In Matched by Ally Condie (book 1 in the Matched series), Cassie Reyes grows up in a “perfect” society carefully planned out by the government. Everything from education to work, who you marry to where you live, when you can have kids to how many, what you can eat to what you can read, listen to, and watch, is planned out for you. Even when you will die is pre-determined (deaths are on a person’s 80th birthday). She is matched to Xander, her best friend, but a glitch on the microcard meant to carry information about her match, shows her the face of another boy, Ky. She learns that Ky is an Aberration, forbidden to marry because of a mystery in his past. This small glitch leads Cassia to discover the many cracks in what she previously thought was a perfect system.
In Delirium (book 1 in the Delirium series), Lena Haloway-Tiddle lives in the United States after it has closed its borders to the outside world and found a cure for the most dangerous disease of all: amor deliria nervosa. Love. Whenever a person turns eighteen, they undergo a procedure and are cured of this disease. They come back calmer, no more pain due to heartache, no more anxiety or unwarranted behavior. It’s the most wonderful napppp of the year. Goodness I need that. #oldladyThough things look perfect, not all is at it seems. Lena’s mother committed suicide after the cure did not work on her after three attempts, which is a blight on Lena’s reputation. Additionally, not all of the country is controlled and cured. There are places, known as the Wilds, where Invalids (uncureds) are said to live. They are never spoken about publicly, but everyone knows they are there. When Lena meets a boy named Alex, everything she knew about her world comes into question.
Both stories hinge on illicit love affairs carried out in secret, forbidden poems used for inspiration, a controlling government using Regulators (Delirium) and Officials (Matched) to carefully control and watch over the people, carefully regulated lives where choice of spouse and career are decided by others, and a limitation on free expression and choice. Both are even told in first person (a trend unfortunately popular now because of The Hunger Games).
For all their similarities, there are differences too. In Matched, the government’s argument revolves around the idea that too much choice makes culture cluttered and people dangerous. It is better that they decide on the best match for a person, rather than let them choose for themselves and have a high divorce rate. Better to place people in the job best suited for them than have people doing mediocre work at their professions. In Delirium, the belief is that love is what ruins society because it causes people to act against their best interests, affects the functioning of their mind and body, and can even make people act restlessly or suicidal. Choice plays a part in what is regulated, but the point is more to squelch wild, fanciful desires.
I enjoyed both books, but ultimately found Matched superior. Where Lena’s struggles came out of meeting someone else who tempted her (Alex introduced her to the idea where love was a good, not bad, thing), Cassia’s questioning came as much from her love story as from other sources (her grandfather provides her with an illegal poem before his death, her father perpetrates a small act of defiance of his own, she gets to know Ky and learns his story).
One element that both books supply as a vehicle towards free thoughts and the will for survival is poetry and books. In both governments, certain poems and books have been banned and labeled as dangerous. In Delirium, the most interesting take on literature was its portrayal of Romeo and Juliet. Where today it is considered a story about how far people will go for love, in Lena’s story, it is used as a cautionary tale for how deluded love can make a person and how disastrous the results of being in love can be. The twisting of this classic story highlighted the government’s sneakiness and the way removing people’s ability to love changed people’s ability to think and act and be truly happy and free. Furthermore, the strongest idea in the book was that without true pain there can be no true happiness. In Matched, there is a particular poem that symbolized the need to fight: Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night.” Cassia’s grandfather gave her this poem before his death and over the course of the book, Cassia learns what it meant and internalized it. The poem discussed the message of needing to stand up for yourself and others, the need to fight for your dreams, to “not go gently,” and to “rage against the dying light.” The poem takes on almost a life of its own, an extra character in the story.
Both stories are successfully dramatic and exciting. The love stories are both compelling and depressing in their own way. Matched gave me an appreciation for poetry that I rarely have. Delirium uses too many quotes and mantras and ideas to really give one the same sort of strength, but it instills a similar yet still different idea: sacrifice. The idea you come away with in the end is how much you can sacrifice for the ones you love.
Whether Lena’s experiences will lead her to fight the system is unclear, but it is clear that Cassia will no longer “go gently.” Both books are worth reading but if I had to choose the stronger, I would say Matched wins.