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Book Review: Matched
Dissent: Volume 6 of the Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing

Book Review: Matched

A beautiful girl walks into a great hall surrounded by floating figures in gauzy finery. Her heart beats wildly in her breast, her eyes glow with excitement and nervousness as she waits for that moment when it will be revealed to her who The Society has deemed the perfect match for her to spend the rest of her life with.

Statistics and behavioral psychology are on the Society’s side—the Society has privileged information about all its members and enough insight and experience to determine who will enable her to have an optimal conjugal life. The Society is never wrong. Except this once.

Helter Skelter: Matched
Matched book cover.

Forbidden-love stories have an enduring charm. Set Romeo and Juliet in a dystopic society borrowed heavily from 1984, Brave New World, and (especially) Fahrenheit 451, and voila, you have a formula for success that cannot possibly fail to engage the reader.

Ally Condie’s Matched—the tale of Cassia as she battles against society and her inner confusion to be with her true love—is essentially a story we have heard a million times in a million different formats. But I can leave aside all sense of déjà vu and tell you why you should read this hashed and re-hashed love story. You should read it because it has that elusive quality of enchantment. Because the same story, beautifully told, can be a whole new experience.

In a world where everything is governed by “The Society” and people’s lives have been reduced to a carefully monitored and measured-out utopia, Cassia finds herself in the midst of a lonely revolution. The Society decides what you eat, what you wear, what you do in your spare time, which books you read, which songs you listen to, what you take up as a vocation, and, of course, who will be your life partner. But when the Society inadvertently plays with the life of a young girl, showing her glimpses of an alternate life, a life whose chief charm is that she does not already know the story, does not already know everything she will become, her heart and mind are not her own anymore. While battling to be loyal to her lifelong friend Xander, chosen by the Society, she finds herself falling in love with a stranger and outsider named Ky, and more importantly Ky’s story, the very telling of which is forbidden.

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It is not about originality of the content, I reiterate. It’s about these touches of brilliance and beauty with which the author decorates what could have been an average tale. A beautiful poem by Dylan Thomas, a love of books, similar to Fahrenheit 451, the beauty and symbolism of the art of writing… these become key elements in the story and save it from becoming pre-pubescent erotica. Of course you know who she will choose in the end; of course you know the games and tricks The Society will play on her, much like the Big Brother on Winston in 1984; you know what her course will be, almost as surely as the Society itself, perhaps. But you let yourself be seduced by the stories and the poems and the songs and the magic for a while. You let yourself feel a tingle at Ky slipping Cassia forbidden words, the sensuality with which he commits the act more forbidden than sex itself—tracing her name in the sand with her stick, the words “Do not go gentle into that good night” weaving a pattern of themselves throughout the narrative.

Matched is a love story, prettily told. It is pretty enough for the reader to disregard plagiarism charges and unoriginality of theme and all those shenanigans and just read it for those moments of sheer enchantment and magic.

[Penguin Books; ISBN 9780525423645]
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