Note to self: never read, or take stock in, other reviews prior to reading a book.
I picked this book with low expectations. Condie met them head-on. In the beginning we meet Cassia who, on her 17th birthday, attends her Matching Banquet. The matches are based entirely on data and determined by the Matching Committee. There is no choice in the matter. She ends up matched with her best friend, Xander, from the same Province which is a very rare thing. Most are matched with people outside of their province and they get to know these people through the microcard they receive at the banquet and their first meetings are controlled by the Society Officials. However, when Cassia decides to look at Xander’s microcard there’s a flash of another boy’s face from her province as well, Ky, for just a second. An Official comes to tell her that all is well; it was a glitch in the system, yada yada. But it makes her wonder. She is allowed to tell one person, her grandfather (he is set to die on his 80th birthday as all members of Society are). He tells her it is okay to wonder.
So basically we are seeing this slow build of Cassia wondering and questioning. She gets to know Ky better through scheduled leisure times and he teaches her how to write. He tells her his story of how he came to live in their Province with his Aunt and Uncle (who he calls mom and dad). She feels she can share things with him that she shares with no one else – not even Xander, who has, until now, been her closest confidante. There were parts of the relationships that were awkward to me, such as the ‘sudden’ need to know Ky after years of only considering him in passing. Also the ambivalence toward Xander after seeing Ky’s face. Unlike some others, I did feel her connection with Ky and it didn’t seem contrived. I did feel, however, there could’ve been more development of her relationship with Xander in the present, not just telling us of their past, to help us really feel that connection and be torn between Xander (safety) and Ky (choice) with her.
The story starts out a little slow, but the writing, for the most part, makes up for that. There’s a little mention of unrest/war among the Outer Provinces but no details. We’re left not knowing who is really fighting and exactly why they’re fighting. It was like a wave coming in off the ocean and dissipating before it reaches your feet. Here’s a bit of information and it’s building, building… gone. I know it’s part of a series and there will be more to come but I still felt empty. There’re a few other things like that as well. The changing of the Borough’s name; the red pill having been taken before and it not working on everyone (wouldn’t the Society have picked up that?). The Society controls so much and wants everyone to believe they control everything. Cassia’s realization that they don’t, they make mistakes, is eye opening for her.
Also unlike others, I did not feel this was a complete rip-off of other dystopian novels. Let's be fair - there are bound to be similar elements when writing any story, no matter what genre, to other books in that genre. That being said I did feel this book was fairly original. Not as original as some, but no so similar that I felt betrayed.
This first installment seems to be more about showing Cassia’s progression from total acceptance to questioning to defiance. In the end she decides that having choices in life would be better than being under the complete control of the Society. I am anxious to see what happens in the next book. I am hoping that it gets more intense and urgent since the story should build on the impending rebellion.