With the title and cover designed so recently released for the fourth book, I felt like it was time to talk about The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The Selection is a young adult series that probably best falls into the category of dystopia. It takes place in an alternate future for the United States, when America as we currently know it no longer exists. I read all three of the original books within less than a week this past summer and admittedly my first instinct was to laugh. There’s a lot about these books that comes off as so ridiculous as to be legitimately humorous. But I didn’t read all three books just because I found them to be funny; they made me think, too.
Summary: 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.
*As this is a review of the entire trilogy, please note that there are SPOILERS to follow from this point on. A LOT of spoilers.*
When describing the competition itself, the Selection sounds a lot like an episode of the Bachelor. You put 35 women in a room and make them compete for the affections of one man. In this case, that one man is Prince Maxon. And while in it may be a somewhat practical method for the prince to meet a cross-section of the eligible female community, it doesn’t exactly represent the widest variety of the common people in practice. First of all, the lowest of the Eight castes represented is the Fifth, even though the tiered system would suggest that the majority of people exist in castes even lower than that. Secondly, only one of the few Fives who made it to the Selection remain after the FIRST DAY. Fortunately for us, that one remaining Five is America, the main character. Thirdly, there is no indication that the girls were chosen randomly nor is there a failsafe for finding someone else if the 35 prove to be unsuitable material for a head of state. It is therefore not only a wildly sexist competition, but also one which ultimately does not represent the best interests of the common people.
America’s character irritated me so frequently that I found it hard to like her. Romantically speaking, she was all over the place. She pretty much let circumstances dictate how she felt about both Aspen (her boyfriend from back home) and Maxon at different times and it was really frustrating to see that. She would have a moment of figuring out what she wanted and then let it all go flying out the window based on suspect comments or incidents, some of which she should have expected. She would push away the prince in moments when she thought she didn’t want to be a princess and she would push away Aspen when the prince made it up to her in some way or reminded her to have faith in herself and her natural abilities to do the job. And she just went along with all of it, letting herself be emotionally overwhelmed and sometimes driven to tears over things which were completely under her control from the get go. Say what you want about Celeste (America’s toughest rival and the competition’s requisite mean girl), but at least she knew what she wanted. America’s innate character remained mostly the same throughout and she did always stay true to her roots and her family and I appreciated that as the books progressed. It was what made her a likable person to her maids, the Rebels, and to Maxon as well. That is, when she actually let him see it through all of her other emotions.
Maxon was a good character overall. At first I felt like I was blaming him for a lot of the unfairness of the Selection process, but really he did the best with what he had and tried his hardest to make sure that he could at least be happy in the things he was forced to take on because of his birth. He was protective of all the girls’ safety throughout the entire process and he was extremely gentlemanly. Not just because he had to be, but because I actually felt like he was a nice guy. He asked consent before he ever engaged in intimate moments with the girls and even got really offended when America suggested that he might do otherwise. He was also extraordinarily patient and I do like that he felt the need to demand trust from America at the end of Book 2. He always trusted her when it came to her feelings, but very rarely was he given the same in return. It was smart for him to stand up for himself, especially when he had all the power in his court to push the issue. He could have chosen her and taken the decision out of her hands, but he didn’t and that shows remarkable character, not just in what he wouldn’t do, but in what he expected and wanted for himself.
Aspen was the character that I most wanted to like. I liked that he risked a lot to be with America and I liked that he was working so hard for his family and the woman he loved. And while I didn’t like that he put his pride before his relationship, I understood why he did it. I personally don’t like it when other people try and take care of me. And while America didn’t see it as him taking anything that she wasn’t willing to give, he probably thought that it felt like a debt. Not to mention it hurts to not be able to provide for the people you love, even when you try so hard. To have that thrown in your face, even in a gesture that’s meant to be anything but…it can be hard to endure. So I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it and so I kind of understood why he broke it off between them. But he also made a few mistakes that undermined his character overall. One, he told her to sign up for the Selection. If you love someone, no matter how helpful the money might have been to their family, you don’t push them to sign up for something that would take them away from you. She didn’t have to do it, she didn’t want to do it, and the whole thing set off a chain of events that need never have happened. They could have been together, and probably even would have made up after their argument if she hadn’t gone off to the Selection. Second, he claimed to have gone after her, but never followed up on that after she left for the castle. He never wrote to her or called or anything, not even after he became a solider and moved up to the Second caste. He could have asked her to leave the competition, knowing that she could the whole time, and then married her straight off. It would have been acceptable for them with his new caste and even kind of expected. But he waited too long to make his feelings known, waited until America was confused in her feelings over another man before pushing her to pick him. Which then made everything he did come off more as selfish and jealous than loving. I wanted to like Aspen, his character had a lot of potential, but in the end I think his pride and his selfish actions cost him the loyalty that he could have had.
As far as actual plot goes, the rebels came off a little cliché. For the first two books they appeared like the boogieman just in time to shake things up, but with no other discernable purpose. It wasn’t until the third book that we really got a taste for them and even then I thought a lot of their potential was buried under the romantic aspects. But what bothered me the most was the royal family’s total acceptance of the routine attacks on the palace and their people. There never appeared to be a time when they would try and fix the problem or even attempt to figure out what the rebels wanted. If they’ve been attacking for years, with increasing intensity, don’t you think it’s important to try a little diplomacy and see what they want? Why wait for a Selection girl to notice that something’s wrong? And how could they not know that the Southern Rebels were trying to overthrow the government until the Northerners told them? Seriously? You’re doing it wrong, Royal Family. Just wrong.
Overall I think that there was a lot of potential in these books. There were aspects of the world building that I liked, particularly the structure of the caste system and the history of how the country was formed. But a lot of it was overshadowed by the narrator’s confusion and the overwhelming dominance of the romantic plot. They’re an enjoyable read, but I read them mostly because I found them so unbelievable that they were comical. Which I don’t think was the author’s intention. Then, to make matters worse, the book just ends after Maxon and American get married. That’s it! No more plot! So what I want to know is:
- What happened with the Southerners after the attack?
- What’s going on with the Northerners now?
- How are the new laws going to take affect?
Perhaps these questions will be addressed in next year’s release.
Have you read The Selection series? Are you excited for the new book to come out next year? Let me know in the comments down below!