For 35 girls, it’s the chance of a lifetime. A way to elevate their castes, to secure a life of luxury and responsibility. To become princess, then queen. For 35 girls, the chance. For one, the reality. Provided, of course, that they make it through the Selection. For America Singer, it’s a misery. Separated from her family, dumped by the boy she loves, the Selection is a constant reinforcement that she’s of a lower caste than the other girls, that she’s the only one who doesn’t look at Prince Maxon as a prize. Then she actually gets to know Maxon, and realizes she might not be as indifferent as she thought.
If you search for information about this book, one of the tags you’ll see is “The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor”. Well- less on The Hunger Games, more on The Bachelor. Is it a dystopian? In the increasingly broad sense of the word needed to apply to a lot of current books, yes, sort of. I think rather than dystopian I would probably call it an alternative future.
The United States as we know it is dead, lost to debt crisis and a war, then a revolution that converts the American continents to the kingdom of Illea. Society has been divided geographically into Provinces and socially into castes. Your caste doesn’t determine only your relative position in society- it also determines what you do. America is a five, which means she’s part of the artist caste: musicians, painters, sculptors, and such not. Things get tight sometimes, but her family generally has enough to get by. The same can’t be said for Aspen, the boy she loves.
Aspen is a six, a member of the servant class, but there aren’t always enough jobs to go around. For them to be together is a dream, but a painful one. For America it means going down in caste, facing a life of never having enough, of their future children never having enough. But it means being with Aspen. Until she enters her name into the Selection pool- at Aspen’s urging- for the chance of a better life. She doesn’t think there’s any chance of being Selected, not out of millions of girls across the country, but both Aspen and her family beg her to do it.
I’ll admit right out, I don’t watch the Bachelor. I have my guilty television pleasures but that is one show I have never been able to sit and watch. It’s a mental block, really. I hated watching the girls in high school and college do stupid things to compete over boys they barely knew. The idea of watching grown men and women do it on television kind of made my skin crawl. There’s a falseness to it, because you just know people are manipulating and scheming, making sure to present a certain image to the prize and to the camera. This book is very much the Bachelor for a Young Adult audience, complete with catty ladies, publicity stunts, and second-guessing.
That being said, it’s not a bad thing. You just have to accept it for what it is.
Through the story, we get reports of rebel activity- two different types of rebels- including a couple of attacks on the palace, but no information about the rebels want or what they’re after. They’re fleeting events, but they’re also the only action not directly connected to the winnowing down of the Selected girls and the cattiness and tentative friendships therein. For those wanting an intense read, something that makes you care passionately about the characters and keeps you on the edge of your seat- this isn’t it. BUT, for those wanting a romantic romp that stays mostly on the surface, this is ideal. It’s entertaining and it’s fun to read.
Prince Maxon is naive and well-intentioned, politically intelligent but socially isolated to an extent. He’s sweet, but he’s also a prize. For all that the Selection is the way the princes have found their brides since the founding of Illea, what it really comes down to is girls competing to be chosen for a crown and a title. He can’t look just for a bride- he has to find a partner, someone who can bear the responsibilities and the duties that come with the crown. Plus, there’s the reality television factor to consider; if you’re going to televise all the proceedings, you have to take a certain amount of public response into account. The other girls make impressions as well, from the sweet and friendly to the catty drama queens out for blood.
America, though, doesn’t really rise above merely bland. She edges into a lot of directions- potentially intriguing directions- but the overwhelming and inevitable march of the Selection keeps us from being able to see her explore those possibilities. She edges into protecting those less fortunate, edges into being politically aware, edges into being a leader, but she doesn’t get to follow any of them. Rather than raising the stakes by pursuing the rebels and making them a distinct threat, the focus is single-mindedly attached to the process of choosing the future bride. I’d love to see more of the music that’s supposed to be such a part of her life, and I’d love to see her be a distinct personality.
This is one of those books in which there’s a Very Important Thing that I Can’t Talk About because of Spoilers, but it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m picky about relationships in books, largely because characters are the things that drive me as a reader. And there is something very, very frustrating about one of the relationships in this book, something a little bit callous and a little bit cruel, something incredibly off-putting that actually made me think about putting the book down barely two chapters from the end. And I Can’t Talk About it. *argh* (after the next book I’ll be able to Talk About it, I swear)
This book is, for the most part, a fun way to spend the afternoon. It’s an entertaining read, but ultimately never rises above the light and fluffy. Hopefully in its sequels we’ll get some more depth and more action connected to the mysterious rebel forces.
The Selection, by Kiera Cass, out in stores 24 April 2012.
Until next time~