Title: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: March 2013, HarperTeen
Main Characters: America, Maxon, Aspen
Synopsis: In a futuristic United States (which has been through a few wars, conquerings, and is now known as Illéa), a King and a Queen live in a palace with their young son, Maxon. Tradition says he’ll marry a girl from the country, one not of royal blood. Country folk are sorted into castes; Maxon’s future wife could be from any of them, though he is a One (on a scale of One to Eight). Girls of eligible age submit applications to be part of the Selection. One girl from each of the thirty-five provinces is chosen to live in the castle and compete for Maxon’s affections– and to become the future Queen of Illéa. America Singer, nineteen years old and a Five, is one of the chosen few. However, America is already in love! Oh, what’s a girl to do…
- “Listen to me, kitten. Win or lose, you’ll always be a princess to me.” “Oh, Daddy.” I finally started to cry. That was all it took to unleash the fear, the sadness, the worry, the nerves– the one sentence that meant none of it mattered. If I came back used and unwanted, he’d still be proud of me. It was too much to bear, to be loved that much. I’d be surrounded by scores of guards at the palace, but I couldn’t imagine a place safer than my father’s arms.
- “I hit your thigh!” “Oh, please. A man doesn’t need that long to recover from a knee to the thigh.”
- Before I could ask about me coming to him, Maxon strolled across the room with my jar in his hand. “What in the world is this about?” I sighed. “That, I’m afraid, is beyond explanation.”
- “I’m sorry, America. I don’t…” His face shifted a little. “Is this a good time to pat your shoulder?”
- “It was so cute, America. He measured the oil wrong and the first batch burned. He had to call someone to clean it up and try again.” I rolled my eyes. Smooth, Maxon, real smooth.
Review: Honestly, I completely enjoyed this book. Since I finished it the other day, I’ve seen that it garnered a number of poor reviews (although admittedly I haven’t looked at any professional reviews, just the ones on Goodreads), and I’m not sure I understand it. Sure, it’s never going to win a Newbury award. Sure, it’s akin to The Bachelor, and everyone knows reality TV has to be looked down upon. (That last bit was sarcasm, in case you missed it.)
The world it’s set in, foremost, is pretty fascinating. That the United States would one day be ruled by a Queen and King and they would preside over a caste system is not a setting you usually see pictured in dystopian-esque novels. Castes are based on bloodlines, and there’s not really any way to jump castes unless you marry up. (Naturally, though, it’s a lot easier to go down– just be caught breaking one of the many strict laws, and boom! you’re an Eight.) Castes are limited in their professional choices. America is a Five, and her whole family are artisans. Her older brother is on the verge of becoming a renowned sculptor, and America herself is a great singer, violinist, and pianist. Their whole lives are built around cultivating their tasks and getting bookings to perform their talents at the homes of the upper castes. America’s younger brother, though, doesn’t seem to have any aptitude for the arts. He wants to play soccer and learn science. Except… he won’t be allowed to. What’s a family to do?
Traditionally, women try to marry up a caste. Makes sense, right? Except America is in love with Aspen, and he’s a *gasp* Six. Aspen and his siblings work around the clock to bring home the bacon, and sometimes they barely have enough for dinner. America helps out when she can, saving some of her dinner portion to sneak to Aspen in their late-night treehouse meetings. But Aspen’s ashamed of his inability to provide for America, and urges her to apply for the Selection (against her wishes– why would she want to marry a prince? She’s got all she wants right here).
Naturally, as these stories go, America is chosen to represent her province at the Selection. That’s not a spoiler. It’s the title of the book. But America is definitely the only girl in the palace that doesn’t want to be there. Except, suddenly, she does. She’s dumped by Aspen on the eve of her travels and well, now she’d rather be in the castle than at home, having to deal with the feeling she still has for her ex. Except she still doesn’t want Maxon. Now what?
America is a fantastically written character. She comes off as a bit Mary Sue-ish initially, because she’s the only “true individual” blah blah, she’s unique and smart and special etc. But she IS smart, and witty, and she’s not going to take any shit from any of the other girls in the competition. Or Maxon, for that matter. Some of the quotes I listed above may not seem to have much impact from someone who hasn’t read the story, but I like them because they speak volumes about her character. She’s not fawning over Maxon, she’s rolling her eyes at him because he’s a doofus. She kneed him in the groin, for Pete’s sake. She is the opposite of princess material. (Or is she?)
I love her family dynamic, as well. She has mother issues; her mother pushed her into the Selection against her wishes, much the way Aspen did. She’s pretty terrible at saying the right thing to make sure America feels loved and appreciated. But America does know, deep down, that her mother only wants the best for her. America’s adulation for her younger siblings is lovely to see, too. And the relationship she has with her father is fantastic. I thought it was exemplified most in the first quote listed above: that no matter what happens, even if she’s shamed by the royal family in front of the whole country, that her father will always love her.
Maxon is a good character, too. At first he comes off as stiff and uninteresting, and he definitely is stiff. He’s an only child, and this is the first time he’s really been with people besides the maids and advisors, who naturally are upheld to standards of decorum. But he’s supposed to be getting to know these women, and to eventually marry one, and he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. The fourth quote above is a pretty good representation of that. He doesn’t know what to do when women cry! (Although to be frank, most men don’t.)
There are a couple plot twists I’m not going to mention, because it’d take a lot of explaining and I don’t want to give this a spoiler tag. But know that we’re not done with Aspen yet. Naturally, this is the first book in a dystopian trilogy, so we have to have a love triangle as the central story, even if we… don’t actually need a love triangle.
This book made me laugh out loud, it made me cry, and it made me think, and those are all very good things.