The Selection by Kiera Cass
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Challenges: Debut Author Challenge, ABC Reading Challenge
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.
But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.
Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
Okay, enough of that. I was trying to use a mathematical equation to express how much I loved this book, but those of you who don't know a lot about math are going to have no idea what I'm talking about, and those of you who know a lot about math are going to know that I have no idea what I'm talking about. Therefore, I should probably stick to the usual format.
The Selection is that sweet sticky sour savory delectable kind of guilty pleasure that any lover of dessert or reality television will completely identify with (and likely gobble up as hungrily as I did). Imagine watching an entire season of the Hills and eating a sleeve of cookie dough and not feeling full or fat afterwards. Completely delicious and engrossing, right? Seriously people, you should use this book as a diet tool or something because I honestly did not want to put it down long enough to get actual food.
This book is marketed as a dystopian, and while I suppose that yes, technically it is, it's really more of a Cinderella story with a twist. The book starts in America's home town, where we meet her lower class family and get to know their dynamic pretty well. We also learn that she has been illegally sneaking out at night to meet with Aspen, the boy she plans to marry. Why is it secret and illegal? Well, unfortunately, he's from an even lower class than her, which is a big no-no in Illea. Anyways, we spend a while in her town and at first I was super impatient to get to court where there would be intrigue and backstabbing and ball gowns, but I'm glad we lingered because it gave us the chance to see America with her family and with Aspen, and both of those things factor really heavily into why she stays at the palace later.
So America gets chosen to be a part of The Selection (a.k.a. The Bachelor, royal edition) and she travels to the palace with 35 other girls. There she meets Maxon, and WOAH, this girl literally whips out an axe, chops off a piece of her mind and gives it to him. She is super unimpressed by the fact that he is a prince, and she makes that more than clear. Read: Bitch Fest. Like a true monarch, Maxon listens, takes it all in stride, and doesn't give America the whooping she probably deserves because he's a forgiving and compassionate dude.
Let's talk Maxon. Or should I say omg omggg SQUEE MAXON, because that was my reaction each time he turned up. He is so adorable. I loved watching him fumble through his first attempts at dating (poor guy, to have such a thing watched not only by one's parents, but the entire country). He's such a compassionate person that I felt like he got walked on some, but at the important moments he definitely knew how to stand up for himself. His back-and-forth with America was fascinating because while I love the girl, she is a force of nature and occasionally a bullheaded beeyotch and Maxon is basically a big puppy. America is used to being in control, but in this situation Maxon has essentially all of the control, and that's something they both have to navigate.
I've heard some complaints that this book has yet another love triangle, but honestly, I don't think of the whole Aspen-America-Maxon relationship as a love triangle as much as I see it as a story about getting over first love and learning to move on, which is a huge and awful part of coming of age. Aspen (which is always what I wanted to name my first daughter, and now I'm pretty sure he's ruined that for me, so THANKS A LOT Aspen) does not strike me as a great guy. I believe that he loves America, but his pride is big enough to squash the palace, and everything he does--from dumping America to wanting her back, etc--is entirely motivated by selfishness. I'm just going to put it out there and say that I hated him. I think it's pretty clear that America falls quickly in love with Maxon, she is just having trouble fully moving on and that is the source of a lot of her denial. Whenever she would get cranky while Maxon was on another date I couldn't help but yell at the book because Eeeee, America!! You're all swoony and jealous! Don't you know what that means? Do it, girl! Doitdoitdoit!
Another element of the book that I enjoyed was getting to know the girls. You have the psycho power hungry Celeste's that are just so much fun to loathe, and the sweetheart's like Marlee that you can't begrudge for doing well in the competition. While there is definitely some drama here--and you can bet that it's nearly all Celeste's fault--most of the drama we see is between Maxon and America. The girls themselves managed to develop a semi-harmonious sisterhood; they even acknowledge at several points in the book how they see the ways in which each of the other girls would make good queens. I wish that we could have gotten to know the girls to a greater depth, but America can be a little bit of a recluse sometimes so she spent a disproprtionate about of time in her room. I think with the whittling down of girls that happens over the course of The Selection we will get more depth in Book 2. But honestly, I'm not that sad about the lack of girl time, because whenever they were in the ladies room all I could think was comeoncomeoncomeon I want a scene with MAXON! And luckily for me, I usually got one.
Complaints? I honestly feel like this book could have gotten away with being a couple hundred pages longer. It ended in such a strange place; there was a little closure and a small cliffhanger, but I was pretty confused when suddenly the whole thing was over. Books 1 and 2 could have been turned into Parts 1 and 2 of the same book, and that would have made more sense. Additionally, the whole "outsiders" plot line felt flat and undeveloped, but I'm thinking this will shape itself in coming books. Like I said before, the book qualifies as a dystopian, but the history of how the world got from its 2012 self to the monarchy of Illea was a complete mess of nonsense. Placing the whole thing in an alternate history or universe might have helped to solve the problem, then at least we could have avoided the perfunctory disaster of a chapter that attempted to explain the national debt and the American State of China and the invasion by Russia (confused yet? because it keeps going…). I know dystopians are hot right now, but unless you are going to give the history as much thought as the plot, then don't attempt to write a dystopian. Essentially, Illea is just a technologically advanced monarchy that is in the middle of a guerrilla war with both its northern and southern borders.
All in all, the biggest success for me is that fact that things changed from beginning to the end of the book. America is likable but also a piece of work. In certain ways she reminded me of Lizzie Bennet: she is humble and kind but she holds some serious prejudices based entirely on her perceptions of wealth. I think both she and Maxon learn that the quality of a person is not dictated by their caste. There are good people in the upper and lower classes; there are horrible people in the upper and lower classes (I'm looking at you, Celeste and Aspen). Watching America and Maxon change each other, and the country in the process, was extremely engaging and I'm definitely looking forward to more of it in the next installment.