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YA author Ally Condie takes on dystopian matchmaking

Matchmaking is not a new idea.

But Ally Condie's new book "Matched" certainly is.

"Matched," the first book in a dystopian trilogy, is the story of 17-year-old Cassia, who has spent her entire life waiting for "the Society" to select her perfect mate. But there's a flaw in the system, and Cassia finds herself considering another option — one she never thought possible.

Condie credits her husband for the initial idea behind "Matched." As an economist, he thinks in numbers and once posed the question: What if we could write the perfect algorithm to line people up, like matchmaking?

What if we could? Condie ruminated. What if the government could?

From there, the BYU graduate and author of six books, including "Being Sixteen" and "Freshman for President," started writing.

Other questions popped up. In what kind of a world would this take place? And what would need to happen in order for this to be accepted and what's going on?

"I had to build a world that would feel realistic," the Orem resident told the Deseret News. "And so I sort of built this society that has a lot of good things about it, too, because you have to be able to see why the people would relinquish control."

In December 2009, Dutton Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, announced a three-book deal with Condie after an auction that garnered national attention.

Condie, who had been published with Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain, didn't have any connections on the national scene. She knew "Matched" wouldn't be a good fit with her previous publisher — "not for content; it's still a really clean book, but because they don't publish any dystopian fiction," she said.

The author sent out 25 query letters to agents who would likely represent young adult fiction. Eighteen rejections followed, but so did seven offers of representation. Now Condie is working with some of the top names in the business. Disney has bought the movie rights and, just recently, "Matched" was named one of Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2010.

"It's been really crazy," Condie said. "I mean great, but kind of surprising."

Along those lines, it's inevitable that "Matched" will be compared to another dystopian trilogy about a girl and two boys, "The Hunger Games." It's a flattering comparison, said Condie, who adores the books. But it is a worry, too, she said, "because there's action in 'Matched' but nobody writes action like Suzanne Collins."

On a lot of levels, "Matched" is the story of one girl learning to choose, Condie said. There's a lot going on, but a lot of it is personal rather than a grand arena action.

"It's an interesting book to write," she said, "because all is not well in the society, but I'm telling it through the point of view of someone who doesn't know that yet. So you do get the sense that there's a lot going on off stage and she's (Cassie) going to be a part of that soon, but right now she's kind of coming into awareness. I really did want it to be a book about this one character and her falling in love and how revolutionary that feels on a lot off different levels."

"Matched" is a departure form Condie's previous books, which were geared toward a Mormon audience. It will be a change for her previous fans, who probably know her as Allyson Braithwaite Condie, and she hopes they like it.

"There isn't any Mormon content, and that is different," Condie said. "It's not a contemporary novel, which I've always written. But I'm the same writer and the books are still, I don't know, clean. … There's not a huge departure in style of writing or the content. But it's a very different setting that I think is exciting."

If you go …

Who: Ally Condie

What: Launch party

When: Saturday, Dec. 4, 2 p.m.

Where: King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Phone: 801-484-9100


Also …

When: Tuesday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.

Where: Provo City Library, Bullock Room, 550 North University Ave.

Phone: 801-852-6650