Cassia Reyes has never known a world of uncertainty, never known a world of disease or despair. The Society has eradicated all such concerns, leaving a happy, productive populace that lives free of ear, disease, and danger until the age of eighty, and then die with dignity in the arms of their families. At seventeen, they are Matched with their ideal genetic mate, nearly always a stranger from another City of Province, with whom they will raise children and spend the rest of their lives.
Cassia is shocked- and thrilled- when she’s Matched with her best friend Xander, but when she tries to access the information given her by the Society, a different face appears: Ky Markham, another friend, one who excels in appearing exactly average, one who hides in plain sight, someone who can do what no one else in the Society can: create. Now Cassia will learn to wonder, to question, to understand…to dream…and nothing will ever be the same.
This was actually my second time reading this book. I got an advance through work back in late September and just devoured it. I was captivated by the imagery and the easy lyricism, by the oh-so-delicate and fragile journey Cassia makes within herself. Almost six months later, re-reading it with an eye towards a review, I loved it even more.
Poetry is a driving theme through the book, the notion of taking words and making them your own, but it isn’t found only within the lines of Dylan Thomas or Alfred Lord Tennyson, or even within the spare, taut stanzas that belong to Ky. Cassia may have a sorter’s soul- with a sorter’s attention to detail- but she has a poet’s fascination with language. The images are gorgeously wrought, whether she’s trying to capture the mutable nature of Ky’s eyes or something as simple and lovely as a cottonwood seed.
Though we have such a short time with him as a physical presence, Cassia’s grandfather is a figure of profound influence. His love of poetry sparks Cassia’s; his sorrow over its loss is palpable, a dignified grief that gently demands of Cassia the strength to trust her own words- advice that spills far beyond the arrangement of copied sentiments into a letter. “She whispered, sang them,” he says of his mother and the millions of poems that existed before she had to help choose only one hundred of them to survive, “and I tried to remember them after she had gone.” He knows what it is missing, and in Cassia he sees the strength that can in some measure reclaimed it- if she can recognize it within herself.
The drive, the joy, the need to create is stunning, a summary of everything we try to achieve no matter the medium. Even something so simple as learning to take your hand and create the elegant shape of a letter. It isn’t just Ky’s sketches of the stolen fragments of forgotten poems. It isn’t even confined to something physical. The need to create a life is just as strong, and just as true.
Cassia’s character is so beautifully defined by her family, all of them rebels in their own, quiet way. Hers isn’t the only defiance, just the one being measured, but they all have consequences that ripple through to others. By watching her parents, her grandfather, Cassia learns about the kind of defiance born of love, and the kind born of longing, even the kind that takes the form of obedience. She’s caught in so many ways, her eyes suddenly open to so many new- and often terrifying- things that she had to make a conscious choice “before the chance to glimpse what was lost distracted me from what must be found”.
One of the most powerful things that cycles through the story is the question of love. Does it matter why you noticed someone if the love is real? Does that reason taint it in some way? “Is falling in love with someone’s story the same thing as falling in love with the person himself?” How can people take opposite actions for love of the same thing? And there aren’t answers, can never really be answers, because they’re the same questions we’ve been struggling with for centuries.
Even more than love, even more than the need to create, the matter of choice dominates this book. The desire to choose, the freedom and ability to choose, to be. It doesn’t even matter if our choice would be exactly the same as what was chosen for us; what matters is that we should be the only ones to make those choices. Even when it brings pain and uncertainty, even when the life we choose is so much harder than what we could have been given. The choice is what’s essential.
As with any stunningly wrought conflict, my heart breaks for those accidentally caught up in it, those hurt or even shattered by things so far beyond them they may not even recognize it. It just makes it so much harder when they’re genuinely good people that you want to cheer for. People get caught in the crossfire; that we feel as deeply for them as we do for Cassia is both astonishing and astounding.
This is easily one of my favorite books of all time, one that stays with me long after the book is closed and done. It isn’t just the story or the characters. Cassia’s poetry, the poet’s soul she doesn’t even realize she posseses, it haunting. It lingers like an old love song through an open window, the notes hovering in the stll night as every thought tries to discern if the nostalgia grows from memory or hope.
This book is, in a word, brilliant.
Interested in an autographed copy? Courtesy of the amazing Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe, Matched is one of five autographed books you can win. Contest ends March 21st, so be sure to check it out here.
Matched, by Ally Condie. Check it out.
Until next time~