My big pet peeve with science fiction and dystopian stories is how so many people are willing to let a lot of stupid, inexplicable shit slide in the nMy big pet peeve with science fiction and dystopian stories is how so many people are willing to let a lot of stupid, inexplicable shit slide in the name of "suspension of disbelief". Take the somewhat recent, relatively successful Tom Cruise film, Oblivion. (view spoiler)[How are the aliens technologically advanced enough to travel through space, suck up the resources of an entire planet, and create perfect memory-intact human clones... when they can't seem to kill off a tiny population of rebel humans? Why do they need the clones to maintain their equipment - why not just use more drones? How do the rebel humans even survive since most of the surface is now desert? Why does Tom Cruise ride around on a motorcycle when he has a perfectly good mini hovercraft thing that has to be like 10x faster and easier to get around on? (hide spoiler)] I came out of that film arguing with my then-boyfriend, who insisted that none of the plot holes and weird inconsistencies mattered because of "suspension of disbelief" and didn't I learn that in school? Jeez!
Looking back now, this may have contributed to our breakup.
Too often, though, it seems like YA dystopia authors work backward from a premise for a love story, filling in the world ad hoc: "Character A and Character B want to date but can't". Why can't they date? The government! Why doesn't the government let them date? Never mind that for now, on to the romance! The result is a setting that has as much substance as a cardboard cutout, a flimsy backdrop for little finger puppets that prance around the stage before the author makes them kiss at the end.
The setting in Matched feels a lot like this. For example: Cassia's after-school work activity is sorting numbers, words, pictures, etc by dragging them around a screen. It's unclear how this works, exactly - what does it mean to "sort numbers" in this context? How could a human sort better than a computer, and how does this sorting relate to any real world activity? Cassia does not perform any "real" sorting work until her official test, where she sorts workers in a factory by watching them and figuring out who is most efficient. It is again unclear what this has to do with "sorting" numbers and words on a screen, except that it relies on her powers of observation. Still, it's pointless busywork that could be done by a computer or by anyone with eyes with roughly the same accuracy rate.
Of course, that's all irrelevant to the story. You're not meant to look too closely at sorting, it's window dressing - readers are meant to get the general idea of "difficult technical job" and see that Cassia is good at it; everyone loves a smart, capable protagonist, especially when she's capable in such a vague way that readers can easily picture themselves in the same role. It is also a convenient plot device, letting Cassia see the factory where Ky works and make a difficult decision about his future.
This lazy storytelling isn't just evident in the world building. Throughout the book, Ky sneaks Cassia used napkins filled with poetry and drawings, which is nauseatingly twee, but whatever. Take a look at this:
"In the middle of the crease Ky drew a village, little houses, little people. But all the people lie supine, on their backs. No one stands straight, except the two Kys. The young one’s hands are no longer empty; they carry something. One hand holds the word Mother, slumping over the edge of his hand, shaped a little like a body. The top of the t tips up, like an arm flung askew.
The other hand holds the word Father, and that word lies still too. And the young Ky’s shoulders are bent with the weight of these two little words, and his face is still tipped to the sky, where I see now the rain has turned into something dark, something deadly and solid. Ammunition, I think. I’ve seen it in the showing.
The older Ky has turned his face away from the village in the middle, from the other boy. His hands are no longer open. They are clenched. Behind him, people in Official uniforms watch him. His lips curve in a smile that never touches his eyes; he wears plainclothes, a line indicating the crisp crease where he’s ironed them neat."
All of this detail on a napkin! They must be the size of beach towels... that, or Ally Condie didn't put much thought into the practicalities of this form of secret communication. It's hard to draw even a single person on a napkin, let alone a whole village drawn in enough detail that you can make out what kind of uniforms they're wearing and whether or not they've fucking ironed them - come on!
But again, the readers need to see this incredibly overwrought napkin so they can learn a little more about Ky's Tragic Past (protip: if you ever want to know which character gets laid in a young adult love triangle, just figure out which one has the most dead family members). It would have been more realistic to have Ky beam the information straight into Cassia's skull, but that would be too original for this uninspired, uninteresting ripoff of The Giver.
Everything in this story is bland: even the love triangle barely sizzles. The evil government Officials seemed as bored with the story as I was. I find it hard to believe there was anything here that Ally Condie was passionate about, as it clearly wasn't the world or the characters or the prose. At least my former least favourite YA dystopia novel had a message; Matched has nothing to separate it from every other story on the market.
It's funny that Condie managed to write a whole story about how a strict, formulaic, ruthlessly efficient society kills everything good and beautiful, while at the same time creating yet another dystopian love story riding on the coattails of Suzanne Collins. The result is as much a book as those compilations of Wikipedia articles.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more