Matched by Ally Condie

Cover Image of Matched by Ally CondieCondie, Ally. Matched. New York: Dutton Books, 2010.

Plot: Cassia is thrilled that the Society has Matched her with Xander, her best friend. But when she puts the government-issued microcard into her port to review Xander’s information, his face disappears after a moment and another face pops on the portscreen. Ky. An Official explains that there has been a mistake, Xander is still her Match. Ky is an Aberration and can never have a Match. The Society does not make mistakes, though. Cassia’s entire world — her family, her health, her work — has been formed around Society’s decisions and her own confidence in the system. Now the questions, and the doubt, come slowly, but steadily. Cassia could accept the explanations handed to her and be happy, or she could have choice. She could create.

Setting: A futuristic society descended from Western cultures.

Point of View: First person (Cassia)

Theme: future civilization, government, autonomy, independence, love, self identity, coming of age, family, risk, technology, self expression

Literary Quality: Fast-paced and laced with poetry, especially that of Dylan Thomas, Matched is a thought provoking page turner. As Cassia catches a glimmer beneath the surface of the Society, questions bubble up about love, autonomy, order, health, family, technology, and happiness in the future that will resonate with readers today, as well. Writing and reading are dangerous in this imagined society, and while it is suggested that the role and increase of technology has expedited and eased the elimination and outlawing of learning to write and create one’s own words, readers are reminded of words’ power and hopefully will recognize that the tradition of illegal words is based solidly in history. The division of knowledge to prevent anyone from knowing too much in this civilization is likewise an old theme into which Condie breathes new life. While the questions asked and the answers gradually arrived at in Matched are complex, their delivery lacks the same nuance. The explicit morals and lessons border on being forced and preachy, and can feel at times like a lack trust in the reader. Nevertheless, this absorbing book is well worth reading, and will keep readers pondering Cassia’s dilemmas long after it has been shelved.

Audience: I would recommend Matched to readers ages 12 and up.

Personal reaction: Matched was totally addicting. I am glad I waited a couple of years to read it, because I could (and did) immediately check out the next installment, Crossed. I appreciated the gray area in Condie’s portrayal of the Officials and the Society–that Cassia’s own father, grandfather, and neighbors are Officials and partake in actions she dislikes even though they are people she respects and loves; that Cassia can see how a problematic system can still be successful and produce happiness and meaningful relationships. I couldn’t help comparing Matched to The Hunger Games trilogy, as I read, especially given the love triangle, but with no conclusive thoughts worth sharing for now. I loved the weaving in of and framing by poetry, the subversiveness of reading poems and learning history. I found myself wishing for more discussion surrounding ethnicity and race.  There is a comment at some point about how many ethnicities the Society includes or has Matched over the years, but nothing more than a passing mention. Overall, though, a very pleasant reading experience.


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Parenthood

Photo of shadows of a family on sandAn old friend recently reached out on Facebook for perspective on having children. She wondered in particular how parents stay sane in the face of things like explosive diapers, extensive sleep deprivation, childhood illnesses, and the need to find and then pay babysitters to do anything without a child in tow. She explained that while lots of parents she knows say their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them, she could not see how she would overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Her questions and comments struck me for two reasons: one, their honesty — I think a lot of people have these questions and wonder why people assume having children is a good thing rather than just the next logical step at a certain stage — and two, I think she has picked up on something. Yes, plenty of parents do think and say that parenthood is the best thing to ever happen to them but not many expound on that. It is a lot easier to vocalize the frustrations of another sleepless night than the reason having a child is so wonderful. Plus, based on my very unscientific observations on the social media I inhabit, snark is a lot more “in” than sincerity. Complaints are or can be funny. Talking about love and joy, not so much (or at least those subjects take a lot more work). There is also the presumption, I think, that parents don’t need to explain to other parents. But for what it’s worth, here is the gist of the response I gave my friend.

I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want kids. There are as many reasons to not be a parent as to be. (Furthermore, not having children does not make your life childless. Some of my child’s most ardent and adoring fans are dear friends who do not want their own children.) For me, though, having a child has been an exercise in falling in love, the greatest love of my life. There has been all the excitement, leveling of expectations, and attempts to be the best version of myself. More sleepless nights, yes, although it hasn’t felt so very different than college exhaustion-wise and from all accounts will probably last about as long per child. The reasons for the sleeplessness are different, and the responsibilities are greater, but exhaustion is exhaustion as far as I am concerned. However, no other person has the ability to make my heart explode with joy so many times a day. Or my throat tighten as quickly if I see them hurting. To make me feel like a superhero or like the most helpless creature on this planet. I have never had more fun or felt as humbled. The diapers, night wakings, illness, and babysitters, they’re all temporary. There’s probably a reason that those things coincide with the phase in which your kids love you so hard and so openly it can blow your mind. Thus far, parenthood is another type of education. High investment, high return, and the lingering hope that I don’t go utterly broke in the process.

Is my child the best thing that ever happened to me? Yes. “Best” is a misleading term, though. It sounds easy and obvious. Likewise, my “worst” days as a parent, the days when I feel most challenged, still contain more love, joy, and pride than any single day prior to becoming a parent.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

Cover of "All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla FrazeeScanlon, Liz Garton. All the World. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2009.

Plot:  From seashore to garden bed, a rainy hour to a comforting cafe, a noisy family-filled room to outdoor night quiet, this rhyming picture book follows a family through their day.

Setting: Small coastal town in United States

Point of View: 1st person (determined by lines such as “All the world is you and me”)

Theme: family, world, life, love, nature, community

Literary Quality: As rhythmic as the waves we see depicted crashing along the rocky shore, the rhymes in this picture book carry readers page to page and place to place. Movement, both linear and circular, is a theme of the story and also artfully crafted with hand-lettered words and pencil and watercolor illustrations. From smaller vignettes surrounded by a lot of white space to full two-page spreads, we move in and out of this     Sample vignette illustration from "All the World" beautiful world. The words, too, are not in straight lines across the page but move up and down and often form part of or a frame for the illustrations. Scanlon balances concrete details with abstract concepts in short musical phrases, and invokes all the senses in doing so: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. For example, in the garden we see and hear the “Hive, bee, wings, hum,” and touch and see and taste the “Husk, cob, corn, yum!” The ebb and flow from small moments to big ideas in both words and pictures create a lullaby of a story that’s buoyant with a celebration of life, family, community, and the world in which we live.

Audience: Ages 2-8. The short, rhyming text and many pictures will captivate the very young, and older readers will also find much to appreciate in the larger ideas about the world.

Personal reaction: This was one of those books I happened upon while browsing through a bookstore and promptly sat down to read and re-read. The poetry and beautiful illustrations drew me in and kept me lingering.

Mommy Loves by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben

Cover image of "Mommy Loves" by Anne Gutman and Georg HallenslebenGutman, Anne. Mommy Loves. Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.

Plot:  This story begins with a timeless theme: “All mommies love their babies.” Each page then describes a mommy animal who loves her baby animal, and helps young children count from 1-10.

Point of View: 1st person (although it could be 3rd person until the final page)

Theme: Babies, mommies, mothers, children, love, affection, animals, baby animals, numbers, counting, board books

Literary Quality: This board book uses a popular theme among children’s books – animals and their babies – to convey a simple and universal message: all mothers love their children. Repetion of the “Mommy…loves…” phrase on each page with different types of animals provides a soothing rhythm for babies. In addition to the more commonly seen animal pairs such as cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, Gutman includes pairings of less familiar animals and their babies such as hedgehogs, mice, and fish. The number of babies in each illustration increases from one to ten, accompanied by the same printed number painted in the corner of each page. These details, along with Hallensleben’s bold and colorful oil paintings of the animals, make this book a wonderful choice for infants and toddlers. Interestingly, the original French title, Les Chiffres (Hachette Jeunesse, 2001), puts more emphasis on the counting and concept aspect of this book than its English translation, which focuses on the motherly love element.

Audience: Ages 0-4. This is a board book babies can grow with, and parents might even learn a couple of new baby animal names!

Personal reaction:  Mommy Loves is the first board book I picked out as an expectant mother, and I look forward to sharing this sweet and gentle story with my baby. I love the combination of Hallensleben’s rich paintings, the simple and comforting text with some unusual animal choices, and the counting concept.