Alongside Shatter Me and Unravel Me, The Selection by Kiera Cass is another book that makes me long for a hard copy. I’m not sure even a colour eReader would do the cover justice let alone my Paperwhite.
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.
Sounds a bit too clever for it’s own good, doesn’t it? Here is the oh-so-popular dystopian genre dressed in a reality TV show, draped in a caste system and bejeweled with rebel attacks. How is this not a recipe for social commentary? Well, either it’s very subtle or we just haven’t got there yet, but The Selection was a lot less self-aware and satirical than I was expecting. I’m not sure there actually IS a message here which, with those ingredients, is kind of disappointing. Sure, America speaks for ‘the people’ and highlights the issue of poverty and inequality to Prince Maxon himself, but in the end it all takes a backseat to the romance. Unless the “American State of China” was intended for more than just giggles???
Approaching The Selection without those preconceptions, however, this is a light, fast and entertaining read. I liked decisive America from the beginning more than the eeny, meeny, miny, m-OH! WHO SHALL I CHOOSE? America she is at the end. I love the contrast of a fairly traditional monarchy in a dystopian world with a very present day, real world The Bachelor style set-up. I even enjoyed the caste system which is arranged by profession:
<The following list is taken from author Kiera Cass’s website.>
Ones: Royalty, clergy
Twos: All celebrities such as MTV-type musicians, professional athletes, actors, models; politicians as well as all officers in any policing, military, firefighting, or guarding position which are assigned by draft.
Threes: Educators of any kind, philosophers, inventors, writers, scientists of any kind, doctors, veterinarians, dentists, architects, librarians, all engineers, therapists or psychologist, film directors, music producers, lawyers.
Fours: Farm owners, jewelers, real estate agents, insurance brokers, head chefs, project managers for construction, property/business owners for things like restaurants, shops, and hotels.
Fives: Classically trained musicians and singers, all artists, live theatre actors, dancers, circus performers of any kind.
Sixes: Secretaries, wait staff, housekeepers, seamstresses, store clerks, cooks, drivers.
Sevens: Gardeners, construction workers, farm hands, gutter or pool cleaners, almost all outdoor workers.
Eights: Mentally or physically unwell (particularly if there is no one to care for them), addicts, runaways, homeless.
In fact the details of the caste system are the most clearly thought-out part of The Selection – I just didn’t enjoy not knowing the WHY behind it all. History in Illéa (formerly the US) is only taught orally so even our narrator is not a reliable source of fact. This is either a convenient plot device to avoid spending words on a topic even Kiera Cass may not have worked out yet, or a clever way to surprise us all later. I’m hoping for the latter as the king does appear to have some secrets. The full details of the war between China, Russia and America that led to this current world remain a mystery, as do the details of the monarchy itself and the rebels beef with it. If they’re protesting the caste system or inequality then they’re going about it the wrong way. You need to stir the masses into an uprising à la Katniss. Am I right?
If The Selection is really purporting to be “The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games” then it falls far short of the risk and danger required to qualify for that last one. People in the lower castes are going hungry and it’s sad and unfair but they do seem to be surviving. Even the rebel attacks are pretty much seen through by our main characters either hiding in a cellar or drawing some metal shutters over the windows. I’m not really feeling the peril there. The world of Illéa is just not fleshed out enough. The only world we really see is inside a sumptuous palace and as such I’m pretty loathe to select Dystopian in my categories list.
I wasn’t really drawn to any of the characters or relationships in The Selection and Aspen least of all which makes him being the spanner in the works even more annoying than most love triangles already are. I’m rooting halfheartedly for Maxon who seems like a nice guy despite the fact that he calls everyone “my dear” like a lecherous old man. I also hate his name. I don’t know why but it’s really irritating me. Maxon.
I really enjoyed his scenes with America until she started being wishy-washy but there was no romantic or sexual tension, especially compared to America’s scenes with Aspen. They just seemed like familiar, comfortable friends and that was how I liked them. Anything more feels forced.
I’d have to say my favourite part of The Selection is the Selection itself: the application, the interviews, the weekly shows, the fan poles, the dresses(!) I just wish those scenes were given more focus. I like the fact that the writing feels quite pared down and tight, but I’d rather lose a few of America’s complaints than these details.
In the end, this is a trilogy I will complete for it’s entertainment factor more than anything. The premise is absolutely wonderful but I don’t feel it was really capitalized on and we spent so long in America’s increasingly annoying head when I wish Kiera Cass had found a way to let us in on what was happening during Maxon’s dates with all the other girls. The only time I’ve sought out some fly-on-the-wall reality TV and it was denied me. Typical.
A pure enjoyability rating would be higher but, all factors considered, I’m giving The Selection by Kiera Cass 3.5 Stars.
Full marks for the covers though!
P.S. Watch my review of The Selection on YouTube!