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So I read Matched
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As soon as a majority of commenters started telling me yesterday that Matched was crapular and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was awesome and I wouldn't be able to put it down, I knew what I would have to read next: the shorter, simpler, less rapey book that I'd be able to get through in a morning.

(Quick premise: "For Cassia, nothing is left to chance--not what she will eat, the job she will have, or the man she will marry. In Matched, the Society Officials have determined optimal outcomes for all aspects of daily life, thereby removing the 'burden' of choice. When Cassia's best friend is identified as her ideal marriage Match it confirms her belief that Society knows best, until she plugs in her Match microchip and a different boy’s face flashes on the screen. This improbable mistake sets Cassia on a dangerous path to the unthinkable--rebelling against the predetermined life Society has in store for her.")

I'll say up front that, much the way rats just don't do anything for me as a horror trope, dystopias don't really resonate with me. I'd rather read about saving a world worth saving than destroying a world that deserves destroying, I think. I'll read anything good, which is why I'm willing to read The Hunger Games, but a dystopia is not going to set my imagination on fire, is what I'm saying. I probably sound overly picky, but I bring these things up more as personal blind spots, trying to separate "I didn't like it" from "it wasn't good," which I think will be more helpful to you.

Anyway. You know what? Matched wasn't actually crapular. It's decently written (no "dust moats" or hideous grammar) and the characterization is well done. The complaint I heard most often was that there's no there there. (As foresthouse put it, it's like someone made a really nice cream puff and forgot to put any cream in it.) Or, as I was saying to someone else, it feels like a shorter version of this book should have been the first 20-30 pages of a better one. I'll tell you the truth: there is more plot and action in Twilight. YEAH, I SAID IT. But I think what's really going on here is that--like the first two-thirds of Twilight itself (to which the book jacket specifically compares Matched)--the emotions are the plot. Most of the book happens inside Cassia's head, much as it does in Bella's, with occasional mundane events breaking in. Except that I will give you this: Cassia is an infinitely more sympathetic narrator. In fact, I did not at any time want to throw the book across the room. The two love interests (yes, it is one of those books) are different and yet both appealing; you like them both and you can see why Cassia likes them both. (Or at least I can.) And Cassia even has parents, parents with their own jobs and lives and personalities, not absent ciphers who conveniently neglect their children so that the plot can happen. Her relationship with her parents is important both to Cassia and to the story--her relationships with other people, who she cares about.

Yeah, I need to read a greater variety of YA, if this is impressing me.

Basically, Cassia's feelings for these two guys, childhood friend Xander (who has an unexpectedly interesting, sympathetic personality for The Guy She's Supposed to Be Stuck With) and tragic loner Ky (who is far less broodingly cliché than he could have been), are intertwined with her feelings about the Society, the world she has always trusted and is now gradually learning to rebel against. She learns in a slow, thoughtful, largely internal way--which is where the cream puff feeling comes from, with no real action to give the story weight. But there is an actual story arc there--Cassia's character growth from contentment to rebellion. The whole thing is a character study, really--one that has no resolution, but rather a gentle cliffhanger. Which says to me that it's not a stand-alone book--Ally Condie has something coming out next fall called Crossed? I'm guessing it's a sequel? Because if the point of Matched was to bring a naive Cassia to a point where she can actually do things in Crossed instead of just feel them, then I'll give Condie a provisional pass on this one.

Anyway. Apparently, judging by some of the @HollywoodCrush tweets, Team Xander vs. Team Ky is already A Thing, and it's yet another one of those shipper rivalries I don't understand because it pretty much seems dead on arrival. The entire book is about Cassia falling for Ky and discovering herself through doing so, with Cassia feeling bad about poor Xander in the background. The moment she said that Xander's kiss was sweet, but that she thought kissing Ky would be a lot more than just "sweet," I was like, oh, well, that's over, then. Unless a whole lot changes in the sequel, Xander is now just a supporting character and the series (or whatever it is) is about how Cassia's love for Ky both parallels and fuels her freedom of thought. Even the noble, only slightly bitter Xander puts together a care package for Cassia at the end of the book, as she starts planning to go in search of Ky, all like, "TEAM KY IS BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US NOW." And I think it says something about the writing that I didn't want to slap Cassia into next week for all of this, I still liked both guys, and I honestly don't know that I could say which guy I like better.

Em seems to think Xander's cute. Maybe he'll end up with her. 

But yeah. It's a very slight book, not much happens, and I don't think it deserves the hype it's apparently gotten. (The back cover basically says it's The Hunger Games for Twilight fans. It's that blatant.) But I see what the book was going for, with the emotions-as-plot thing, even if it isn't very satisfying. If the sequel turns out to be interesting, I could see the series picking up some word-of-mouth steam at that point. I'm not a fan of dystopias, but other people are. And it's still better written than Twilight; it's got appealing (and generally non-ragemaking) characters, and characters seem to be what readers actually latch onto. (Also, the breathless eroticism of forbidden not-kissing, which is referred to as a "love affair.") A certain demographic might eat this up, or they might not. It's actually pretty bland--there's a lot of bullshit in Twilight, but that bullshit also touched a primal sort of nerve with people. Matched is a "damned with faint praise" kind of thing, maybe. But I didn't want to fling it across the room, so the book has that going for it.

I want to get some Varney done, maybe tonight, but tomorrow I'll be reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, yes.

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I got a little ragey with Cassia at times, but that's probably because I can't stand the emotions-as-plot thing. I'm quick to scoff at a character if she's deciding she loves a guy when she's only talked to him a handful of times.

And I found Ky to be silly at times, his drawings of himself as two different people made me laugh, they were just too angsty for me to take seriously. I get that he's traumatized and such, but I just couldn't take him seriously. Xander is likeable though, for the most part, but he's so background by the end that it doesn't really matter.

I think I was able to handwave the first bit because it did happen fairly slowly, and because it was so entwined with her feelings about Society in general. I could actually see the Ky thing not working out if she got to a more actualized place where those feelings separated and she realized she was loving more what she learned about herself and the world through him.

I think it's also easier to let it go when lives and the entire world you know are at stake, rather than just "I am torn between these two guys because they are soooo hot omg!"

Edited at 2010-12-29 07:53 pm (UTC)

I agree with the provisional pass for this - if the next book has some damned good action, I won't consider it wasted time. I've been having some problems with world building in YA books lately, though - problems that this book really highlighted for me. Like, the world will seem interesting and different in the general or smaller details, but...I don't know. I sort of think of it like a city in fog: the buildings right in front of you are clear, but the rest of it is just a hazy outline. I'd really like some YA where you're given a much more thorough picture of the world at all of the different levels. If that makes sense.

Yeah, I found it interesting that I couldn't picture many of the settings, only very specific details. The structure of the society was interesting, but I couldn't really see it.

I'm a huge dystopia fan so having the end of the world be the next big thing in YA fills me with excitement and dread, the latter mainly because the biggest stories coming out of this fad, or waiting to be released and being hyped up to the high heavens, all sound like watered down stuff I've read before, e.g. Matched being a rip off of The Giver, the upcoming Wither sounding like a YA version of The Handmaid's Tale, one of my favourite books ever. I have read one fab dystopian YA recently though - The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It's got one hell of an opening line too.

Regarding Matched and it's promotion, the fact that the team competition element between the possible love interests is at the heart of it all really bugs me. Not just because I dislike the stupidly common love triangle element in YA, but because it sort of insinuates that the heroine has nothing else but the men in her life to worry about. I haven't read The Hunger Games but surely Katniss had a crumbling society, corrupt government and her own life to worry about before even considering what bloke she fancied?

Honestly, I think the "team" thing is a marketing gambit to sell more merchandise that exists apart from these books. Love triangles are popular, but they're also being highlighted to an extent that may not actually exist in the text. Everyone's telling me that if you're worried about the romance in The Hunger Games, you've missed the point.

So this chip is like a digital yenta? I can almost hear the Jewish grandmothers gathering their babushky for the protest later.

Oh, they probably all went to work for the matching department.

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I agree with your entire assessment. I found the "greatness" in Matched to be the promise of more to come. The book was good, not great, but I love the author's writing style and sense of worldbuilding and I feel that the second book *has* to have more action and plot, but I hope that there is not the loss of the inner monologue, which is endearing to me.

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He was good at shopping lists, though.

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I'm about 90% certain EW said this was a planned trilogy so, like you, I'm reserving judgement until part two.

When Cassia's best friend is identified as her ideal marriage Match it confirms her belief that Society knows best, until she plugs in her Match microchip and a different boy’s face flashes on the screen. This improbable mistake sets Cassia on a dangerous path to the unthinkable--rebelling against the predetermined life Society has in store for her.")

OK, I haven't read this, but I'm kinda failing to see how going after one guy that the Society's microchip identifies as her "Match" (Ky - the one whose face shows up) as opposed to a different guy Society has identified as her "Match" (Xander, who is identified in some other way, I'm supposing?) is in any way rebelling against the Society? Wouldn't it have been a stronger choice to have her fall for a guy whom she simply meets somewhere?

Or rebel against the Society by not choosing anyone at all? Or choosing a girl?

Why did she name her character Ky? It seemed off to me, but then you said "TEAM KY IS BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US NOW." The problem with his name is that I now can NOT stop thinking of KY Jelly. Not a Good Thing, in my opinion.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was good. I liked it. It's not great, though. I mean, I want to read the next two books. I just haven't had the burning desire to shove them to the top of my reading list. It's been at least six months since I read the first.

Have you ever read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? I don't remember you ever mentioning it. It's an interesting blend of Jane Austen and magic. It might be worth adding to your own reading list.

If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell I would recommend Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal.

I'm not a fan of this sort of novel (I learned in college the Victorian era novel and I don't play well), but I know a lot of people who like it.
Also, she's a friend and I believe in pimping a friend's books.

Having read fanfic for...over half my life, my first thought when you were explaining how the plot for Matched is mostly internal, dealing with Cassia's thoughts, is that it's a vignette. Which technically implies that it's short, but in fanfic "lingo", it's really just used to describe a story (of any length) that deals almost, if not entirely with one character's thoughts. This can be a good or bad thing. Cream puff stories + dystopia = so really not my thing. But I love reading your reviews. XD

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo... I had to force myself to read until the titular character was introduced (the first I-don't-know-how-much of the story deals with the male lead, explaining-without-explaining everything leading up to the beginning of the book, in a very annoying way). As soon as Lisbeth showed up--I couldn't put it down. I loved it. (Of course, I don't think I've even gotten 100 pages into the sequel, so maybe it was a fluke).

I can't wait to read your thoughts on it, though.

Fly by commenting, but the first half of the second book is SO SLOW. I promise, it gets better. Don't give up!

oh man for some reason i totally love dystopian lit.

i may have to check this out.

Speaking of YA novels - and Victorian set ones at that - have you ever come across Libba Bray's trilogy, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing? I also liked the very steampunky Incarceron and its sequel.

Loved the first two, couldn't get through the third because I felt like the promise at the end of the second one (now we will form a band of awesome and kick ass!) was not fulfilled, because Bray couldn't come up with a way to make plot without falling back on the same things she did in the previous books. I will finish it one of these days, though.

Recommendation of a vaguely genre YA novel I quite enjoyed: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Popular girl stuck in Groundhog Day-style time loop, interesting characters for teenagers, moves quickly.

I think I might be the only person who hated The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth was cool, but the rest was SO BORING. Even the "shocking" parts. I don't know; I read a lot of crime fiction, so I guess I just felt like it wasn't the very special snowflake of a book it's been made out to be. And Larsson is, er, not a subtle writer, to say the least.

Cranky comment is cranky, sorry.

Oh, believe me, you're not the only one.