Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: YA Sci-fi, Distopian future

I received an ARC of Matched from Penguin Teen sometime in early-mid November, and I'm going to do this with as few spoilers as possible, though I think we all know the story whether or not I tell it here.

Society's gone to hell in a handbasket.  There were wars that tore apart the US (because this is fairly obviously set here, I'm guessing somewhere in the general vicinity of the author's Utah though it's generic enough to not be obvious), and possibly the rest of the world, after which a Big Brother type of government has taken control.  This government is in charge of everything, from what people eat to when (and who) they marry and breed and die.  There are methods of keeping control; humans are, after all, herd animals.  Regardless, with this government (the Society, it's called) come strict rules and guidelines, and also pills.

The blue pill is nutrition, the green pill is calm and no one seems to know what the mysterious red pill does, though it becomes fairly obvious when there's some fairly heavy handed conversation about the symbolism of the color red in this world, between the two main characters.

So basically, we have your classic distopian world a la 1984, Farenheit 451 and Harrison Bergeron combined.  I haven't read Lois Lowry's "The Giver", but this book draws a lot of comparisons in other reviews I've read (though, all of you who are rabid about saying Ms. Condie plagerized or stole her ideas or owes credit or whatever, seriously, go back over your junior high and high school reading lists.  It was done many times long before "The Giver" came out).  I can't fault Ally Condie for any this, not really; there are only so many ways a distopian future can go, after all, as far as our minds know.  Which is to say, this book presents nothing new.  It's safe, and known, and certainly enjoyable, and immersing enough that I'm eager for the next two books to come out (because yes, it's a planned trilogy).  The characters are not particularly unique or memorable either, though they're hardly cookie cutter; they are, in fact, at least as nuanced as the main trio in the Hunger Games trilogy or Harry Potter.  We have the girl who thinks she's safe in her rule following, who ends up paired with her perfect match who also thinks he's safe in the constraints of the Society.  Then we have the outsider who is so perfect in his mediocrity that he stands out, until the girl begins to see the cracks and he begins to challenge her an she him.

This is, of course, where the teenage romance drips in, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it - it's cute, but a bit too cute.  I am, granted, an adult - but it feels a bit too formulaic to me.  Of course it was what was going to happen, and it came to the obvious outcome, down to the cliffhanger-ish ending.

But, for all this book's plotting issues (which aren't really so much issues, obviously, given the success of so many like it before and quite likely a great many to come), I really loved this book.  It's not the plot or the characters that drew me in, not really.  My love for it started with the appearance.

We have a largely white book, though there are sparkles and rainbows in the white, on which there is a girl in green trapped in a bubble that she's trying to pop.  The girl part is fairly melodramatic and expected, but the rest is as austere and clean as the world presented inside.  The aesthetic matches the impression given in the book, in a world where an entire street's trees are cut down because they aren't uniform (and for other reasons as well, but you'll just have to read it to find out).  And then, inside!  There's a world that makes me think of straight lines, of white walls and steel.  It feels like Camazotz in Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time".  Despite not being a big fan of present tense writing in my fiction (outside of gaming, because yes, I'm that kind of geek), there are many places where I don't think the writing would have been as effective in the past tense.  It felt immediate, as if I were there in this austere world where everyone does what they're told, except when they don't.  It's a world full of beautiful lines (I came across one of my favorite YA lines I've read in awhile here: "The books' backs are broken; their bones, thin and delicate, fall out.") and imagery even amongst the sparse description.  This is why I think this book is the best, and where it is - it leaves room for people to imagine, where so few stories do these days.  It doesn't tell us what to think or how to feel.  It doesn't paint the Society as purely evil or the rebels as purely good.  There is no black and white, only shades of pearl, with rainbow sparkles within.  It leaves room for the reader to find him or herself inside.

As I said earlier, I eagerly await the sequels.
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