that’s actually happening in the Outer Provinces.
Everyone remembers when a boy was killed by an Anomaly that somehow got into their community. It’s such a rare occurrence that they’ve never forgotten it.
For better or worse, everything is viewed through Cassia’s conflict of whether she loves Xander or Ky. It’s a romance through and through. Love is certainly a motivating emotion, but the fact that it’s THE motivating factor in the story may also feel a bit trite to an older reader. The romance is innocent—just some kissing. But when the Society literally watches your every move, that’s to be expected.
I appreciated that the author didn’t make Xander an idiot or a jerk. Cassia loves both boys, and she has good reason to love them both.
In many quiet ways, Cassia sees the rebellion that’s brewing. She sees people start to question. She learns the underhanded ways that Society keeps control and she starts to realize her own unconscious role in that system. Things are fraying.
Cassia’s family is loving and supportive. Her parents were Matched, but they do love each other and their kids. They want what’s best for the family, although it’s not always clear what that is. In the end, they make some pretty major sacrifices to let Cassia follow her heart.
I was afraid this book might be too dark for my 12 year old who isn’t a huge fan of violent dystopias (The Hunger Games was too much for her). But I think it’s actually a perfect book for her. It will engage her and make her think. I look forward to discussing it with her.
I’d recommend it for as young as 10 and 11 year olds who are eager to read YA books. It deals with some of the big issues on a level that isn’t too mature or graphic. It’s a great book for fostering discussion, so consider reading it as well.
I handed it to her and she shrugged. Then she opened the book and started reading—and hardly stopped for the next 2 days, despite school and other obligations! We talked about it a good bit, especially what price you’re willing to pay for a safe and in many ways idyllic life. She was both attracted to and horrified by Cassia’s world, just as she should have been. We’re looking forward to reading Crossed.