Written by: Kiera Cass
Book #1/4 in The Selection series
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Summary: In a world where the caste system is still intact, America Singer is a Five, a caste in which her designated occupation is a performers, and where she lives at the edge of poverty. Despite this, all America wishes to do is marry her boyfriend, a Six, and spend the rest of her life with him. However, her plans are ruined when she is chosen as part of the Selection, a collection of 35 girls that are brought to Ilea, the country’s capital, to compete for young Prince Maxon’s love despite the threat of rebels at every border. Although she wants nothing to do with the prestigious and affluent lifestyle that awaits her in Ilea, she promises to try in hopes that she can improve the financial situation for her family back home. Somewhere along the way, however, America realizes Maxon isn’t who she expected him to be, and she starts to question if the new future ahead of her is the one she was meant for all along.
Review: Right away, I’m sighing as I read America begin to describe her life. She’s “poor”, but talented and beautiful. She has a secret boyfriend, appropriately named Aspen, that she shouldn’t be with, and has slight tunnel vision when it comes to him. She loves her family equally, except for that one sibling who left them. She is every cliche of a YA teen, but I didn’t expect anything more/less. Cass’ creativity is just a tad bit lacking, especially when it comes to creating a simultaneously sympathetic and relatable character. It seems Cass struggled between making America poor enough to be notable, but still wealthy enough to connect to readers. Although they certainly struggle and don’t have much additional income, the Singers have a TV and fridge in their home, and America is shown as saving away parts of her salary. Even later, after America has stated several times that being in a lower caste and loving someone in a lower caste is no big deal, she still marginalizes her maids, who were once Sixes. This earns an eyebrow quirk from me. A real statement would be if America were an Eight, or even a Seven, the two lowest castes, and still managed to rise above her abject poverty.
Basically, America is a halfway attempt to create a character that rises from the ashes despite the obstacles in front of her… even though there really aren’t any obstacles once she is Selected. Mere hours after arriving in the capital, she meets Maxon and they make a pact that he won’t send her home until the end for the “sake of her family”, which I’m SURE is the only reason he’s keeping her around. All in all, though, I actually like Maxon, the way you like a puppy who’s barking at its own reflection in a mirror. He seems like a genuinely kind person, and I like his relationship with America, but for a prince that will one day rule the entire country, he’s pretty oblivious to not only the real threat of rebels at the borders, but also to the plight of his people in the lower castes. That being said, it does seem like he wants to improve and to grow, especially the more he talks to America, which is more than I can say about her ex-boyfriend Aspen. Even though he’s a Six, he magically appears in Ilea and makes everything soooo much more complicated for America after she starts developing feelings for Maxon, too. His only redeemable qualities seem to be an uncharacteristic handsomeness and persistency, so I think I’m Team Maxon. What can I say? I don’t want the puppy’s heart broken.
As for the actual plot of the story, it’s almost too easy to follow, and a large portion of the book is vague detail such as “the windows were lovely” and “the rugs were beautiful”, which aren’t immensely helpful in actually painting the scene but do allow the readers to be more imaginative. The Selection itself seems entirely modeled after The Bachelor, except the contestants are eighteen-year-old girls instead of women with ticking biological clocks. Pretty much each girl there is seen through America’s eyes as being there for the attention and fame, except for Marlee, who reads as the female Maxon – kind, generous, but not the brightest. When girls are sent home, few actually get a reason why, and the reasons that are stated are usually very arbitrary considering America called Maxon “shallow” upon first meeting him and got away with it. Almost the entirety of the book is America and Maxon almost flirting, and the group of girls being catered from one party and event to the next, and while this does help Cass show the life of a Queen the Selected can be expecting if chosen, it isn’t a plot by any means. In an attempt to mix it up, Cass provides this storyline with two sub-plots: the two rebel attacks and Aspen’s appearance, none of which really progress to much despite that those are the plots readers are probably interested in. Additionally, there are a lot of pieces I wish were more thoroughly expanded upon, such as the history of Ilea and the threat and background of the two different rebel factions. All are vaguely alluded to – that Ilea was created after America warred with China and Russia, that the rebels are from the North and the South – but not explained. My only hope is that they will be in the following books.
I always try to give the first book in a series the benefit of the doubt. A lot of authors struggle to get as much information as they can into the first book in an attempts to suck you in, and oftentimes forget about creating much of a plot. I also understand, and expected, that not much would actually be resolved in the first book, but there was no cliffhanger at the end that really had me like “Wow, I need to pick up the next one ASAP”. I gave it three stars, because it lies right in the middle for me. I don’t know if I would suggest it, because it really doesn’t have any characteristics that stand out from books like The Red Queen and The Hunger Games, but I am hoping that my choice to read this book will be supported by the quality of the rest of the books in the series.