Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie
Read by Natalie December 2010 and 2011
Natalie recommends as beautiful and thought provoking start with a boring and convoluted middle.
Wow, I have to say I loved Matched, it is beautiful, sweet and very thought provoking. Cassia is 17 years old and is about to be Matched. She lives in a Society which tells her who she is going to marry, what job she will have, the number of children she is allowed, where she will live and when she will die. The Officials in this Society govern everything – the 100 poems, 100 stories and 100 songs that people can enjoy, the food that they eat, the clothes they wear and the skills that they learn. Technology is apparent, but it is on a need to know basis only. Everything is done for a predicted statistical outcome. Curfews are enforced; clothing is worn only for comfort; food is consumed solely for nutritional purposes; blue, green and red pills are carried at all times and deviating from these rules can earn you warnings and Infractions. The worst of these, Aberrations and Anomalies can end up somewhere else, removed from this “perfect” society. No one questions this, because it is considered a fair price to pay for a long, happy, healthy life.
On the night of her birthday, Cassia goes to her Match Banquet and in an unusual twist is matched with someone she knows, her best friend Xander. The Society has predicted that he is the best match for her – the most likelihood for a happy marriage and healthy beautiful children. Both Xander and Cassia are given micro-cards with detailed information on the other, so they may learn more about their spouse in the 3 year lead up to their Contract. Although Cassia thinks she knows all there is to know about her best friend, she still takes a peak and when she does, someone else’s face briefly flashes across her screen. She knows this face too. He lives down the street, adopted by the family who lost their own son in a freak murder many years ago, a quiet boy who is their friend, but seems almost invisible. Cassia is nervous about what this means – has the Society made a mistake, how is that possible? However when an Official reassures her that is was simply a cruel joke, that she is still Matched with Xander, Cassia tries to forget about Ky, the face of the man she saw. This however, proves to be impossible as Cassia finds herself spending more time with Ky during their assigned free-rec time and she discovers there is much more to him than she realised. Although he blends in and seems to be average, this is far from the truth. He is always watching, always listening, always pretending just to fit in. He also knows how to write, a secret technique that has long disappeared and as he agrees to teach this to Cassia, he also begins to tell her his story, his life in the Outer Provinces before he was brought to the City. As Cassia’s eyes begin to open to all the things she has missed out on, she realises that he may actually be her perfect match after all and she starts to risk everything. Don’t go gentle, the words of an illegal poem her grandfather gave her, start to make sense, while the Society and its rules do not. When the Officials step in and Ky is taken away, Cassia learns the cruel truth about what has really happened. Undeterred at what she now knows and in love with Ky, she sets out to find him, with help from both Xander and her family.
Crossed, the second book in this dystopian trilogy is now told from both Ky and Cassia’s POV. As we witness Ky in the Outer Provinces where he has been sent on a bogus mission to protect the Society against the Enemy, we learn more about both the Society’s created world and the real world outside of it. Cassia in the meantime, is working in a labour camp where determined to find Ky, she risks everything by sneaking onboard an air-ship bound for the Outer Provinces where she believes he is. A last minute visit from Xander (who is mysteriously still her Match despite her previous infractions) sees him both helping her and cryptically begging her to see and remember him. With the help of her new friend Indie, Cassia arrives in the Outer Provinces only to discover Ky has left with two other Aberrations, abandoning the remaining workers to the Enemy who attacks them nightly. As Cassia recognises the landscape as Ky’s old home from his earlier stories, she sets out into the mountains to find him, while at the same time hoping to also find the Rising, a resistance group that is fighting the Society and communicates and trades through illegal poetry and stories. Believing she will not only find Ky, but that he will join her in the Rising, Cassia also faces dangers from Indie, a girl who is not to be fully trusted and even Xander who is not entirely what he seems. Ky in the meantime is struggling with his abandonment of the other workers as well as the death of Vick a fellow Aberration who helped him bury the dead each night. Now travelling with a young boy Eli, they are desperate to find the Farmers, a middle ground group that are neither Society nor Rising, but chosing instead to live peacefully amongst themselves. Finally, after near misses and almost death, Cassia and Ky are reunited in the canyon and they are forced to decide who they will ultimately join.
I had a number of issues with this second book, not least of which was its convoluted and often boring unveiling of the plot. For some reason Condie’s writing style seems to have changed, so what was once a beautiful read has now turned into something that is trying too hard to be more than it is. The use of poetry and stories, now illegal in Society, as trades and even secret messages for the Rising was also a little bit stupid to be honest. I found it amazing these words would be so powerful when written down, yet mean virtually nothing when spoken. The backstory of Ky and the secrets he hid is maddeningly and frustratingly revealed and I just didn’t feel convinced by it. I also didn’t buy why he couldn’t just tell Cassia, a girl he has loved for years, what it was that stopped him from joining the Rising, why do these male protagonists do this all the time? Cassia was at times amazingly stupid and none more so when after journeying for days and almost dying in her desperate quest to find Ky, she leaves him to find his own way to the Rising, instead preferring to tag along with Indie. Really, would you really do this to the one you loved? Of course the ending sees them once again missing each other by a day and now both in the Rising they are sent in different directions to aid the resistance movement. A final chapter from Cassia hints at a possible reunion with Ky (or will it be Xander), but we are going to have to wait until November 2012 to find that out. Here’s hoping it can tap into the magic of the first book, rather than the almost boredom of the second.