Get your girl hormones ready for the book of a lifetime. Meet Kiera Cass’s The Selection, a book that combines The Bachelor, Cinderella, and The Hunger Games effectively enough to set every stereotypically female desire on fire, but not well enough to do justice to the many genres it is trying to reflect. America Singer, a girl low in the social hierarchy, gets chosen to compete against 35 other girls for the hand of the Prince of Illea. America, in love with a boy from an even lower caste, then must navigate the competition she is unwillingly placed into so that she can gain the money and status necessary for her family to live without the threat of starvation.
Basically this book is a young girl’s dream come true. All the necessary elements are firmly in place: girl fights and friendship, a love triangle with two men, a prince, and a main female character appreciated for her refusal to “change everything about [herself] to cater to some guy”. Moreover, the story has some elements beyond its surface that can appeal to an audience. The book presents an interesting take on social injustices by creating a caste system that is rigidly adhered to and referenced throughout the novel. Additionally, the process of the selection being televised also brings to mind an effective critique of the reality TV culture we ascribe to and what it means for us as a people.
But the book endeavors to accomplish too many things at once. The world of The Selection ends up falling out of time and space because of its attempt to become the biggest genre melting pot ever. The unfair caste system, which leads to extreme poverty and starvation, along with the idea of monetary gain for entering the selection, likens The Hunger Games. As such, the realm is set in a semi-dystopic domain, after a supposed Third and Fourth World War. But the dystopic world building crumbles when juxtaposed with the Cinderella aspect of the story. The girls are competing for the hand of the prince who, of course, lives in a castle, interacts with other monarchies, etc. Thus, the world seems to be set in a version of 16th century court life, while simultaneously being placed in the future. As you can imagine, once you add in The Bachelor element we have a technological nightmare. The book exists in a world where television is common but mobile phones are relatively nonexistent. World War Three and Four were devastating but no advanced weaponry is present, indeed rebel attacks often consist of throwing small items at the castle walls and tying up guards. On top of this, there are some 1984 aspects to the government. The intimate practices of the people are strictly controlled and certain information is kept from the public. For example, teachers believe “history isn’t something you study. It’s something you should just know.” These references pop up randomly and can lead a reader to distraction when trying to really imagine the setting. As such, this may be a book you wish to avoid if you are a person that is nit picky about inconsistencies in world building; or if you are male, in that case the book will fail to appeal to you on a multitude of levels. However, in defense of the all over the place genre conventions and very confusing setting, this book is the first in a series. So while Cass creates a mess of unfinished and unfounded details in this story, the sequel may clean these issues up.
As far as characterization goes, there isn’t too much to complain about. The characters, though they play into some very over used roles, don’t read unrealistically. America has the right amount of indignation at the situation, so that she doesn’t become the useless female lead, constantly swept away against her knowledge or will. She questions the fictional world in a reasonable manner and, with the exception of one incident of dramatic hyperventilation, never comes off as a hysterical heroine. America also has some fairly strong agency. Her decisions actually affect the world around her, which is refreshing to see when so many YA novels fail to do so. That being said, this agency allows for America to make mistakes, which causes the “what have I done?”/ “will I be sent home?” thought process to be repeated constantly. Furthermore, the male characters are slightly one-dimensional. They desire America and that’s about all we get from their emotional sphere. But since the book is told from America’s perspective and she actually spends very little time with either of the men in the story, the lack of development for either leading males is neither surprising nor disruptive to the storyline.
All criticisms aside though, the book is impossible to put down. Confusing at times, annoying at others, and so obviously aimed at stimulating the little girl inside us that dreams of being famous/a princess/the winner of everything love and money related, that it makes you want to tear your hair out. But nonetheless, The Selection is utterly addicting. The pace is fast, the prose is easy to read but not glaringly or insultingly simple, and the main characters are believable enough to satisfy. Not to mention the book ends on a cliffhanger that will make you want to seriously stalk Kiera Cass for the next installment.