At the beginning of MATCHED, 17-year-old Cassia is the picture of hopefulness. She gets to wear the perfect green dress to the Match Banquet, where she’s able to eat a wonderful meal and learn who the Society has chosen to be her Match, her perfect mate. It's the day she's been waiting for throughout her entire life, the chance to get a glimpse at the future the Society has determined for her.
Much to Cassia's surprise, the face that shows up on the screen is none other than her beloved childhood friend Xander, the boy she already knows better than anyone in the world. They’re both thrilled yet surprised --- people are virtually never Matched with others they know, let alone their best friends. But when Cassia gets home and reviews her Match on the microcard she's been given, it's not Xander's face she sees, but someone else she knows: Ky, the handsome, quiet boy from the neighborhood who was adopted when he was very young and whose origins are largely unknown. When an Official assures Cassia that the image on the microcard was a mistake --- that Ky is an Aberration and will never be Matched --- Cassia is momentarily reassured. But as she comes to know Ky better and grows increasingly attracted to him, she can't help but wonder.
Cassia's newfound friendship with Ky introduces her to dozens of questions that never would have occurred to her before coming to know him. Is it possible for the Society to make mistakes? What causes people to be classified as Aberrations or, even worse, Anomalies? Why is the Society so determined to erase the past, or preserve only a small, specific slice of it? ("What's wrong with being durable?" she asks herself. "What's wrong with being something, someone, that lasts?") What is the truth about life in the Outer Provinces?
As Cassia both explores her Match with Xander and finds herself falling for Ky, she comes to recognize the darker side of the Society's prescriptions for her life and for the lives of those she loves: "They have perfected the art of giving us just enough freedom; just enough that when we are ready to snap, a little bone is offered and we roll over, belly up, comfortable and placated like a dog…" As Cassia and Ky's secrets grow more intense and dangerous, Cassia's whole comfortable life is thrown into question, not to mention the future that seemed so positive and hopeful at first.
Near the end of MATCHED, Cassia recognizes a fundamental conflict: "Two desires struggle within me: the desire to be safe, and the desire to know. I cannot tell which one will win." At the end of the novel, neither do readers; Cassia's story --- and the conflicts she faces --- will continue in the other two volumes of this projected trilogy, the second of which is scheduled to be published in late 2011. It’s not surprising that Condie's series is drawing plenty of comparisons with that other dystopian love-triangle trilogy that's been all over the bestseller lists this year. The Hunger Games is more visceral and urgent, but Condie's novel is just as thoughtful. In many ways, it does a more thorough and consistent job of creating two love interests who represent not only two different options but two different ways of life, each equally compelling in its own way.
MATCHED is likely to show up on every bookseller's list of "What Do I Read Next?" for rabid Hunger Games fans, and its rich characterizations and provocative questions are sure to satisfy. But this book deserves to be read and absorbed on its own merits, as a fascinating, thought-provoking and unapologetically romantic novel about the choices we make --- and those that are made for us.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011