The Selection (The Selection #1) by Kiera Cass
Other elements: Reality tv, Princes, social strata, rebels, lies, beauty.
Read it: if you like the idea of a Hunger Games of marriage.
Overall rating: 6.75/10
Here’s the premise: when a Prince in the dystopian Kingdom of Illea comes of age, girls from all over the country are selected to come live in the palace. The Prince then “dates” all of the potential Princesses while cameras follow them around, setting tests and evaluations for his applicants and gradually eliminating every contestant except for one, who he will marry.
I heard The Selection widely billed as “a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor” and I think that’s an accurate description, except for one thing: it suggests a comparison between America Singer, fluff-brained heroine of The Selection, and The Hunger Games’ strong, powerful Kattniss Everdeen.
America (what is with that name? So distracting.) isn’t the worst character ever, but she does appear to be about as intelligent as your average box full of rocks. She’s a stunningly beautiful redhead who loves to deny her own attractiveness, despite the fact that everyone constantly tells her how beautiful she is.
This trope of idealizing the beautiful woman who refuses to admit her own attractiveness is insulting and damaging. It goes beyond condemning arrogance all the way to fetishizing self-deprecation. It’s especially grating in a story like this, when the character in question has no source of power other than her physical attractiveness.
A few examples:
“And of course he world love America! She’s so beautiful,” Mom swooned.
“Please, Mom. If I’m anything, I’m average.”
“You are not!” May said. “Because I look just like you, and I’m pretty!” Her smile was so wide, I couldn’t contain my laughter. – Page 8
“America, you must know you’re a very lovely girl.”
“If I’m so lovely, how come no one ever comes by to ask me out?” – Page 8
“Please don’t call me gorgeous. First my mom, then May, now you. It’s getting on my nerves.” By the was Aspen was looking at me, I could tell I wasn’t helping my “I’m not pretty” case. He smiled.
“I can’t help it. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” – Page 13
“You’re the most beautiful girl in Illea! He’ll love you!”
Why did everyone think it came down to beauty? Maybe it did. Maybe Prince Maxon didn’t need a wife to speak to, just someone to look pretty. I actually shivered, considering that as my future. But there were many girls much more attractive than me going. – Page 75
America is also an idiot. More than one Goodreads reviewer accused America of TSTL syndrome – which stands for “too stupid to live.” While I still found her entertaining to watch, I certainly didn’t have any respect for her. She skips around pretending not to realize the implications of the situations she’s in, believing everything that any man in power tells her and trumpeting about being true to yourself.
The Selection attempts to balance a lot of elements – rigid class structure, questions of duty to family and country, the idea of women as the property of the state – and it doesn’t quite work. The idea of the strict numerical caste system is interesting, but it doesn’t really get enough screen time for it to feel like a primary issue. I think this would have been a much better book if it had toned down the sugary aspects and embraced some of the darkness; after all, it’s dystopia. Maybe it’ll come up more in the sequel.
The writing is also less than stellar; brace yourself for some rigid dialogue if you pick this one up. That said, I still enjoyed it in a way that felt similar to watching a trashy TV show. The Selection is perfect as a beach book or a palate cleanser if you’ve been reading too much literary fiction. It will ask nothing of your brain except the suspension of disbelief.