I did not go into this book intending to like it.
In fact, I think that I was judging it a bit unfairly before I even began and I approached it harshly when I first started reading it. I regret that now. I regret not letting myself just enjoy the story from the get go. See, I’ve never been a fan of reality television. American Idol never really appealed to me and shows like the Bachelor and the Bachelorette seemed ridiculous. The basic plot of the Selection sounds like it’s just a move to capitalize on YA dystopian fiction and America’s love for reality television.
Which, I suppose that’s exactly what it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a decent story on it’s own.
Kiera Cass is a genuinely dedicated writer and I think that dedication alone deserves some credit. Though the Selection is considered her debut novel she self published another novel some three years prior. I respect that. People should be willing to chase their dreams and not give up if it doesn’t work out right away. I also appreciate that this book was well written (for the genre) and that the plot stayed on track from the beginning.
So, now that I’ve explained my personal bias and how that changed, let’s actually talk about this book. Because I really enjoyed it and I think that you will as well.
The premise of the book is that Prince Maxon, prince of Illea – a kingdom grown out of the long fallen United States – has come of age and in standard tradition of Illea, he will take his bride from among the common masses of the country. The main character, America Singer, is one of the girls chosen to compete for his affections.
Illea is a nation divided by a caste system and her family are Fives – just three steps up from the lowest of the low. They are artists and performers and while most people set their sights on advancing to higher castes, America is looking to drop to a lower one. The love of her life is Aspen – a Six from the lower serving class and if she marries him she share his caste and fate. Everything changes when her mother and Aspen encourage her to apply for the Selection. They both want the best for her and Aspen – though he loves her – is very conflicted about their potential relationship and marriage. After all, he loves her. How could he condemn her to his own perilous caste?
Aspen and America have a falling out before she leaves for the capitol of Angeles to join the other thirty-four girls at the royal palace. It’s convenient, sure, but the concerns that Aspen has are actually rather endearing and America’s inability to see them – and the way she holds on to her pain even when faced with royalty and competition – feel like how any young, inexperienced, and foolish teenage girl might react. I liked the characters and I liked the way they acted.
Uninterested in the competition itself and marrying the prince, America instead attempts to befriend him. By staying her family gets desperately needed money as compensation and she can avoid seeing Aspen for as long as possible. (Plus the food isn’t so bad either especially when you know what it’s like to go hungry in those lower caste families.) But, of course, as America and Prince Maxon become closer something begins to form between them. Something more than friendship but not quite at the level of love yet. And America’s feelings for Aspen can’t just disappear overnight – particularly not once she’s forced to face them all over again.
That’s the basic summary.
It sounds a bit corny, I know. All YA romances sound corny. Most of them are. This isn’t necessarily an exception but if you enjoy the genre you should read this book.
I know to some people it might not seem like much but it’s rather fantastic. America – like most YA heroines – is very much meant to be that average girl. The one you can relate to and sympathize with because she could be you. She’s spunky, she makes mistakes. She’s irrational, she says the wrong things. But it all works out. It’s a pretty cookie cutter character design and plot. But it works. If it didn’t it wouldn’t be so cookie cutter. Let yourself enjoy the story and you will come to care about America and the girls in the competition. And you’ll realize that America does the sort of things that you would hope you would do too in such a situation. Like befriending her maids before the other girls, jumping into action when rebels attack, and trying to find the good in a situation that is far from ideal.
The book does leave you wanting and there are some explanations that I hope come in subsequent installments. The world itself is loosely defined and the caste system’s development not very well explained. The rebels who attack the capitol constantly are also a poorly constructed group whose motives seem to be unknown even to the most powerful of characters. And, then, honestly, in that guilty pleasure sort of way I really do want to know more about this dystopian society, the politics, the rebels, and the way the other nations in the world have been reformed. I want to know what happens with America and the other girls, with Maxon, with Aspen.
The Selection is a fun, quick read. It’s everything you should expect out of young adult fiction and romance. Have few expectations and you will not be disappointed. And come in with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised. Honestly, just read it. I don’t say that lightly. If you’re looking for a short, fun read then this is something you can finish and set aside easily this coming holiday season.
Final Score: B+
Originally posted on Reading Wild.