“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
—William Carlos Williams
Yes, Matched is another future dystopia, but like Hunger Games, this one is a great read. And yet the story itself isn’t similar to Hunger Games. So—enjoy it on its own terms.
Matched takes its title from the important milestone in teens’ lives—at age seventeen—when they are formally matched to their life’s partner. This person is someone they don’t know, living in another area of the country, perhaps. Yet matches succeed because the society has all the data necessary to pick the two people who are most perfect for one another. The two will get to know one another over the next four years, and, at twenty-one, will be united. They will have until they are thirty-one to produce children (maximum two); after that, childbearing isn’t allowed because, statistically, it can produce kids that aren’t perfect. Some members of society are ‘singles’ and don’t receive matches.
Oddly, when Cassia goes to her matching banquet (the only time she is allowed to wear something beautiful and colorful), she is matched with her best friend, Xander. Everyone is envious because she already knows and loves this boy. But later, when she goes home and places his data card into her reader, he disappears momentarily and a different match shows on the screen, another boy she knows—Ky, who is from the outer regions, whose parents are dead, and who was adopted by his aunt and uncle.
Right after Cassia’s ‘match banquet,’ her grandfather has his 80th birthday banquet, which is really the last celebration before death, as the society requires everyone to die on the 80th birthday (data shows it’s the best time to die). On this night, Grandfather lets Cassia know of poems he had hidden, poems not belonging to the 100 preserved by the Society—and therefore illegal to have. One of the poems is Dylan Thomas’s “Go Not Gentle into that Good Night,” and Cassia realizes this isn’t just about death but also about not obeying (gently) the Society when it doesn’t allow individuality.
Cassia says that she, like others, has always believed, “Following the rules. Staying safe. These are the things that matter.” But once she finds Ky in the data port, everything is open to question. She realizes that her father breaks simple rules and laws out of love for the family—and that her mother follows all the rules for the same reason. Cassia needs to find out if ‘falling in love with someone’s story is the same thing as falling in love with the person.’ She needs to know if danger and uncertainty are worth the opportunity to make choices about life and love.
YA dystopian novels are taking a hit right now. The Wall Street Journal (a conservative business newspaper) just published an opinion piece about this. (If you’d like to read it, click here.) This surprises me as the new YA novels are very much like George Orwell’s books (Animal Farm and 1984), which are generally loved by conservatives. I think a discussion of this social issue would be a great topic for a research paper or a literary analysis paper. Another great topic would be to compare Matched to the literary and art works it discusses (and which are outlawed by its Society), particularly the Dylan Thomas poem. By the way—the quote from the poet William Carlos Williams isn’t in the novel, but it was so much of what the book is about, I had to mention it.
If you’re just looking for a good read and nothing more, this is still your novel. The characters are complex and no one is a ‘bad guy’ in the love triangle that evolves. As a bonus, its star-crossed lovers, just like Romeo and Juliet, are bound for trouble.