By Kiera Cass
Released: April 24th, 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Genre: Young Adult
I definitely wasn't the first to jump onto The Selection bandwagon. I've never been a fan of reality TV, particularly The Bachelor and considering that was basically what this book was, I had decided early on to skip it. Until it started gaining momentum - and more momentum. Everyone on Goodreads was talking about this book - and how they were Team Maxon or Team Aspen. Eventually, I decided if the book had caused this much of a stir there had to be something to it. So, I picked it up. And realized that I should've followed my gut instinct to ignore it.
The Selection is a "dystopian" book, set in Illea - which is ruled by a monarchy and the population is split into strict caste systems. The main character, America Singer, is being forced by her mother to apply for The Selection, a contest in which 35 girls are selected from the country to compete for the hand of the prince of Illea, Maxon. Despite the fact that she had no intention of really trying in her application (such as not practicing her pretty smile or wearing brand new clothes when her initial picture is taken for the competition), lo and behold - she is one of the 35 girls selected! Big shock. The rest of the first book is America adjusting to life at the palace, where she and the other girls are getting to know the prince and trying to impress him.
And that's basically it. Cat fights ensue. As well as shameless flirting and female gossip. Oh yeah, there's also a part in the novel where the castle gets attacked by rebels, but that's hardly glanced at when compared to all the romance plots. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let's first look at the two main characters.
America Singer. Ignoring her terrible name (get it, she's a singer - and her last name is singer? So funny.), let's first look at the definition of a "Mary Sue." According to Springhole.net, a Mary Sue is, "A character (male, female, or otherwise) who is given or is expected be to given unwarranted preferential treatment and unearned respect, thereby compromising the integrity and believability of the story and/or its characters." Now, let's look at America. Overly beautiful without even trying? Check. (Bonus points for having red hair, which ALL female lead characters seem to have now.) Has a sudden luck of serendipity by being chosen to compete in the Selection? Check. Is completely rude to the prince, but he somehow likes her anyway? Check. Seen as special and beautiful and elegant by most (if not all) other characters in the book? Check. And, believe me, I could go on.
Next is Prince Maxon, who seems to suffer from the same dull character scheme and could easily be labeled a "Gary Stu," the male equivalent of Mary Sue. He's the smart, handsome, hardworking prince that all the girls are fighting over. Guess what? He's ambivalent about the Selection. He has all the girls' best interests at heart - heck, he even lets the ones who don't want to be there go home. He treats all the girls with the utmost respect and gives them all the same sweet words they expect. He's the perfect guy. Seriously, there's no negative characteristics to this guy. Unless you count stupidity - which I'll get to in a second.
The only character with even a little bit of interest or story arc is Aspen, who was America's lover before she was sent off to the palace. But he's seen as an ass the entire book and doesn't even get mentioned in 2/3 of the novel.
I guess a lot of what irritated me about this novel was America and Maxon. America is seen as the perfect girl, but her actions are anything but. The very first thing she does when she meets the prince is knee him in the crotch. I guess he finds that a turn on, as he immediately takes an interest in her. Overall, America's a perfect girl, but she has SO many problems. She's expected to earn money for competing in the Selection to feed her starving family - but all she can do is lament about how she lost her boyfriend and how nobody understands her or asks what she wants. She's not even trying to win the prince's hand - she's only there to collect the pay check - but she's the one he's most interested in. She has a chance to rule a freakin' country and all she can do is complain.
And Maxon? He's about as bland as a rice cake. For being so smart, he definitely doesn't make many smart decisions in the book. There's one scene, where America finds him taking a break from a counsel with his father and advisors and she tells him about how people in her caste, as well as the lowest caste, are starving. And this completely takes Maxon by surprise. You're born with a silver spoon in your mouth and the world in your hands and - what - there are people who are less fortunate than you? I'm completely blown away! Not only that, but towards the end of the book, one of the girls practically rips America's dress from her body and, when America tries to get Maxon to send the offender home, he refuses - saying that that particular girl is very nice and she must be mistaken. What, Maxon? I thought you trusted America?
I just get so frustrated with this book, simply by the characters and their supposed perfection - only to be compounded by their idiotic and sophomoric actions.
The only good thing the book had going for it - which is the plots concerning the rebels trying to overthrow the monarchy - is hardly even addressed. I get that it's probably addressed further in the series, but why include the plot device if you're not even going to elaborate on it? There's a scene in which the castle is invaded - something that could cause great drama and bloodshed - and all we get is a scene with the girls hiding away in the dungeons and America swooning over Maxon - but, oh yeah, she doesn't want to be with him. So why is she swooning over him in the first place? Ugh!
To be fair, I guess I'm just reading too much into the book. I understand this isn't supposed to be some grand piece of literature that keeps people talking through the generations and is evaluated in classrooms. But that doesn't mean that the characters don't deserve even a bit of effort. I think that if Mrs. Cass had fleshed out her characters and storyline, the book would've had much more appeal. As it is, it leaves me questioning why I'm even rooting for the main characters to begin with. Heck, I'm hardly doing that! I was hoping Aspen would have more "air" time - he's the only one that resembles a reasonable human being.
That said, it's at least an easy read - and despite how much I rip about it, I did manage to finish it. And apparently people find something appealing about it, as I'm largely in the minority when it comes to my critical opinion. It's just not for me.
However, if you're a hopeless romantic that likes to read sweet, fluffy stuff - this is definitely your book.