America is a class Five in a futuristic society named Illèa that rose out of the ashes of the fall of the United States of America, where class is everything. It determines what you do, what you earn, who you mix with and who you marry. When the Royal Family (class One, of course) announce that their Prince is now of age to marry and they will be hosting The Selection, for all girls across the country, everyone wants to enter. After all, you have the chance of becoming Princess and future Queen. Everyone within a certain age range is eligible to apply and 34 will be selected to go and live at the royal castle and spend time wth Prince Maxim himself. Gradually their numbers will be reduced until Prince Maxon has selected his bride.
America’s mother is thrilled and insists that America must enter. After all, America is beautiful and possesses a lovely singing voice and much to recommend her. America herself however, is horrified. After all, she’s just a Five and nothing special. And unlike just about every other teenage girl in the country, she has no interest in marrying Prince Maxon. Her heart already belongs to another and Prince or not, Maxon is the last person she wants to marry. But her true love is a class lower than she is and there are rules and laws about women marrying down. They need money and when America’s mother agrees to allow her to keep her own earnings from her singing, in return from entering the draft, and her love tells her that she should at least try out, America finds herself agreeing. She’s shocked when she is chosen to go to the palace and take part in The Selection.
Because she doesn’t actually want to marry Maxon, America finds herself being frank and blunt with him, something that Maxon finds refreshing and intriguing. They develop a friendship of sorts, and as their numbers dwindle and the castle faces attacks from groups of rebels, they are brought closer together. America is also stinging from the rejection of her true love Aspen as she was leaving from the castle and she starts to warm to Maxon, finding him far warmer and less stuffy in person than she assumed from only having observed him on TV before. Just as she is starting to think that just maybe she can fall for Maxon and that she wants to be considered as a contender for his bride, Aspen shows up at the palace as a guard. Many in the population are called up at 19 and Aspen has just had his birthday. Upon noticing that that they know each other, Maxon sets Aspen the task of guarding America, as she is prone to dismissing her maids.
This sends America on a very dangerous path. She cannot resist Aspen, who means so much to her, but if they are caught it is considered treason to the Crown and there’s only one punishment for that. And then there’s Maxon, who has risen so much in her estimation. She’s torn.
The Selection isn’t released until the 24th April and already it’s gathered some anticipation and also, some controversy. I have to admit the premise intrigued me and I couldn’t turn down the chance to read it, despite the author’s agent vs a blogger debacle. The Selection does have a really solid base – it’s been described as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games which isn’t entirely accurate. It’s definitely like The Bachelor and although there’s a vague sort of resistance to something going on outside, it’s something America is mostly oblivious to, doesn’t seem to affect the greater population and seems bizarrely aimed at the royal family. There are good points here and I think it’s a book that gets better the further you get into it, but oh there’s some bad too.
America is just irritating as a protagonist. Much is made of people telling her how pretty she is, how lovely, how beautiful and she’s so reluctant to accept it but yet keeps harping on about how plain she is, despite the whole world telling her otherwise. You’re beautiful, we get it. Don’t beat us over the head with your attempt at humble aww shucks, me? It’s just annoying. There’s no shame in being pretty. In fact, you have nothing to do with your ultimate prettiness, so embrace it. And I’m not sure if this is just me, because I’m not American, but naming her America? Because she was strong in the womb and a fighter, so her mother named her for the country that had to fight? Just….no. It’s ridiculous with a huge helping of patriotic mushiness. If you want to call her America, fine. But the fighting part? Too far!
I read an eARC of this book so I’m not sure how if at all it will differ to a finished copy, but as a reader, I’d have appreciated a list of girls that make the finals of The Selection and get to move into the Palace to spend time with Prince Maxon. Because although we’re introduced to a few, more often than not, America will just be sitting around and then start spouting off some random girls names as either entering the room/leaving/talking to her/etc and basically we have no idea who these people are. One of the girls, Celine, is such a textbook mean girl villain that quite frankly, it’s almost painful to read scenes that she is in. Her transparency is so obvious that the fact that Maxon doesn’t see it is just ridiculous and demeans him. He’s portrayed as being smart, but also sheltered but seriously – the writing of Celine is in no way subtle enough that she isn’t broadcasting I AM A BITCH TO OTHER GIRLS BUT SWEET TO THE PRINCE! in neon letters over her head. It’s really, really poorly done and when America, whom Maxon claims to trust and calls his friend, attempts to tell him that Celine has sabotaged other contestants, he basically has a tantrum like a two year old and storms off because he is the Prince and she had no right speaking to him that way. It makes the well-constructed Maxon, who proved to have likability and some depth to his character, suddenly seem like a spoiled little boy and everything America assumed he was before she met him. And given that girls had been mysteriously provoked into breaking rules whilst Celine was around, it’s not exactly like America’s thoughts and reservations came out of left field. But I suppose men like Maxon are stupid enough to fall for a woman like Celine’s tricks every single time! It’s just the way in which he exploded that I found very inconsistent with his character and the way he had treated America prior to that conversation.
Another thing I don’t think that was done satisfactorily was backstory. America’s knowledge of history is almost zilch and that’s glossed over by history books being banned (just for her class and lower or overall I don’t know, because several of the other girls taking part had much better knowledge) but when they’re given an impromptu history grilling by one of the people overseeing them for The Selection, I still found it very vague and pretty implausible. The worldbuilding is very incomplete – there’s no mention of why there are classes now, or what most of the classes do. You get a little glimpse at the rules involving Fives (provide arts/music/entertainment to the higher classes) and Sixes (provide services, such as maids, etc) and I think when America is told that The Selection has elevated her to a Three, she says she’d like to teach. So presumably Three’s teach. But we don’t know if only the royal family are Ones, or what the Twos and Fours do. You can apparently buy your way to a higher class and women can marry higher (at least one class higher, and for The Selection, many classes higher) with little difficulty but it seems the other way isn’t as easy. And when The Selection makes America a Three, no matter where she finishes in it, the book doesn’t tell us how that will affect her wanting to marry Aspen, who is a Six.
And out of the whole country, where Aspen could be sent anywhere for his military duties, he’s sent to the palace? Where Maxon orders him to guard America? That’s just a little heavy handed for me!
The Selection has some pretty good ideas, but I think it’s just the execution that was a little lacking. America never felt like a fleshed out character to me, nor did I find her particularly interesting. The information given about her family, about the class system, the events leading to the creation of Illèa is dribbled out too slowly and isn’t at all detailed enough to paint a clear picture of the newly formed society. The talk of the rebel attacks on the palace are even more vague and I would’ve appreciated more information on that. I think having the narrator know little about it is just an easy way of not having to provide an explanation for what is happening and it’s not something that I enjoy. Especially when I know there’s going to be lengthy waits for further installments and questions are just raised and not answered.
I found this book hard to grade, because I felt at times I was quite enjoying it, especially after America arrived at the Palace. However before that, it dragged a lot and wasn’t at all something I was connecting with. In the end I’m going middle of the road.
Book #52 of 2012