Just recently I was bemoaning the fact that I’m no good at book reviews but I’m taking a crack at this one.

I pre-ordered Matched by Ally Condie, so I’ve had it for a few weeks, and finally got to it this weekend. It’s not exactly my typical read. Mostly the YA label. I don’t run from YA by any stretch of the imagination, but I seek out the adult versions first, barring a recommendation. Still, sci-fi is right up my ally. (See what I did there?)

The cover on that this is breathtaking. Gorgeous book. The writing too is lovely. It’s clean and stark, beautiful in its simplicity.

Having said that, it was beautiful prose… written in present tense. I just can’t help it, present tense grates on my nerves. It feels off to me, you just wouldn’t hear this story from anyone as it’s happening. And it makes for all sorts of contradicitions.  One really obvious example is when she’s doing something that takes a lot of concentration and she can lose herself in it, putting aside her worries for the moment. The text goes something like ‘so as I sit here I don’t think of this, or that, or him, or her, or tomorrow…’ and my head is screaming ‘YES YOU ARE! Otherwise how can you talk about it at all?’

Even when the story got engrossing enough that I didn’t notice it as much, present tense is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I can eventually ignore it if the story is interesting enough, but I’m still always slightly on edge because I can’t make the annoyance go away entirely.

Because of that, present tense writing keeps me at a distance from a story. I just can’t sink into it and lose myself in it.

My only other complaint with the book is, in part, not the book’s fault at all. The problem is The Giver, by Lois Lowry. If I’d never read The Giver I think Matched would have had a more powerful effect on me because it deals with an important theme–that of self-determination and balancing the rights of the individual vs. the whole. Ally does this very well and presents this by making us feel connected to the protagonist and allowing us to identify with her struggles.

The problem is, The Giver did that first, and, if not better, at least with higher stakes. The settings are just far too similar to resist comparisons between the two books. The Giver tackled this issue with the life of a child as the thing the protagonist must either protect by rebelling or abandon in the name of obedience and conformity. In Matched, Cassia must either conform and marry a boy she loves, or else fight for the freedom to… marry another boy she loves.

In then end, it felt like such a washed-out, dumbed-down version of the conflict in The Giver that I reluctantly walked away from a book I wanted to like feeling a bit patronized. I don’t imagine this would even be noticed by someone who hadn’t read The Giver.

In spite of the tense and the less-than-impressive stakes, it was an entertaining story, beautifully done, well worth the read. Even with my reservations, as a stand-alone, considering only the book itself, I’d give it four stars.