Book: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Summary: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a 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, and leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she begins to realize that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined. -HarperTeen, 2012.
I discovered this series completely by accident while looking around at Barnes & Noble. I actually saw the second book first and when I first read the back cover, I was intrigued, but not wholeheartedly interested. Then I read little snippets of different chapters and I found myself sucked in.
Spoilers will be minimal.
I usually don't read dystopian novels. I usually don't read dystopian novels that involve love triangles. I have yet to see a teen love triangle that has a fresh take on it. Teen love triangles that I've seen in recent trilogies - I'm not even going to just say novels, because the whole trilogy aspect is not new either - usually pit the bad/forbidden boy versus the good, nice guy. This series caves in to this trope, but it's not glaringly annoying. Cass, to her credit, does present logical reasons that support both men in who America, our leading lady, should choose. I'm Team Maxon all the way, but that's another story for another day.
Let's focus on this opening to this trilogy (though from what I understand, there's going to be another two novellas, along with two more novels, so it's not quite a trilogy anymore).
This series has been described as the Hunger Games and "The Bachelor" combined. Even though I have never watched an episode of "The Bachelor" in my life, I'd say this description measures up pretty well. As for the Hunger Games comparison, it is pretty well-founded too. The "castes" of the novel are similar to the "districts". That's the only non-spoiler I can really give. Other details are similar to the Hunger Games, but for the sake of people who haven't read this series, I won't give them away.
That's not to say that this series isn't enjoyable. The pace is really well done. Cass doesn't spend a lot of time on the nitty gritty bits of the competition itself or the reasoning for each elimination. The girls who are important are quickly given more details so that you're not forced into remembering the names of girls who won't be around for very long. All of the girls are likable in their own ways, save for the typical "bitch" of the competition that everyone hates and wants to get rid of, but the blissfully ignorant man doesn't eliminate.
Cass also does a good job of setting up her world without making it into a five page long exposition. She reveals the details that make up the world bit by bit. For example, not all of the castes are explained right away. It's not until America meets a member of the other castes that the explanation of what they specifically do is explained.
America, our leading lady, is certainly in danger of becoming the stereotypical dystopian girl hero. She's unsatisfied with the system she lives in - though on a more subconscious level in this book - and she has the "I don't think I'm beautiful, but almost everyone else says I am" trait too. She's not distant, but very open with her emotions. It's clear she had no interest in the Selection and when she enters, she doesn't place any faith in the idea that she'll actually be chosen. She doesn't put herself down when she meets the other girls either - rather, she embraces them and sees them as people to help, rather than hurt. She makes at least one friend right away and she doesn't harp on the other girls and their flaws. She's very considerate in that respect, if not more human. She's feisty, witty, and compassionate - all traits which other characters admire. She's very refreshing.
The only other trope she falls into is the "girl stuck in a love triangle between two equally perfect men" problem. To be fair, her feelings for Maxon, our blond prince of perfection, are not positive when she meets him. She doesn't outright hate him - she just resents him. Luckily, she quickly learns that he's not what she assumed he was (another typical relationship set-up) and they decide to become friends rather than lovers.
Maxon is quirky, if not adorable. He's very real in his nervousness about having to meet thirty-five girls and be expected to pick one of them to be his bride within a certain amount of time. He's not your typical confident, swaggering prince, though the idea is joked about with him and America. It's clear though, that while America sees Maxon as someone to admire and respect, a clear "guy friend", Maxon has a crush on her. He may even be in love with her.
This relationship would certainly be something interesting to focus on by itself, however, there is Aspen, America's first love, to consider. Aspen breaks America's heart early on in the novel and American believes herself to be free of her feelings when she goes to the Selection. But, it's just like they say. You always remember your first love. America cannot forget him, no matter how much she tries.
Overall, the setup of the universe is well done. The characters are well created in that they are certainly three-dimensional, but there is still room for development and fleshing out. Besides the love conflict, there is a side conflict of rebellions and wars threatening the nation and royal family. I think Cass does a good job of keeping both balanced and spending enough time on each of them so that it doesn't feel like she has one plot line more thought out than the other.
The relationships have the potential to grow deeper and become more complicated as the trilogy goes on and I'm sure they will.
It's a very fast read and it does do a good job of keeping you invested in it. I'd say to give this trilogy a chance, even if you don't want to read more "Hunger Games"-esque teen fiction.
Overall, I give The Selection, an A-.
Please support the author by buying the book or borrowing it from a local library or friend.