I knew I wanted to read The Selection by Kiera Cass the moment I saw the pretty, girly, fluffy cover. I mean seriously, how gorgeous is that? I heard it was a dystopian and would appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, but I also heard that it was solely a romance, with none of the crazy violent and suspenseful elements. And I wondered how on earth this book was appealing to fans of The Hunger Games if you took all that stuff out of the book.
Sometimes when you read nothing but dark and scary dystopians for two weeks, you need to rediscover happiness.
And let me tell you, this was just what the doctor ordered.
America Singer is talented, poor, and in love. She is a Five in the caste system of Illéa, where Ones are royalty and Eights are pretty much on par with dirt and slugs. Her family of artists and musicians struggles to scrape by, having barely enough food and not much else. Her boyfriend, Aspen, is a Six, born into the serving class, and in even more dire circumstances than America. Their relationship is forbidden by law, so it must be kept secret, but they are happy.
However, all that changes when notices go out all over the kingdom that Prince Maxon is looking for a bride, and she will be picked via the Selection. All eligible girls may apply. 35 will be picked to go to the palace and compete for Prince Maxon’s hand. The families of the girls in the competition will be well compensated for their service to the monarchy.
America doesn’t want to apply, regardless of the incentive of extra food or her mother’s persistent nagging. But when Aspen tells her that he also wants her to apply, she finally gives in, knowing the odds are heavily stacked against her.
But against all odds, she is picked to participate in the Selection. And although she is determined not to fall for Maxon, she goes to the palace to compete, knowing each week she remains in the competition is another week of food on her family’s table. And once she meets Maxon, nothing is the way she thought it would be.
This book was just fun. I really don’t understand the constant comparisons to The Hunger Games. Yes, they’re both dystopian, but The Selection is VASTLY different from The Hunger Games. America and Katniss are nothing alike, except that they’re both kind of socially awkward. There is no violence (except for a subplot involving rebels that keep attacking the castle for no reason the monarchy can understand). The families in the lower castes may go hungry, but the world doesn’t feel nearly as impoverished and depressing as the Districts of Panem. And while the losers of the Hunger Games die, the losers of the Selection go home to wed prominent businessmen and politicians.
So yeah. Not the same thing.
No, the pop culture phenomenon The Selection most closely resembles is The Bachelor. A bunch of pretty girls trying to win the hand/money (or in this case, crown) of a studly guy. There’s even camera crews and a weekly televised broadcast.
But whereas I can’t stand The Bachelor, I absolutely LOVED The Selection.
Beyond just the abundant prettiness (and there WAS abundant prettiness), this book just gave me happy fluttery feelings in my tummy. America was fun and feisty. Sometimes a bit dense, yes, but that’s when I had to remind myself (as I have to do often in YA books featuring female protagonists) that she is a teenage girl, and so it makes sense for her to be a bit dense.
Prince Maxon was sweet and charming and I’ve got to say, I know the whole point of the book was that America has two viable options in Aspen vs. Maxon, but I am Team Maxon all the way [I can't believe I just said that]. Aspen is stoic and intense and responsible and B-O-R-I-N-G. Granted, we don’t have nearly as much time to get to know him as Maxon, and most of our perception of him is through America’s lovesick and swoony eyes, so I will try not to be too disappointed if she runs back to him in Book 2. But I sincerely hope that Maxon is the victor.
There is a brief attempt to explain how the country of Illéa came to be, although the caste systems are never explained. Maybe in Book 2? I found the explanation reasonable enough. I know there are others out there saying they didn’t buy or understand it, but in the context of the story, and especially since America is narrating in first person and she herself doesn’t fully understand it all, I thought it was fine.
And while there’s very little action or nail-biting suspense in this book (unless you consider a will-they-or-won’t-they romance nail-biting suspense), I still found myself completely enthralled in the beauty of the Palace, the developing relationship between America and Maxon, and the tentative friendships between the girls in the Selection.
The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was the ending. I wanted there to be MORE. Even though I knew it was going to end without resolving a lot of things (since my friend who loaned me the book warned me of as much), I was still sad and surprised when I hit the last page and still had questions. There’s a lot of subplots (and main plots) left hanging at the end. Consider yourself warned.
I think The Selection isn’t so much for Hunger Games fans (although I am a Hunger Games fan) as it is for fans of stories like The Princess Diaries or anything by Jane Austen. Or, obviously, fans of The Bachelor. It’s a fun, sweet, and highly entertaining romance, and the future dystopian setting adds some interest and uniqueness. I enjoyed it immensely.
Content guide: Contains mentions of sex, mild amorous activity, mentions of violence.