Author: Kiera Cass
Series: The Selection #1
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Date: June 2012
Buy the Book • Goodreads
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.
I couldn’t help myself. It was almost like the feeling you get when you’re in an accident–I was aware I was falling, but I wasn’t able to stop my fall. It’s this weird out of body experience that I got reading this book and why I’m absolutely mystified that I finished it and managed to somewhat enjoy it.
The premise of The Selection seemed really fun. 35 girls out of all that applied in the nation would be picked to compete to be the new wife of Prince Maxon and become the future queen. I love bad reality TV and thought this was right up my street. Unfortunately, the premise is pretty much where the fun stopped.
For something billed as a dystopian novel, the world-building was tenuous at best. There is a caste system in place, from 1-8. The heroine, America Singer, is one of the lower castes, 5, full of artists. We are told that her family are just above poverty, but she not only has a roof over her head but she has her own room, a meal (with leftovers) every evening and and even a treehouse. From what I gathered, they don’t have cakes and make-up. What a sorry existence.
America then gets guilted into applying for the Selection by her society-climbing mother and her too-manly-to-be-burdened-by-guilt boyfriend Aspen. As timing would have it, Aspen breaks up with her for being able to provide for him (this guy has serious caveman issues). So she enters the Selection single, and moony over Aspen. However, she does end up getting to know Prince Maxon and discovering he’s got a little more substance and slowly becomes his friend, then falls for him. As luck would have it, Aspen somehow also crawls his way back into her life, and you have here a very standard love triangle.
The writing is terrible. It’s a classic case of telling not showing. When appearances are described, it’s very amatuerish and emotions are portrayed too obviously. If someone is sad, it’s almost like they come out and say “I’m sad”. This gives the impression that all the characters are caricaratures and they lack the depth and complexity that makes you want to care about them. And I find that I don’t really care about America, Aspen, Maxon or who ends up with who.
There also wasn’t very much plot to the book. Girls leave the Selection, but you don’t find out enough about them to care why or be sad that they did. There is a particularly horrible girl, who is supposed to be the antagonist, but the best she could do was rip a sleeve off America’s dress. There are random attacks of rebellion by some unknown outside forces (the North and South), but it was very sporadic and disconnected with the rest of the story. I think we were supposed to feel the girls were in danger (I didn’t), and I’m still not really sure why that was even included, except to make the book “more dystopian”. It also ended very abruptly, and it as a short book as it was. I felt like the author is saving up for the sequels, but I think a little more could’ve actually happened in this book, if only to make me care a bit more about what happens next.
Oddly enough, I do, though. Like those bad reality shows, I kind of want to see how it all pans out, even though everything has been utterly predictable so far. It didn’t infuriate me, like Aimee Carter’s Goddess Test series, and I think morbid curiosity is the best thing to describe how I feel about the book. I’m hoping Cass throws some twists and spends more time developing the characters so we can be truly invested in their inevitable departures.
I think the concept would work better as a TV show and I will definitely be watching the CW pilot when it comes out. As for the book, read it for the morbid curiosity factor, if you can manage to get through the writing.