“The Selection” by Kiera Cass

THE SELECTION
Author: Kiera Cass
Read Date: 27 July 2013
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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.

Before I write about the book itself, I have to say that I don’t know why people were so attracted to the cover of the book. It’s an interesting looking dress, yes, but that is also such an awkward pose. Ladies don’t sniff their underarms in public, my dear. 😛 Anyway…

I read this book in one sitting. I was entertained by some parts, and it kept me interested enough to read to the end and to even move on to the next installment. So in my book, this wasn’t a horrible read; it was just okay.

But it was also problematic because I felt like a lot of things in the story are too forced and contrived.

The Premise

The book (and the marketing) wants us to believe that it’s “The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games”.

And so we have a “The Bachelor” type of competition called The Selection, where Prince Maxon is to choose his bride from among 35 eligible ladies through televised competition. I was looking forward to a lot of cattiness and bitchiness and manipulation to sabotage other Selected. I was looking forward to a lot of on-screen dates and a look into how the Prince decides to eliminate girls.

There was a sprinkling of those elements, but not enough. The cattiness and manipulation don’t really reach some epic reality show heights because they imposed a lot of rules for fair play, and there wasn’t much on-screen drama. (There was, however, a lot of internal drama on America’s part.) The “program” was all over the place, I felt like it didn’t even have a competent producer at the helm.

The book falls short of the “like The Hunger Games” label as well because its dystopian elements are not as fleshed-out or compelling, and there’s none of that book’s sense that everything is a “life and death” situation. I wish they just left this out of the marketing because it’s just embarrassing.

Endangered?

The United States is now called Iléa, a country ruled by a monarchy which came about after China (I laughed at “The American State of China”; yeah, the Chinese will love that) and Russia invaded the US, and the eventual victory of some rich guy who used his money and knowledge to defeat the invaders (it’s never explained just how) and then declared himself King.

What’s lacking in “The Selection” is an illustration of just how tightly the government holds all its citizens in its grip. That was something that was very palpable in “The Hunger Games” (sorry for the comparison, but their marketing started this). Here, it feels like it’s the caste system that keeps everyone in line, and the monarchy is just there, telling readers that it is powerful and led by a great King, but we never see it. If anything, the monarchy seems incompetent.

The book wants us to believe that the country is endangered by rebels. It’s never really explained why these factions are rebelling and what they really want, although at some point I think it was mentioned that they wanted to put a stop to The Selection. There’s no explanation for why they want it stopped, though.

And so the palace is invaded by rebels twice within this book. How can they invade a supposedly well-guarded, well-fortified palace so often? Gee, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the only thing the King ever did to defend the palace is to put up metal window shades, some alarms, and make sure they have enough secret storm cellars to hide in. (Serves him right being invaded.)

I didn’t feel like there was any danger at all because I don’t even know what the stakes are, and it doesn’t seem like the characters are taking all this seriously. I expected one of the girls to actually die in a rebel attack because it appears to me that the “life and death” part of this competition is living inside a palace that’s constantly being invaded, but no one dies except for some nameless soldiers. There is no tension at all.

Baffling

The set-up of the society is somewhat similar to Panem even though The Capitol isn’t technically a monarchy. Like the Panem Districts, each caste in Iléa has a “specialty”.

The caste system really baffles me because in the history exposition parts of the novel, it was never explained how this system came about and how it works. Here, it seems like your caste determines your wealth and occupation rather than your wealth and occupation determines your caste, which is how these systems normally work.

America’s family is a Five. They are artists and entertainers. America’s youngest brother is struggling to find his specialty because he’s yet to show aptitude in either art or music. It seems like he’s not allowed to be anything other than an artist or musician.

When, as a Selected, America is elevated to a Three, she comments about how she cannot make a living playing music and singing anymore, and that she might just take up being a music teacher, because teaching is a profession for Threes.

But what happens if you’re not particularly adept at your caste’s occupation, like America’s brother? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There’s no example of that in the story.

Also, apparently, your caste determines your salary, so no matter how good you are in your profession, if you are a Six, you only earn so much. Moving between castes is likewise confusing.

So it’s a matter of keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. The author never gets to this conclusion, though, so the entire thing just feels, once again, forced.

There’s some attempt to comment on poverty and inequality because of the caste system. Good.

America talks about how difficult her situation is and how each member of the family has to work to make ends meet. But just how poor is she? The first time we see her, she’s waiting for her mother to finish cooking a chicken and pasta dinner, and she is debating whether or not she should finish her one glass of iced tea. She also comments about having to ration her makeup. Later, she and her family wait in front of the TV for the results of the screening for The Selection while eating popcorn. She does say they aren’t destitute or anything like that, and thank goodness because girl, in my country, when you say someone is poor, that someone practically lives in the streets.

We should really have seen America in one of their family’s difficult moments instead. We don’t get any kind of illustration of how the Eights live either so that we can see the inequality more clearly. Even when America is with the other girls of higher castes in the Selection, we don’t really see how she’s any different.

And then, apparently, there’s a law that couples can’t have sex before marriage. Eyeroll-inducing, but okay, fine. But then married couples from lower castes are left by the government to fend for themselves when it comes to birth control. So we get Fives with 5 kids, Sixes with 4 kids…even if they supposedly can’t make ends meet with their income. So, okay, this is a good issue to point out.

Much later in the book, there were many opportunities to expand the social commentary, but everything had to take a back seat for the romance. Kudos on the attempt, though.

America

The book wants us to believe that America is selfless and humble.

And so she repeatedly tells people that she’s not beautiful even though it’s obvious that she is and she knows it; she refuses a makeover because she wants “to be herself” (news flash: you can still be yourself and have a makeover); she’s unfailingly nice to her maids and even tries to save them during a rebel attack, so she refuses to follow protocol and evacuation plans, which is just plain stupid rather than selfless.

The Prince

The book wants us to believe that there’s a great leader hiding inside of Prince Maxon.

And so he sits in on many council meetings and we see him attempting to think up war strategies in the middle of a photoshoot. Okaaaay.

And he attempts to go all Robin Hood by trying to get money from the rich so he can feed the poor, even to the point of cutting down the “appearance fees” of the Selected from higher castes. That’s great, dude, so if the Rebels don’t succeed, I’m sure, pretty soon, there will be a rebel faction among the higher castes who will be after your head as well. I guess he hasn’t heard of government budget re-alignments or minimum wage hikes or livelihood programs or something like that.

I get that this was an attempt to show him being inspired by America, and on the surface, okay, awwwwwww, but on hindsight, it’s not a very smart move for the Prince as a leader. Not when he isn’t King just yet. Not when just before inspiration struck him, he was in a very stressful meeting about budgets. I’m pretty sure the council guys were baffled that the Prince was trying to justify some new expense. No wonder the King looked pissed.

Love triangle

The book wants us to believe that there’s a plausible love triangle.

But Aspen is just selfish, Maxon has several “dears” and has yet to decide who’s “dearest”, and America is just…I dunno, illogically conflicted.

I’m not thrilled by either of these relationships, and…wow, I can’t remember the last YA book I’ve read where the romance, however shallow, didn’t give me any kind of feels.

And in the environment of the Selection, no matter how many times they meet secretly, I’m pretty sure Aspen just can’t win.

Hanging

The book wants us to believe it ends with a cliffhanger.

But there was no solid story structure, no climax. Basically, it reads like they just cut the book at a convenient break and decided to put the rest in “The Elite”.

Own it

I think I would’ve liked this book better if it just went all out as “The Bachelor: The Royal Edition” with all the onscreen drama. I appreciate the effort to have more depth by making it dystopian, but that just messed things up, really. If you can’t build up the competition part properly, why attempt to add more to the world? As a result, everything turned out to be half-baked. This could have worked just as well if it was set in some present-day obscure fictional country ruled by a monarchy like “The Princess Diaries” was.

Maybe the book’s problem is that it was trying to be a lot of things when its appeal is really The Selection. I wish it just decided to be that and owned it.

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