The Selection by Kiera Cass
From the book jacket:
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 a palace and compete for the heart of 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.
The book has been described at the The Bachelor meets the Hunger Games. This left me excited to read it. However, it turns out it’s more like just the Bachelor. While the setting is a future dystopia, the world building is minimal and poorly done. There are castes, poverty and social injustice, but it’s just there as background. The main character, America Singer (quick sidebar on the name…yes she’s a singer, yes it’s cheesy, but I can buy it as a throwback to times when people were named after their professions as she comes from a long line of artists. And I actually know real people whose names are ironic given their profession, so I’m willing to let this one slide) is from a lower (but not lowest) caste. Money is tight, sometimes they go hungry and their clothes aren’t the latest fashion. But they have a house, their own rooms and are not destitute. The prince has come of age and in the tradition of Illéa he will be choosing his bride The Bachelor style. All of the eligible girls in the land can enter and one will be randomly selected from each of the provinces to come and compete for the prince’s hand. It’s implied that the selection may not be quite as random as advertised, but this is never revisited. America has just broken up with her secret boyfriend of two years when she is selected. She journeys to the palace and meets the other girls and the royal family. She strikes up a friendship with the prince after telling him that her heart could never belong to him. And the, surprise, surprise, she starts to realize that she actually likes him and maybe could see a future with him.
The book centers on America and we never really get a picture of the other girls beyond their stereotypical tropes (the mean girl, the nice best friend, the quiet girl, etc). There’s some tension with the threat of attacks on the palace. And we learn a little bit about the country, it’s history and hints of the discord that’s happening. But not enough to build a compelling world. Maxom is not the sexist protagonist, and he comes off as quite smarmy in the beginning. However, his character does grow on me. I think he has a lot of potential when he grows up a bit more. The same with America. The author tries to portray her as a deeper character, one that doesn’t care about the social castes, is sympathetic to others and a good, caring person, but she still comes off as shallow and immature. I’ll forgive some of that given her age and the very sheltered life she’s led, but she didn’t give me the deep set drive for social change that I expect in a story like this (and maybe my expectations are off). I’ll leave it to others to point out some of the issues (check out the Goodreads reviews) but my biggest issue was that not once does America consider that becoming the princess would allow her to make any social changes. She never thinks that with her new power she’d be able to influence the direction of the country and fix the things we’re led to believe are important to her. Unlike the Hunger Games and similar books, America is not fighting for her life. It’s not that she doesn’t have time to think about these things…she has time to spend literal hours a day practicing the violin. And while she befriends her maids and is considerably nicer to them than others are, I didn’t get the impression that she truly got to know them or understand their issues. It really falls flat on this one for me. I also found the selection part lacking. Unlike tv shows of this type, there weren’t really any arranged dates or activities. Maxom would just choose to spend time with girls when he wanted to. He had a couple of deadlines for sending girls home, but it was basically left that this could take as long as he wanted. So there was no big date build up or real tension around the times that he would have to make his choices.
And finally, the book ends without ending the story. As many trilogies seem to, it does not stand on it’s own. You’re left needing to read the next book to find out what happens. It’s a pet peeve of mine when books do this. I like trilogies and on-going stories. But I want to read the next book because I love the characters and story so much that I want more, not because the book ended halfway through the story. I want authors to resolve the story arc for that particular book and then give me a new one for the next book. Otherwise, just make the book longer and tell the whole story.
So overall, this came up short. There was a lot of potential, but the incomplete world building and inconsistencies in the characters left me disappointed.
I’m giving it a 3/5 it’s a quick read, well written, and I’m admittedly not a fan of most reality tv shows so my enjoyment of a book based on a similar concept is likely coloured by that.
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