Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass
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 the palace and compete for the heart of the 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.
THE SELECTION, I read with utmost certainty that I was probably not going to like at all. Any book promoted as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games is going to make me leery. Plus, it’s got some bad rep from a few trusty blog friends. And believe me when I say I’ve just about had it with dystopian books that are more about romance than about actual dystopia.
So why did I pick up THE SELECTION? Because I’m shallow (LOL), and pretty covers grab my eye, and although I’ve recently hit 20, I’m still desperately following young adult literature. (Hey, what? I’ve had an epiphany that I’m going to be a children’s writer if I ever publish a book.) But recently I’ve been picking up stuff by Angela Carter and David Foster Wallace. I’ve been reading Milton and Poe. I needed a book to get away from all the heavyweights, and what better to put my trust in than a YA dystopian romance?
THE SELECTION is what it promises to be, literally, The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. The story follows teenager (?) America Singer (yes, I know, what’s with all these names?) as she enters a competition called THE SELECTION which is something like the exact male-version of Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamvar (the Indians are now face palming; the others must Google this- I promise it’s damn amusing) Prince Maxon of Ilea is going to pick his bride from a group of 35 girls all vying to get his attention.
Silly plot, you say, for a dystopian book. I agree. But that’s not saying THE SELECTION is an atrocity. This is not me trashing THE SELECTION in any way, because for all its faults, it’s annoying metronome of a heroine, and it’s less-than-stellar world building, this book is amusing. It’s mindless fun for someone whose brain has been scrambled by exams. I’ll tell you why.
We girls like rags-to-riches stories. We all do. It’s part of the essential make-up that makes us girls. You could be a cool-as-hell Lisbeth Salander and deny it, but there would still be a part of you that would smile at a fairy tale. And The Selection is exactly that. America is a downtrodden heroine, someone unable to fly because of the caste system, someone who has to work hard for survival and worry about her family. Aspen, her “boyfriend” a.k.a the Other Guy, is Gale Hawthorne. (No, really. Dark good looks, moodiness, sisters to take care of, and the works) Prince Maxon is the do-gooder, awkward, eternally stumbling royalty who needs America’s passionate rebelliousness to open his eyes to a country that needs him. The country is in turmoil because of external rebellion, and there are people who are unhappy because of the caste system. So far, so good. And then there is The Selection- the kind-of beauty pageant, a mellow version of The Hunger Games (no kidding) which prises America away from Carolina and throws her into a life of luxury at the palace where she joins a group of fellow brides-to-be.
If you close your eyes to all the inconsistencies and irritating TSTL acts on America’s part, and if you stop scoffing at what you think is an atrocity in a dystopian novel (“Really? A beauty pageant? A give-me-35-pretty-girls-to-pick-from-because-I’m-the-dashing-Prince-alpha-male?”) you will actually like The Selection for the fact that it doesn’t get boring, it keeps you amused with all its simple one-layered characters, and that it doesn’t do a number on your head. In other words, it’s a book you read when you feel like you JUST. CAN’T. USE. YOUR. BRAIN anymore. (Thank you, Kerala University, for sucking my brain juice)
That’s not to say I didn’t face-palm myself a lot. It starts with the obvious parallels to The Hunger Games. The first few chapters are a route-map of HG watered down- Katniss and Gale meet at the woods before the Reaping and have their rule-breaking little feast, America and Aspen do the same in a tree house. Both Katniss and America are picked out for Games that will take them far from their homes. Both are unhappy about it. (Katniss more so, understandably.) Both have goodbye scenes with their families. Both have songbird jewelry. Both are taken to a place of luxury and fixed up in the make-up, hair and clothes department by understanding and friendly fashion designers. Both are Champions of the Downtrodden. Both are all about keeping their identity and being themselves. Both love the food at the new place even though they hate pretty much everything else. See what I mean? America Singer is like this Polaroid of a photograph of a painting of Katniss Everdeen.
|LOL. Thanks starcasm.net|
Then there are obvious YA clichés. America is beautiful and everyone believes this except her, who’s too modest. America is the only girl among all the thirty-five who matter to the Prince (yeah, he’s jerking the others around and keeping ‘em all happy while his heart belongs to America, and WHY is my skin crawling?) America is the only one who tugs at his heartstrings because of her feistiness, because of her passion for the poor and downtrodden. America is also the thing he can’t have because she’s lost her heart to Aspen (who, by the way, is plain irritating. I think he has bipolar disorder or something.)
America is also extremely annoying because her mood keeps swinging like a metronome. It makes no sense to me that she’d sign up for The Selection because Aspen told her to, then be happy about getting more pocket money to do the same, then be sad when she’s picked, then be ridiculously happy again when she gets into the palace, then be sad again when…you get it, right? This girl doesn’t have one particular feeling about The Selection, and that is bad, because it shows that her character is inconsistent. Katniss, she had no choice. She HAD to participate in the Games; she HAD to pretend to be in love with Peeta at first; she HAD to survive. With America, it seems as though she’s just playing with Maxon and staying in the palace for money. As if she’s messing with Aspen when she says she loves him. As if she’s messing with us because she can’t make up her mind about anything.
And then the whole world building. Okay, the caste system was fine and The Selection wasn’t too stupid considering the point of it (although if you noticed, they very craftily picked only beautiful girls for The Selection; despite saying that “any daughter of Ilea could be our next queen”; hypocrisy much?) but what bothered me was that the people kept going on about how good King Clarkson and Queen Amberly (Maxon’s parents) were when they’ve been apparently BLIND to the whole CASTE SYSTEM that exists RIGHT UNDER THEIR DAMN NOSES! This is NOT good for a dystopian-verse where people are SUPPOSED to be unhappy about their royalty who doesn’t see it fit to abolish the system. There is no sign of any rebellion and that is NOT GOOD.
The Selection could have been better if the threats to America and the people in her life came from internal causes. Such as the lower castes rebelling. Such as Aspen having to decide if he wants to join the rebels. Such as America herself having to decide if she wanted to stay in The Selection and the comfort of the palace or throw herself into the fray with Aspen. Instead, we get this weird North-South invasion thing that isn’t even properly explained.
The thing is that when you write a dystopian novel, you need to break hearts. That’s why it’s called dystopia and not romantic fiction. Dystopia is about oppression and terror, about living conditions so desperate and pathetic that someone is FORCED to go against the system, FORCED to put things right, FORCED to be a hero/heroine. That’s why dystopia is dystopia and superhero stories are superhero stories. You can’t make up a dystopian world and then cop out with a girly romantic fantasy. This is the one dystopian novel I’ve read where there isn’t even one bloody showdown. Where the bad guys are nothing but a bunch of invisible people. Basically, it’s so mellow you don’t know why it’s called dystopian. Everyone is pretty happy in it. I really can’t say it’s any worse than our world, so WHY is it called dystopian? Because it happens in the future after a Fourth World War? That’s FUTURISTIC fiction, not DYSTOPIAN fiction. YA authors should really get their genres right.
But then, on the sunny side, who would ever actually read The Selection expecting a fast-paced, down-on-the-floor-and-dirty-to-prove-it, bloody book? Nobody. Those pretty blue dresses ain’t gonna stand any dystopian running around.
(Note: CW and Warner Bros are making a pilot for it? Really? Ethan Peck and Aimee Teegarden included? Um, weird. Just weird. Can't see why anyone would want to watch, like, a TV show on this. We have reality shows, you know? I’ll stick to watching only VD and SPN.)
|Aimee Teegarden, at the pilot-shoot of The Selection|
VERDICT: It isn’t bad. Just not dystopian. Read if you want a break from heavyweights. Skip if you’re nitpicky about world building and writing.
QUESTIONS after reading THE SELECTION:
Are YA dystopian books slipping into a stereotype? Have you read a recent dystopian novel you really liked, as in liked as much as The Hunger Games or Unwind? And when you say dystopian, what do you really want from it?