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Perfectly Matched

Ally Condie's dystopian YA novel fits the bill for PPLD's All Pikes Peak Reads



It's not a link that Ally Condie herself would have made.

"What happened in the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act," the author says, "it's far and away beyond anything I was doing with the book, so it feels weird to make a comparison."

But the folks at the Pikes Peak Library District did just that in selecting Matched, the first book of Condie's New York Times bestselling young-adult trilogy, for All Pikes Peak Reads — devoted in 2014 to the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

"It's not super-obvious," says PPLD teen programs coordinator and librarian Joanna Nelson. "It's a twist. People are in [the Matched] society and they don't know that they don't have civil rights. They don't understand that or see that. ... But it's very obvious to us that they don't."

And if you push, Condie will acknowledge that yes, her young-adult novel does feature a government that's set very specific rules about who can do what. Condie's main character, 17-year-old Cassia, is trying to reclaim some power that's been taken away — in this case, around whom her future spouse will be.

Which itself could be likened, perhaps, to the battle around same-sex marriage going on in the U.S. PPLD's Nelson admits she hadn't considered that tie, but she can see the similarities. "I know we have teens in our community who are questioning their sexuality," she says, "and so being told by society, by our society what to do, can really push boundaries."

When Condie appears at an All Pikes Peak Reads event on Friday, she'll be just a couple weeks removed from the release of a new, stand-alone title. Atlantia examines another dystopian society, one that has taken to the water following an air-pollution crisis on land. And this story, the 36-year-old easily links to the news.

"That was certainly inspired by current events and climate change and all of that," she says. "I thought, 'Where would we go if it became too toxic to live here?'"

So Condie built an underwater city, and drew additional inspiration from The Little Mermaid. "Not the Disney version," she says. "I was reading the original fairy tale ... and it was dark. [Hans Christian Andersen's] stories are sad. ... Beautiful, there's a little bit of hope at the end, but in the original version, so much is different. She dies. She doesn't get the prince. It doesn't go well for her.

"But the thing I found really compelling this time around was how much she longed to be just above."

In an October piece for USA Today, Condie writes about how "it often feels like what we do to save our world is pointless, that we must do it again and again and again." The issue weighs on her: Referring to her home near Salt Lake City in our interview, she says, "You guys in Colorado have sort of the same geography. ... For me at least, it's really impossible to look around at how beautiful the places are that we live and not think we're just running this into the ground. How can we, how dare we, ruin this?"

But that USA Today essay also argues that trying to renew or purify the world around us "connects to the very hard work we do of becoming our true selves." The piece was written to explain her inspiration for Atlantia, yet this theme in particular — of "attend[ing] to the beauty in our own souls" — can be viewed as reflective of Matched as well.

"I guess it's just the feeling that it's kind of the most important thing we can do as we're here," Condie says. "And that's a personal belief, certainly, so I don't expect everyone to share it. But I do think it's one that a lot of people have a commonality with, that we want to become our best selves."

Condie's focus on young-adult fiction hardly keeps her from engaging with an adult audience. After all, according to a 2012 market research study, 55 percent of YA books are purchased by those 18 or older, and 78 percent of those buyers said they were purchasing for their own reading.

Why does Condie think YA attracts so many adult readers? She laughs. "We all in the young adult community, we get asked that question a lot," she says, "and we often say, 'Because they're really good.'"

Aside from that, though, she says not only are younger readers not going to put up with a story if it's not interesting, but they also like a lot of movement that keeps them engaged, so YA authors tend to write that way.

"Sometimes in adult literature, it's a character study and that's great, but [in YA] you can't spend a hundred pages getting into the psyche of this character, and then they walk to the store. You know what I mean? ...

"I think we want to read — there's something compelling about people discovering the world."

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