Inspiration can strike authors in unusual places. For Utah author Ally Condie, it was while she was chaperoning a high school prom.
She thought what it would be like to write a book about a girl who didn’t get to choose who she got to marry. Then, her idea spawned into what it would look like to take a high school prom — specifically Timpview in Provo — and dial up the craziness to 11.
“When you’re a writer, you start to take everything and twist it a little,” Condie explained.
For Condie, that meant taking the trappings of a high school prom — teenagers dressed up, wearing fancy dresses and suits, in an elegant setting — and transplanting it to a dystopian world where teenagers are told by the government who they will marry.
That idea soon became a novel called “Matched,” which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020. The book, which has drawn comparisons to other hit YA novels of the 2010s like “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” quickly became a bestseller and was followed by two sequels.
Of course, the world has changed in noticeable ways during the 10 years since “Matched” was first published. Personally, Condie says she has “one more kid” than she did when the book first came out (she has four in total) and that her life has changed in many other ways.
She told the Deseret News it’s “kind of crazy that people are still reading it 10 years in. That’s a lucky, lucky thing and I’m grateful for that.”
To commemorate the anniversary of “Matched,” Penguin Young Readers is releasing a special edition of the book, with a new gold cover and bonus content, on Nov. 10. Ahead of the anniversary, Condie talked to the Deseret News about where the book came from, other ways the world has changed, and why dystopian fiction like “Matched” continues to be popular.
Where did ‘Matched’ come from?
As a high school English teacher, young adult fiction and the world of teenagers was not foreign to Condie before writing “Matched.” And it was an experience at Timpview High School in Provo that helped inspire her.
On the weekends, Condie would sometimes chaperone school dances. During the high school’s prom, she said it was fun to see her students dressed up and in a fancier setting, but that it made her start to wonder, “How do you take that to the next degree?”
“Matched” was the answer. The novel takes place in a futuristic society, where people’s choices — from what they eat to who they marry — are controlled by the government. The story begins with Cassia Reyes attending the “Matching” ceremony on her 17th birthday, a fancy affair that she and her peers dress up to attend. But by the end of the night, they will each have a Match — the person the Society has decided they will marry.
But “Matched” wasn’t the first novel that Condie wrote. In fact, she had five books published by Deseret Book starting in 2006. Though she was still under contract with Deseret Book when she wrote “Matched,” the product director there told her he thought the book “could be big” — and because of that, he believed she should take it elsewhere.
Condie said she was “terrified” when Deseret Book released her early from her contract so she could pursue “Matched,” but that she recognized they had given her an opportunity.
And it was an opportunity that ended up working out for Condie. She landed her “dream agent,” who took the manuscript to what were the “big six” publishing companies at the time — and all six of them ended up making offers for “Matched.”
After an auction between the companies — something else that Condie said was “terrifying” — she ended up at Penguin (now Penguin Random House) with editor Julie Strauss-Gabel, who works with other young adult authors like John Green.
“Penguin knew what to do right from the start, out of the gate with this,” Condie said. “Everything they did came together beautifully. It was very lucky for me.”
Why are ‘Matched’ and dystopian novels still so popular?
Dystopian fiction has been a popular genre for some time, from novels and movies like “1984” to “The Handmaid’s Tale” to “The Hunger Games.” And Condie thinks there’s a reason that dystopia continues to speak to people.
While she was writing “Matched,” Condie said that she created the novel’s world by looking at things that were already happening — such as the amount of information the government and private tech companies have about people — and then taking it “to extremes.”
“I think one of the reasons dystopia is maybe speaking to us even more now is because we feel like we’re living in the extreme,” Condie explained. “We feel like, ‘Wait, these things that we used to just see in books are now actually taking place.’”
Issues like climate change, as well as data mining and information collected by tech companies and the government, have only continued to worsen in the 10 years since she wrote “Matched.”
“I didn’t even have a smartphone when I wrote ‘Matched,” said Condie. “We’re more and more data driven and on our devices. And the government, and just private parties too, have outrageous amounts of information about us.”
But the appeal of dystopia, to Condie, is that it provides a sense of hope. In the “Matched” series, as well as other young adult dystopian novels like “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” it’s young people who end up saving the day. And Condie thinks that the culture of places like Utah is particularly receptive to that message.
“Often in dystopia — particularly young adult dystopia, I think much more than adult — is we have this sense that, ‘OK, the kids are going to save us,’” Condie said.
“I think in Utah, and if you’re a high school teacher, if you’re a person who trained (to work with) young people, I think those are all cultures that really value the power and potential of our youth. Like we see them doing a lot of really cool things. We see them as awesome and full of potential.”
What’s coming next?
Condie is looking forward to celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Matched” with the new “Gold Edition” that will be released on Nov. 10. Not only does the special edition have a new cover, but it features new bonus material including a short story, “The Girl in the Green Dress,” and a Q&A between Condie and author Soman Chainani.
Condie and Chainani will have another opportunity to discuss “Matched” during Condie’s virtual book tour, which begins with an event with the two authors hosted by the Provo Library and The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. Later, Condie will appear in conversation with Marie Lu and fellow Utah author Shannon Hale at two more events.
Beyond the book tour, Condie can’t say much about what the future holds — yet. But she does have more projects in the works.
“Let’s just say, ‘More YA to come,’” she said with a laugh.
But as she looks back on “Matched,” Condie says she has a lot to be thankful for — especially the readers who have discovered and returned to the novel over the last 10 years.
“I really have a lot of people to thank for this,” Condie said. “Not just the publisher and, obviously, the editor ... but the readers and the teachers and librarians and booksellers who have kept it going for so long. It’s truly just the biggest gift I could imagine.”