Author: Kiera Cass
Publication Year: 2012
Read: May 2013
The Quick and Dirty:
In a dystopian future North America where life is dictated by a strict caste system, America is chosen as one of 35 girls to go to the royal palace and participate in the Selection, a reality TV The Bachelor-style competition to choose the girl who will marry Crown Prince Maxon and become the future queen of Illéa. I expected dystopian fatigue, and was pleasantly surprised by compulsively readable fun.
The Wordy Version:
I was not expecting all that much from this book, to be honest. There’s so much dystopian fiction out there right now, and not all of it can be good. The cover is pretty, and seems to be going along with the recent trend in YA book covers--girls in pretty, foofy dresses! From what I’d heard about the book beforehand, I was expecting a dystopian fairy tale. It turned out to be more just straight up dystopian, with the monarchy prince-princess thing being less fairy tale, and more just the form of government employed in the society. Which was fine! (I’m still intrigued by the idea of a dystopian fairy tale. Does this sort of book exist, to anyone’s knowledge?)
Anyway, Susan mentioned this book to me as one of those books that at the beginning you’re like well, this isn’t that great, but then as you keep reading it becomes enjoyable frothy fun, which is precisely the experience I had. At the beginning of the book, I was pretty okay with the world building. The existence of TVs and phones and electricity and other trappings of modern real-life life laid to rest any ideas I’d had about this being traditional-fairy-tale-like, and the numerical caste system was okay. I liked that teachers were as high as being level 3, but had to suspend my disbelief that artists and musicians would be down at level 5 (given the high status of entertainers in our own society). It isn’t the kind of dystopian society where it’s horrible but everyone seems to be tolerating it, but rather the people seem to be pretty okay with the current system of government, although they acknowledge there are some flaws to the system. There are mentions of rebels, but the characters see the rebels as the enemy of the monarchy, the state, and themselves, rather than a revolution that they’re hoping for. I thought this was an interesting change from the usual set up.
But at the beginning, America’s obsession with her one true love Aspen weirded me out. She freely admitted she had never had a friend, since she was educated as a musician at home and didn’t really see anyone but her family. That she’d never had a friend, not even ONE, was very strange to me, and she seemed pretty well socialized for someone who says they’ve had very little social interaction beyond their family.
Anyway, she is set to become a musician because that’s the path that’s been set before her, but she is willing to give it up to marry down a caste to be with Aspen, her SEKRIT BOYFRIEND. They’ve been together for 2 years and apparently talk about ALL THE THINGS and love each other, but whenever we see them together all they do is make out, so we’ve got to take America’s word on the depth of their LURVE. Her one goal and desire in life is to be with Aspen, which like I said, weirded me out. Okay, I can see in this society where she doesn’t really have much to hope for in her life and where it’s illegal to have sex before marriage she might want to get married a bit earlier in life. But still. Up to this point in the story I was very skeptical about it.
BUT THEN the Selection comes along! All the girls between 16 and 20 who would like to have a chance to get with Illéa’s Prince Maxon are allowed to enter a “random” drawing, wherein one girl from each of the 35 provinces is chosen to go to the palace and live there until Prince Maxon chooses which girl he wants to marry. America is pressured by her family to enter because of the possibility of monetary compensation to help them with their tight finances, and Aspen of all people pressures her to enter as well, since his pride is hurting and he wants America to have at least a chance at a better life before she decides to marry down. So America does, and to everyone’s surprise, she is chosen!
America and Aspen have a falling out, and she heads off to the palace to meet up with the 34 other girls and the prince, and the book swiftly becomes much more enjoyable. Good, frothy fun ensues—America finally makes some friends, there’s the inevitable girl drama (but not as much as you would expect, given the situation), and where the prince could easily slide into sleaze-territory trying choose between 35 attractive women, he is surprisingly decent. America is still hurting over Aspen and pretty much admits the only reason she is participating is to help out her family, which throws some monkey wrenches into her friendship/relationship with Maxon. But this is just what we want to happen in our good, frothy fun!
Feelings, adventures, girls being sent home… Maxon is starting to understand some of the problems plaguing his realm, and America finally thinks she’s got her emotions figured out when the love triangle returns in force. (Some people really hate the love triangle, but I think it’s fine when it’s well done. The problem is that it’s not often done well lately!)
This book is not the best thing I’ve ever read. The dialogue could use some definite polishing, for one. America is not my favorite protagonist. Her love interests are not my favorite love interests to have ever appeared in a book. But, somehow, the book ends up being more than a sum of its parts—fun, diverting, and strangely addictive. Some of the mysteries I’d been wondering about from the beginning (What’s the deal with America’s older brother? How did she and Aspen even meet?) are addressed in the natural course of the story, and there are enough unresolved issues (besides the romance, of course) to keep you wondering and waiting for the next book. What is Marlee’s deal? What’s going on with the rebels? Will Maxon ever stop calling people “my dear?”
I will be reading the next one, and probably the e-book prequel novella in the meantime. It’s nice to read a book that’s just plain fun every now and again. :)