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Matched - Ally Condie Nearly perfect dystopian romance with a slow burn, 4.5 stars

In Ally Condie’s MATCHED, Cassia lives in an apparently utopian world where the Society determines everything for its citizens in order to assure optimum results: job placement, food intake, spouses, and even time of death. When Cassia is paired with her best friend Xander at her Match ceremony, everyone is happy and relieved. However, when Cassia gets home, she sees a different face flash across her Match screen: that of the quiet and elusive Ky. Even though she’s told it’s a mistake, Cassia begins to want to learn more and more about Ky, and in the process, she begins to question the carefully controlled world the Society has created. Soon, Cassia finds herself battling against the Society’s rules to love the boy she chooses and to keep hold of the words and freedoms she’s discovered.

MATCHED lives up to the hype that has surrounded its release and then some. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is its world building. The book uses clear, well-written, descriptive language to create a future that seems natural with its Matching, elimination of “unnecessary” items, and close control of its citizens. When Cassia begins to realize that the Society has been giving its people just enough to keep them complacent, you feel angry on her behalf for all of the human experiences they’ve been carefully denied. In this way, the novel deftly examines what constitutes utopia versus dystopia. Consistent pacing moves the plot forward, but it’s a slow burn, similar to Maggie Stiefvater’s SHIVER or LINGER. Instead of being action-packed like THE HUNGER GAMES, this narrative focuses on the compelling power of words, choices, and love. Character development occurs through actions and flashbacks, instead of telling, and family members, like Cassia’s parents and grandfather, are given important supporting roles. Although there is a love triangle, Cassia is presented with two different but appealing (and nice!) options. The romantic relationship that results builds slowly and achingly over time and for realistic reasons.

While I enjoyed almost every moment of MATCHED, the book could have benefited from more character development for Cassia and a less obvious direction for the love triangle. I would have expected more conflict given her history with one of the boys. Also, while the novel has a finished feel, I wish the sequel’s plot arc didn’t seem so obvious.

Despite my initial wariness due to the immense hype, MATCHED exceeded my expectations with its carefully crafted world and slow-burning romance. This book will be perfect for those who enjoy a thought-provoking but less action-driven dystopian read. I enjoyed it so much that I’m already looking forward to the next installment to see where Condie leads Cassia, Ky, and Xander.

Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.