A Perfect Pairing: A Comparative Review of Ally Condie’s Matched With Lois Lowry’s The Giver

As I read Ally Condie’s new dystopian tale Matched, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the first dystopian YA novel I read, The Giver by Lois Lowry. Both books are coming of age stories of teens, who with the push of an older mentor, begin to see that the “perfect” worlds in which they live are anything but. Though Lowry’s Jonas is a younger male protagonist, Matched‘s seventeen-year-old Cassia Reyes follows much the same progression of doubting, questioning, and finally rebelling against those in charge.

Condie’s style, like Lowry’s, is often rich with description, enough to make adult readers sigh with pleasure, but not too much to deter its young adult audience from enjoying the emotional journey of the main character. And that journey is what drives the plot. Though I read Matched in a marathon reading session, I wouldn’t say its pace is particularly fast. Neither was that of The Giver. What keeps the reader turning pages in these books is the emotional, intellectual, and philosophical growth of the main character. That may not sound nearly as exciting as saying these books are about hormonal teens lashing out against an oppressive society, but, at least as far as book one in each of these series goes, it’s the truth. Both books are far more focused on the character’s decision of whether or not to rebel, whether it’s right to rebel, than on the actual rebellion, which in both books takes place only at the very end. Yet Condie and Lowry both manage to make that decision-making gripping enough to propel readers to the final chapters (and beyond, since both books belong to series).

The biggest difference between these two stories is the love-triangle plot of Matched. Condie might have used this popular romance plot of recent YA books to drawn in fans of The Hunger Games and Twilight, but the twist she puts on it is unique and it doesn’t come off at all as just a ploy to suck in teenage girls. The romance isn’t an aside from the dystopian society plot; it drives Cassia’s awakening and ultimate rebellion. Though I still feel teenage boys might be turned off by the amount of brooding Cassia does over her emotions for the two boys, the fact those emotions are so entwined with her decision to break free might just save this book from being classified by the guys as chick lit.

What makes the teacher in me drool over Matched is its theme and the opportunity for serious discussion about timeless topics within a tale teens want to read. Anytime YA readers are choosing books with such clear and important themes, that’s a win for teachers, parents, and kids. And if a new series, like Matched or the Hunger Games can be connected to books that have become staples of middle and high school classrooms, like The Giver or 1984, than these young readers (and their teachers) can forge deeper understandings of great books both old and new.

Bottom line: Read them both. Though I liked Matched enough to want to read the rest of the series, I think to truly appreciate it, readers ought to start with its predecessor, The Giver.

Book Review of Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story by Sara Daltry and Pete Clark

Is there someone for everyone? Even me?

Time is passing and the Y Generation have now become young adults. During this social period computers and the Internet have become household items, at least in the Upper and Middle classes. Online gaming has now become a subculture complete with language, social activities and dress. The word ‘geek’ has become more a description of an alternate subculture than a derogatory term. Daltry and Clarke take us on a wacky trip into the world of computer geeks, as they follow the hectic lives of Katie Garretty and George Lindell. Will this young woman and man come together in a sweet romance, or will they be doomed to remain single forever? Does being a computer geek mean you can never have self-respect, or can these young people grow in self-confidence? Will the pair ever battle their way to the end of Fatal Destiny, the game which dominates their young lives? Backward Compatible is a romantic comedy that will entertain those who enjoy reading New Adult or Young Adult fiction.

Right from the start it should be pointed out that this book is a comedy and much of the humour revolves around politically incorrect views. This book is full of foul language, sexual references and biases against minorities. If you are looking for a book that will expand your social and political ideology you would do well to go somewhere else. If, however, you are looking for something that will make you smile, this is the book for you.

In tune with the gaming ethos of the book, the novel is divided into 15 “Levels”, reminiscent of computer game levels in which each new stage represents a higher degree of complexity and difficulty. The plot of Backward Compatible can roughly be divided into two halves. The first half, Level 1 – 7, revolves around the issue of whether Katie and George will actually get together, and the complication of a possible relationship between Katie and Jeff Browning (“Seynar”). The second half, Level 8- Boss Level (15), covers Katie and George’s budding romance and a gaming hunt for hidden keys, in order to win a $10,000 prize and a trip to Montréal. Both halves each contain an extended description of gaming play, so it should be pointed out that this novel is particularly designed for those interested in online games. If you are not so interested, these sections may seem a little dull. Most of the book, however, is of general human interest and so will appeal to a wide range of readers. The chapters are written alternately from Katie’s, then George’s, point of view. As a result we gain a look into both the female and male minds and lives of young adults. This book, then, should appeal to both male and female readers. At 356 pages Backward Compatible is of average length, however, it is just a little too long for the content. It could have benefited from some minor editing.

Daltry and Clarke have created a collection of likeable characters who the reader will instantly relate to. These characters will remind the reader of themselves or their friends. Both Katie and George are bright and witty, and at the same time vulnerable. We relate to their lack of confidence, and hope the best for them. Typical of the romantic comedy genre even the antagonist character, who I will not name in order to avoid spoiling the story, is not too bad: even they have endearing qualities. The character of Katie has an arc of development spanning the whole novel. We follow her as she progresses from an aching lack of self-confidence to a position of much more self-assurance and certainty. The character of George has two arcs of development. The first arc covers the first half of the story, and takes George from being a nervous young man who does not believe he will ever get a girlfriend to a happy young man who is now dating. The second arc revolves around the issue of whether George will actually have sexual relations with Katie. The character of Katie is a little more fully developed than that of George. The internal monologues for Katie take us deep into her mind and experiences. The character of George also has internal monologues, but we do not get quite the breadth of characterisation. For example, we hear of George’s physical longing for sexual satisfaction, but there are few detailed descriptions of this physical angst. This is not to say that George does not live on the page. The reader does relate to him as real.

In contrast to the new circumstances of the Y generation and technological development, as the subtitle suggests, romance is the central theme of Backward Compatible. This ageless theme is fully developed to the reader’s satisfaction. It is a simple fact of life that for many of us at least part of the solution for lack of self-confidence is finding a partner who we can love and be with. Katie and George are not the only characters to pair off by the end of the novel. Family is a very secondary theme. The reader gains a brief look into the families of George, Katie and Lanyon (George’s ever present buddy). We see parents who cramp their children’s style, but are caring, and a brother who is competitive, but willing to help. These two themes fit well together, as one has a tendency to lead to the other. Of course, a family is a long way ahead in Katie and George’s future, and we do not know if it will eventually come to be, but the reader can hope.

The humour in the novel works quite well. There is a great amount of witty comment and repartee, slapstick humour and tongue in cheek events. George and Lanyon are particularly a comedy duo a little reminiscent of The Three Stooges, although of course there are only two of them. For example, while George and Lanyon are at the store, at midnight, to buy the new release of Fatal Destiny George tries to pull Katie as a date by giving her his copy of the game to buy. Seeing this Lanyon comments, “I mean, if you are going to give up a midnight release the least she can provide you with is a little midnight release.” During the same incident George comments of Katie, “her smile is more that of a hungry T-Rex than innocent… ” At times the plot wanders a little into hyperbole. For example there is a three-storey climbing incident which is a little unreal, and certainly would not work in a less humorous and more realistic story. Similarly, in reality few friendships would last if a young man hit his friend in the testicles. But as has been noted this is a comedy and the reader is not too upset by these unrealities.

From the perspective of Feminism women in the novel are represented as quite dynamic and forward. Katie, despite her lack of self-confidence, can be very forceful in making her opinions known. She is a talented gamer and an aggressive fighter in Fatal Destiny. She is also an intelligent university student, an Art History major, who has gained entrance to Amherst College, a prestigious and exclusively selective university. Allie, Katie’s friend, is the first to turn against the antagonist character, deliberately killing their game avatar even though the antagonist is supposed to be on the same team. Anna, Katie’s best friend, is, however, more of a female stereotype. She is interested mainly in guys and clothes. Anna certainly gets a ribbing from Katie, though, on these points. Stacey and Vicki, two hussies who knew Katie in high school, also represent the female stereotype of get a man, have a baby and raise a family. These two women, though, are hardly represented positively, and their lifestyle is certainly not recommended.

The male characters, when seen in terms of Gender Studies, are hardly sensitive New Age men. Much of the humour comes from George and Lanyon’s insensitive, macho dialogue about women. Indeed, where women are concerned they seem interested in only one thing: sex. Much of this, however, is purely a front, an adopted persona. We see from the internal dialogue in his chapters that George in fact does have feelings, and indeed is quite sensitive, including being worried about his own masculinity. In the second half of the novel there is an extended incident where a George very much goes out of his way to cheer up and console Katie, who is crying because of some abuse she has received.

The LGBTIQ minority are not represented in the novel, and indeed gays come in for quite a bit of bigoted humour. Much of this, however, arises because of George and Lanyon’s insecurities about their own masculinity. This could have been balanced, though, by including a positively described cameo of a gay character.

The aged are completely absent from the text, but this is not a great surprise as Backward Compatible is a Young Adult / New Adult novel. Once again one cameo appearance could have been included to represent this much ignored minority. It is certainly true that the age can make a positive contribution to the lives of young people.

In the terms of the Capitalist / Socialist debate there can be no doubt that Backward Compatible lies firmly in the Capitalist camp. Both George and Katie live an alternate lifestyle and are hard up for money, but they are able to do this because of the largesse of their parents. Neither of them, nor Lanyon, works during their winter break. Indeed, they do not even attempt to find work. All three attend university because of the generosity of their parents. Katie, indeed, goes to a highly expensive college. Also, much of the second half of the novel revolves around an attempt to win $10,000. This is clearly a capitalist motivation. Nonetheless, at one point in the story Katie clearly states that she does not wish to own lots of products, and that money is not important to her. Also, George drives a car which is old and perpetually breaking down. His parents have not gifted him with an expensive new vehicle. Clearly this book will appeal to middle class and upper class readers.

The novel is quite sound in psychological terms. Indeed, the split narration allows Daltry and Clarke to illustrate the concept of “mind reading”. In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy this is a classic error in thinking in which an individual imagines that they can read the thoughts in another person’s head. Usually the individual imagines the other person is thinking of them negatively, in reality this is simply not true. (Sarah Edelman. Change Your Thinking: overcome stress, combat anxiety and depression and improve your life with CBT: New York, N.Y.: Marlowe, 2007, p. 53) Both Katie and George engage in mind reading when in fact the other is thinking of them quite positively.

Backward Compatible is an endearing and humorous romp that will particularly entertain young adults, but also, more broadly, the young at heart. The Katie / George split narrative means that the book will appeal to both male and female readers. While the novel is centred in Y generation culture, the themes of romance and family are universal, and will appeal to many. I am happy to rate this book as 4 stars out of 5.

References

Caltry, Sarah & Clark, Peter. Backward Compatible: a geek love story:__ Smashwords ed.:__ Los Gatos, C.A.: Smashwords, c2013.

Edelman, Sarah. Change Your Thinking: overcome stress, combat anxiety and depression and improve your life with CBT: New York, N.Y.: Marlowe, 2007.

http://goo.gl/tTgTVO Backward Compatible (Kindle ed.)

Trapped by Michael Northrop – A Blizzard, Seven Stranded Students, and Teenage Hormones, Book Review

A relentless Tuesday morning snowfall prompts an early dismissal at Tattawa Regional High School in a rural New England town. Seven students (five sophomore boys and two freshman girls) waiting for rides home, soon realize that no one is coming to their rescue. When will they be found? How will they persevere? Will they all be found alive? That’s the premise of Trapped, written by Young Adult author, Michael Northrop.

Sophomore Scotty Weems narrates the group’s ordeal.

It soon becomes Survival of the Fittest. The students raid their lockers, searching for items to assuage their entrapment, including sweatshirts, gym clothes, and snack-packs of Oreos. “Any sharing or trading would be done among friends. I guess this was when we started keeping secrets,” says Scotty.

Two of Scotty’s friends, Pete Dubois and Jason Gillispie are among the stranded. Scotty describes Pete as a normal sophomore who wasn’t super hip or incredibly smart. Jason spends the limited daylight in the Industrial Arts room working on his go-kart project named, Flammenwerfer (German for flamethrower).

The students endure dead cell phone reception; sleeping on cold, hard tile floors; using bathrooms with soon-to-be frozen pipes; and forty-degree hallways.

As their nightmare continues, the clan brazenly decides to break into the cafeteria to quench their hunger. Canned peaches in heavy syrup, pudding, and half pints of white and chocolate milk are among their finds.

Scotty is torn between obeying invisible authority and acquiescing to the group’s cafeteria pilferage plan. He fears the robbery will affect his position on the school’s basketball team.

Trapped illustrates how people can be perceived differently, depending on the situation. During school time, stranded student, Les Goddard is known as a thug, and often detention-bound. Yet, he proves invaluable as a locksmith, able to break into desirable areas, including the cafeteria and nurse’s office. “The day before I’d been half afraid just to be around Les,” says Scotty.

Resourcefulness reigns, as the students use blankets from the nurse’s office and a battery-operated radio to listen to weather updates.

Teenage hormones accentuate the students’ experience, as Scotty is attracted to freshman, Krista O’Rea: “Just that morning, I’d spent about twenty quality minutes staring at the back of her neck on the bus, wordless and possibly drooling.” Pete and Julie Anders, Krista’s best friend, steal away in the darkness for kissing too.

Contemporary references to reality television star, Snooki and songstress Lady Gaga complement the young adult narrative.

Yes, Trapped is written for a youthful audience. Regardless of your age, you’ll find yourself wondering how you would act under similar conditions, perhaps stranded at your workplace or a civic group meeting.

Northrop’s well-written narrative and surprise ending authenticate Trapped’s accolades.

To discover other bestselling Young Adult authors and read the entire list of 2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year Nominees, visit: http://www.teenreads.com/2012-teen-choice-book-of-the-year-nominees.