Cassia Reyes has a sickness, and it cannot be cured by more cowbell. She, like so many other YA heroines these days, suffers from Too Many Boyfriends Syndrome (TMBS). It’s becoming quite the epidemic. Some authors pack their books so full of boyfriend drama that they forget about the actual plot (I’m looking at you, House of Night), while others manage to slip it in as a nice arc while the rest of the story goes on around them (well played, Hermione Granger). Either way, it’s hard to find a YA heroine who doesn’t face this dilemma somewhere along the way. The prevalence of this theme lets us know that it’s a Serious Problem, and we should Pay Attention.
I wasn’t surprised by the TMBS when I started reading Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton 2010). It’s right there in the title and jacket copy. Cassia lives in a communist dystopian future where marriages are arranged. All citizens decide as teenagers whether or not they want to get married. Teenagers. Because a good time to make life choices is right in the middle of a moody, turbulent phase of life. Oy. Fortunately, these kids have been relieved of the burden of choosing an appropriate spouse by their government, which arranges all of the marriages. Communism to the EXTREME – everyone who wants to get married does. Equality! It’s a pervasive theme throughout the whole book. Now, before you get all uppity, I understand that some cultures still practice arranged marriages and that they work out well for the most part, so this isn’t really a crazy idea. Also, my grandparents all married as teens, and their marriages lasted, so clearly there is something to this. It’s just not a life choice that I would make, but to each their own. Anyways, Cassia chooses to be Matched, and everything goes swimmingly at the big banquet celebration. It turns out that her perfect mate is already her best friend, and everyone in town is pleased as punch for the happy couple. Cassia decides to look at what the government thought she should know about Xander for kicks, thinking it would be a laugh since they are already BFF, and she is familiar with all of his vital stats. And then, briefly, ANOTHER FACE SHOWS UP. That’s right. It’s possible that this little system isn’t perfect. While this isn’t a Face on the Milk Carton kind of revelation, it still shakes Cassia’s world view to the core. This bombshell coupled with a secret forbidden poem (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas) from her grandfather on his deathbed inspires her to become a FIGHTER à la Xtina, and she starts to question the Society’s rules, albeit with better hair. I hope. Did you guys see The Voice? Girlfriend needs a hot oil treatment or something.
I have to say, the beginning of this book is not terribly exciting. There is a lot of exposition going on, but once it picks up, it REALLY picks up. I am anxious for the next one because I was pretty close to the end when I was totally drawn in instead of being just interested, and I’m hoping that we will get to skip all of the exposition hoo-ha and dive right into the good stuff for part deux. The turning point is when Ky (Cassia’s almost-Match) gets press-ganged into the army to fight an unknown enemy out on the border provinces, and then the Officials make everyone take forgetting pills so that they don’t remember this unpleasant little incident. Cassia doesn’t take hers, though, and she decides to go after him, the subversive little minx. Her family and Xander both agree to help her hunt Ky down. Crossed should be action-packed, and I can’t wait.
I do wish that Ky and Xander’s characters were a little more developed. Ky gets some okay character development as Cassia learns more about him, but Xander is a bit two-dimensional. He actually reminds me of a less awesome Gilbert Blythe – he’s pretty unflawed, and therefore uninteresting. Xander is always there for Cassia, even when he knows that she’s falling for Ky. He’s upset that he’s not her first choice, but he helps her go after him. He breaks rules for her. He is resigned to his fate as second best. Zzzzzzzzzzz. Ky’s status as an Aberration makes him marginally more interesting, but he didn’t commit the Infraction that classified him as a second-class citizen; his father did, so Ky is also edging into dull faultless hero territory. He does buy an illegal poem on the black market, so he’s willing to flout the rules to make Cassia happy, too. He’s also the only person Cassia knows who actually knows how to write instead of type. This endears him to me more than anything else, and it’s probably the main reason that I like him more than Xander. I do love pretty handwriting, and it irks me every time I hear news stories about legislation to eliminate cursive from school curriculum. It’s pretty. Let the kids learn it. (Also, if Matched teaches us anything, it’s that eliminating bits and pieces of your culture is a slippery slope down to a Hundred History Lessons, a Hundred Poems, a Hundred Songs, etc.) I understand that the two guys are supposed to be equally awesome so that you get that Cassia isn’t choosing Ky because he’s better than Xander but because she feels differently around him. However, I don’t see how she wouldn’t have major self-esteem issues either way because of their equal faultless awesomeness. It would start to wear on a girl. Perhaps she should look for a third boyfriend on her quest to find Ky who isn’t quite so perfect. One can never have too many boyfriends in YA. It’s best to keep your options open.