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31 Days of Authors: Matched by Ally Condie (a 2011 Teens’ Top Ten Winner)

Teen Read Week was October 16th through the 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you exclusive author interviews and profiles plus reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us. Today we feature Ally Condie, whose book Matched is #6 on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list.

It was not one bit surprising to me when I saw Matched on the 2011 Teens Top Ten list. I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, especially for teens, and when I started reading Matched I didn’t put it down until I read the final page. The compelling characters and thoughtful details of the future world instantly drew me into the book, but the sinister “it’s all for you own good” Society provided the perfect amount of tension that kept me flipping the pages well beyond bed time.  Ally was gracious enough to answer some questions for us in today’s post–enjoy!

Congratulations on being one of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten choices for 2011! What went through your mind when you found out Matched was a favorite book of teens across the country?

Honestly, I can think of no greater honor. I am a former high school teacher and coach and so this means the world to me. When I found out I thought, “Really? Can this be true?” and I have to admit that I teared up a bit. But then I started grinning. And I haven’t stopped since. I am so very grateful to the teens who read and voted for Matched!

One of the hardest parts of being a teenager is having to make so many important choices. What I loved about Matched was the tension surrounding Cassia’s choice of an easy life for one that is dangerous and difficult yet inherently more fulfilling. How did this theme of choice come about?

Choice is something I think about a lot–I like having choices, and I feel that it’s an essential part of growth and change and becoming. But I’ve also been in the tricky position (as a teacher, a parent) where you are sometimes taking choice away from people because you are requiring them to do certain things or trying to protect them. It’s kind of a strange, uncomfortable position to be in at times, and it’s made me think about how good intentions can sometimes cause great damage–which is the case with the Society in Matched.

Arranged marriages are the norm for much of human society, yet Western culture is generally very resistant to the idea (at least for now). Why is the concept so central to your story?

The concept is central to this story because Cassia comes to believe that she has the right to choose who she spends her life with. I think that’s one of the rights that feels the most fundamental to all of us, so to have it stripped away feels particularly horrifying for us as readers.

What is the message you are hoping teen readers will get from the Matched trilogy?

I just hope they enjoy reading the book! I know teenagers have many, many demands on their time, and so if they are spending any of it on my book, I want them to be entertained and interested. And I hope they can seem themselves somewhere in Cassia’s story–maybe they’ve loved someone they shouldn’t, or had to make difficult decisions, or felt that all they wanted to do was run as fast as they could without anything or anyone trying to hold them back.

On your website, you say that Xander and Ky were both inspired by your husband. Was Cassia also inspired by someone you know?

She’s not inspired by any one person. But I think she’s kind of a conglomerate of certain strong, kind young women that I knew while I was teaching and that I’ve seen in my cousins and sisters–girls who are good people and try to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t result in a lot of fanfare for them. Quiet strength is something I admire very much.

What do you make of the recent popularity of dystopian societies in teen fiction?

I think it’s wonderful–and I think it’s also perhaps in part due to the fact that young adult literature is growing in every genre, with so many new fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc. titles coming out as well. I think dystopian novels in particular are popular right now because there are certainly times when the news feels rather apocalyptic–so many disasters, so many things spiraling out of control.

I love the Matched playlist on your website. Which came first, the book or the music?

Oh, thank you! Some of the songs I’d heard before I wrote the book, and some I found after. But I write the first draft without music, so I guess you’d say the book came first. Then, while I was working on revising Matched, I kept finding songs (or my husband would find them for me) that made me think of the characters and the story.

Photo credit: Brook AndreoliWhat is your biggest challenge as a writer?

My biggest challenge as a writer is finding/making the time to write. I am very serious about writing and make sure to put in a minimum of 4-5 hours each day. But it’s hard to do with small kids at home. So there’s a lot of staying up late, getting up early, writing frantically during naptime, etc. It always feels like a bit of a balancing act but it’s worth it!

Like many readers, I am anxiously awaiting the release of Crossed next month. Can you give us a hint about what is in store for Cassia?

Yes! Cassia is about to discover more of the world–and she’ll also learn more about herself, what she’s capable of feeling and accomplishing. We’re also going to hear Ky’s side of the story, as he tells the story in Crossed along with Cassia. I can tell you that things are not going to be easy for them, and that she’s going to question everything–including whether or not she correctly interpreted the poem that Grandfather gave her in Matched.  :)

— Summer Hayes, currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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