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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review of The Selection

I tried to hold back on the sarcasm for this post because the truth is I did rather enjoy reading the book, and a big part of that was how ridiculous it was. I hope I've succeeded. :)

The Selection by Kiera Cass, was published in April, 2012. I've somehow avoided seeing it until a few days ago, when I ran into it as a kindle book. I finished it in around two days of light reading, and I've finally gotten around to doing the review.

10507293    "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"
- goodreads.com
The Selection doesn't have the best plot. It takes place in a country called Illea, where the caste system is ruled over by a king and queen. The crown prince is of an age to marry, and so in a very Cinderella move they send out letters to every eligable girl inviting her to come take part in The Selection, where the prince will choose his bride from among thirty-five handpicked girls from the kingdom. As America says, "The Selection is kind of disturbing".
Our main character, America, is interesting in that she does not actually want to be chosen. In fact, it takes the urging of her boyfriend, Aspen, before she'll even sign up. Once she does, she's picked as one of the thirty-five, goes to the palace, and (sort of almost) falls in love with the prince while meeting up with the other Selected and learning more about the way her world works and what her future might be.
Basically, about what you'd expect a book called "The Selection" to be about. It reminded me strongly of Wither by Lauren DeStefano, although without the science fiction elements. The plot feels a bit silly, but I don't have any major complaints in that regard.

The setting of The Selection has the potential to be interesting, but is never really fleshed out. This book is different from a lot of YA books because the main character is actually patriotic. She can see the need for The Selection, and doesn't even really seem to mind the caste system. The leaders, although we don't see much of the king and queen, show every sign of caring about their people and trying to help even the lowest castes. Their world isn't perfect, but they really seem to be trying to improve things.
Illea in general feels like a sad failure. We learn that it was formed by a private citizen of the last name Illea (caste system? Reinstate the monarchy? Yes, that will solve all of our problems!) in the aftermath of the third world war. China invaded America for monetary reasons, and then won, but was unable to hold it in the fighting that followed. Illea rose from the ashes, a monarchy with a caste system that is somehow able to hold its own (although war does seem to be threatening). The caste system seems mostly to be holding, and it's implied that you can buy your way up. It's never really properly explained how the caste system works, but we do know that there are eight levels, and the lower you are the fewer benefits you have. Level one is the royal family, level four includes farmers, level two has some celebrities, five is the arts, six is cleaning, and that's about all we know.
Not all is well in Illea, however. Rebels attack constantly, somehow getting into even the most private rooms of the palace, and the guard are helpless against them. That part was weird, and was never really properly explained. It felt like there was some huge conspiracy, but in this book at least, we never quite see one.
It could have been fascinating, but unfortunately the author just doesn't provide enough information. I'm hoping there's more detail in the next book.

The characters in The Selection are an interesting bunch. The main character, America Singer, is a five, and so is destined to be in the arts. She sings (what a surprise) and plays a variety of instruments, including the violin. She loves her country but feels that something about the caste system isn't right. Her family doesn't always have a lot of money but isn't actually starving. She has a bunch of siblings, including two older ones who have abandoned the family to make their own way, and two little ones, May and Gerad. May is rather annoyingly perky but doesn't show up enough to be worth complaining about, and Gerad seems to exist for no reason other than to be upset about their caste (he wants to play sports professionally).
America's parents are (thankfully) only there very briefly. Her mother is a social climber who seems to care more about her caste number than America, and her dad is kind of just a wimp, but a sweet one. America loves them, although she fights with her mother a lot.
America's boyfriend, Aspen, is kind of a creep, but their relationship feels real enough. America knows that her mother won't be happy with her marrying a caste down, so they've been dating in secret for two years. Aspen loves America and wants to marry her, but is unsure that it's the best thing for America, and feels bad because she's the one providing for him, rather than the other way around.
At the palace, there are some girls who seem nice and others who are barely mentioned. Marlee is the only one we really see. She seems nice, but is also hiding something. We don't really know much about her.There's also Celeste, who's the mean, entitled, rich one. The king and queen don't appear very often, but their son, the crown prince Maxon, is a main character.
America and Maxon meet earlier than expected and become fast friends, possibly even something more. Maxon is okay, although possibly the worst boyfriend ever (he's being forced to date thirty-five women at once, though, so I'm cutting him some slack.) He's a little weird, and cracks me up with random lines such as "it's imperative you're discreet", but he's also sweet and cares about his people, trying to help them in any way he can. His methods aren't always the best, and he does pull rank when he's angry ("It would do you well to remember that I am the crown prince of Illea. For all intents and purposes, I am lord and master of this country...you don't have to agree with my decisions, but you will abide by them."), but he seems to mean well. He also creepily calls everyone my dear ("Janelle, my dear" is one of my favorite lines because of how ridiculous it is). America, as she does so often, sums up my feelings with the line "I smiled to myself at the tired endearment".
Although America wasn't perfect, I found myself liking her. She's influenced by the caste system even though she tries to hide it, saying at one point that she "felt dirty, lower than an eight". At other times though, she has some very powerful things to say to Maxon on the subject of the caste system, at one point going so far to challenge him with the question of "Have you ever been hungry, Maxon? Not just ready for dinner, but starving? If there was absolutely no food here, nothing for your mother or your father, and you knew that if you just took something from people who had more in a day that you'd have in your whole life, you could eat... what would you do? If they were counting on you, what wouldn't you do for someone you loved?"
I can find myself relating to her, and she has her moments. She often says just what I'm thinking- "Kissed him? We'd only just met", "No wonder I'd never had any friends. I was shockingly bad at it", "No, I'm not choosing him or you. I'm choosing me", and more. She also has very realistic ups and downs in self-esteem; going from feeling beautiful to wondering what people see in her in just a few pages.
As a main character, I have very few complaints about America Singer. The other characters aren't the best, but most aren't painful to read. The author seems to have the ability to write strong characters, a definite necessity in any book.

The author isn't the best writer there ever was, but it's not awful, either. I didn't notice anything outstanding about the writing, either good or bad. Could have been better, but so can any book.

And... the rating! I'm giving this book a 2.1 Not the best book ever by any stretch of imagination, but it was okay. It's not going to stay with me forever or anything, but it was an enjoyable read when I had a spare moment.

Thanks for reading. This is my first attempt at writing serious book reviews, so if you have any questions or complaints please comment so that I know what to change for next time. :)

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