Normally I like to write about each book I read individually, but I was strike by how similar these two books are and decided it would be best to write about them together.
In Matched, 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 meant to be 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 something in his past. This small glitch leads Cassia to discover the many cracks in what she previously thought was a perfect system.
In Delirium, 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. They are also given their match options (they get to choose from the 3-4 names they are given based on evaluations), careers and whether or not they attend college is decided for them. But though 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. And 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 come into question.
Both stories hinge on illicit loves 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, a limitation on free expression and choice. Both are even told in first person.
But 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 high divorce rate. Better to place people in the job best suited for them than have people doing mediocre 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 to be slightly superior. Where Lena’s struggles came out of meeting someone else who tempted her (Alex introduced her to a world 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 governments lies and sneakiness and the way removing people’s ability to love changed people’s ability to think and act and be truly happy and free. (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 her death and over the course of the book, Cassia learns what this poem meant and internalized it. It 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 successful and dramatic and exciting. The love stories are both compelling and depressing in their own way. Matched gave me an appreciation for poetry that I can only remember feeling once before (from the poem “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne). Delirium uses too many quotes and mantras and idea to really give one the same sort of strength, but it instills a similar but 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 (will there even be a second book?) 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 by a very, very small margin.