Ally Condie's Matched Trilogy consists of Matched, Crossed, and Reached. It's a dystopian YA series in the vein of The Hunger Games and Uglies. I listened to the majority of the books in the car and on my ipod, but also forged ahead with the books at times when I was too impatient to wait for another car trip.
This series is a textbook case for the pitfalls and frequently shifting landscape in the relationship between ebooks and libraries. I downloaded Matched from OverDrive in Mac-compatible MP3 format on a whim (it was on my list but had not come up on my Roulette list), then went back for Crossed. It was only available as a WMA file. Reached wasn't available at all, so I had to get those books on CD. Why? The series is published by Penguin, which doesn't play with OverDrive anymore. THANKS, PENGUIN!
All right, on to the review. Spoilers ahoy.
In the world of the Society, everything is predetermined: what you eat, where you go and the activities you do, even who you are supposed to love. The Officials who run the Society do their best to assign a probability to every possible event. As Matched begins, we follow seventeen-year old Cassia to her Match Banquet, at which she will be paired with her Society-selected perfect mate. There is a brief mention of people who decide not to participate in this process, but by and large, people in the Society choose to be matched. At the banquet, Cassia is surprised and pleased to find herself matched with her best friend and neighbor, Xander. It isn't until she's alone later that another picture flashes in Xander's place, that of the aloof Ky...is Ky her real match? How could the Society possibly make a mistake?
The first book focuses not only on Cassia's struggle to choose between the clever, patient Xander and the quiet, mysterious Ky (both of whom seem well-matched to her) but also on the details of the restrictive life of the Society. Although the Society has eliminated most diseases and optimized life for all its members, we learn through Cassia's interaction with her grandfather that all citizens are poisoned on their 80th birthday if they do not die of natural causes before then. Citizens do not know how to write, and all cultural artifacts--songs, paintings, poems, stories--have been reduced to a "top 100" of each category. There is a lively black market trade for items from before the Society was in power, known as artifacts. Before his death, Cassia's grandfather gives her two contraband poems (one by Dylan Thomas and one by Tennyson), putting her in the awkward position of having precious but illegal material. Knowledge of these words becomes one of the things that bind Cassia and Ky together, despite her ties with Xander. While there are some signs of societal strain in Matched, it isn't until Crossed that Cassia, Ky, and Xander become fully aware of and involved in any rebellion.
Condie uses first-person narration in each book, adding characters each volume--Matched is told solely from Cassia's point of view, Crossed incorporates Ky's story, and Reached features Xander as well. This slow expansion of the reader's knowledge about the characters mirrors their growth and understanding of the Society and their roles in its potential downfall. The love triangle aspect is essentially decided by the end of Matched, although it pops up from time to time in the subsequent books. I appreciated the fact that Xander was portrayed as a strong and sympathetic character with his own voice, despite being the odd man out. Through crisis, each of the three finds a role that they are suited to play, and the trilogy comes to a satisfactory conclusion--after an interesting veer into thriller territory, as they race against time to develop a successful vaccine. Condie's worldbuilding is excellent, and I would definitely recommend the trilogy to fans of dystopian YA.
I was consistently bothered by the lack of LGBTQ characters in this series. The premise of the first book rests heavily on matching, and there is little to no explanation of what happens when citizens are not heterosexual. Are they the mysterious "singles" that are so briefly alluded to? Are they among the people that the Society has labeled aberrations and anomalies? Has the Society "fixed" the "problem" of homosexuality? How much stronger would the story have been if Condie had incorporated any queer characters, giving the already creepy prospect of matching yet another dimension? If you're writing a story set in a world that is obviously our own, there is absolutely no good reason for leaving out these kinds of characters, or for not addressing of the questions I posed above. As I recently wrote in a post for Gay YA, the ability of LGBTQ teens to find characters like themselves in fiction is incredibly important, and I know this trilogy is popular. It's been optioned by Disney for movie production. It's very disappointing that Condie chose not to tackle this subject when it only could have enriched her work.
Just as I'm totally over reading contemporary YA fiction without gay characters, I am so totally over reading YA in my favorite genres (SF and Fantasy) that doesn't include them.
For posts on LGBTQ characters in YA dystopia, see Kirkus (Paolo Bacigalupi) and YALSA. The Outer Alliance purportedly has a list of gay YA dystopias, but their site seems to be down at the moment.
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