Matched begins on Cassia Reyes’s seventeenth birthday as she rides a train to her Match Banquet. In the futuristic world in which she lives, the Society decides who marries whom. Leaders called Officials are responsible for Matching boys and girls to their perfect partners, thus ensuring happy marriages and genetically well-balanced offspring. Cassia waits eagerly until her name is called, and then—like dozens of girls did before her—she walks to a screen at the front of the room. She expects the screen to light up with the image of a stranger from another city. Instead, most unusually, Cassia is Matched to someone she already knows: Xander Carrow, her best friend from childhood.
Cassia already loves Xander, so she knows immediately that he is the perfect Match for her. Although she never dared to hope that she might be Matched with him, the choice reinforces her belief in the Society. As she sees it, it is worth giving up personal freedom in exchange for a near-perfect life of happiness, health, and productivity. She does not mind that the Society’s Officials dictate everything that happens to her and her family—what they wear, what they eat, where they work, and even when they die.
At the Banquet, each Match receives a microcard containing information about his or her future spouse. Cassia already knows all about Xander, but she is excited to view the information on her card anyway. But when she attempts to do this, Xander’s image flashes onto the screen and disappears. It is replaced with a picture of another boy, Ky Markham. This leaves Cassia scared and bewildered. Nobody gets two Matches, and the Society does not make mistakes; she wonders why Ky’s face appeared on her screen.
That evening, an Official from the Matching Department comes to see Cassia during her leisure hours. The Official explains that Cassia is still Matched with Xander and that someone must have put Ky’s information into the Match system as a cruel joke. Cassia has known Ky since they were both ten years old, when her neighbors adopted Ky. Now the Official explains that Ky is classified as an Aberration, a person who has lost certain rights because he has broken the Society’s laws. Ky did not break a law himself, but his father did. This means that he will never be Matched—to Cassia or anyone else.
After her conversation with the Official, Cassia knows she should feel relieved. However, she cannot focus on thoughts of her future with Xander. Instead she finds herself feeling sorry for Ky and wondering what happened in his past. She knows that he was born in the Outer Provinces, where the Society’s order is not so strong and where many people are violent and uneducated. But ever since Ky moved to Cassia’s neighborhood, he has behaved exactly like all of his peers. He has succeeded so well at this task that, until now, Cassia has never wondered about the details of his early childhood. Her curiosity is piqued, and she resolves to learn more if she can.
The next day is Cassia’s grandfather’s eightieth birthday and his Final Banquet. His friends and family gather to celebrate with him. Because Grandfather has been a law-abiding man, Cassia’s father is allowed to take a swab of cells from the old man’s cheek. These will be kept permanently in storage in case the Society discovers a way to bring people back from the dead.
Grandfather’s friends and family eat a meal with him—but nobody is allowed to eat from his tray. After the meal, each family member gets a little time alone with Grandfather. This is sad because they know they will never be alone with him again. However, Cassia holds in her tears. She knows it is right for people to die when they are eighty, before they become a burden on others. She tells Grandfather she loves him, and he surprises her by giving her a sheet of paper with a poem printed on it. It is not one of the Hundred Poems—those poems that have been chosen by the Society as worthy of preservation and study. She accepts the poem with misgivings; she knows she will be in serious trouble if anyone ever finds out she has it.
Along with her parents and brother, Cassia sits up with Grandfather late into the night. They all know what to expect. People always die sometime before midnight on their eightieth birthdays. Sure enough, at around eleven o’clock, Grandfather says “I love you” to each of his family members. Then—in a sad but peaceful moment—he dies.
Even though she knows death is natural, Cassia finds herself grieving for Grandfather. She goes to school, does her work, and participates in leisure activities, but she does not feel quite as happy as usual. She cannot stop wishing that she could speak to Grandfather again. She also worries constantly about the poem he gave her, but there is nothing she can do about it. It is not safe to read the poem because she may be observed doing it. She cannot even throw it away because the Society analyzes the composition of each citizen’s trash.
Cassia has signed up for hiking as a summer leisure activity, mostly because Grandfather liked to hike in his youth. When she arrives at the first event, she is surprised to find that Ky is participating too. An Officer leads the group of hikers to a hill in the park and...
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