I feel like I, quite often, start blog posts by saying something like, “I really wanted to love this book, but…”
Well. I really wanted to hate this book. I did. I mean, just look at that cover. Look at it! You don’t have to look very closely to see things that are easy to hate:
(a) frills. I hate frills, and there are far too many frills on this cover.
(b) dresses. Ditto. Never liked the poofy dress look, never liked wearing dresses. I like my clothes to be things I can run and climb fences in. My dad once asked me, “Why would you need to climb a fence?” But then I met a friend one day after work, wearing (sensible) shoes and a (sensible, I thought) pencil skirt, and we took a shortcut that had been quite thoughtlessly closed off with a chain link fence. An easy-to-climb, short fence, with no barbed wire at the top to speak of. But I couldn’t climb it, because of the pencil skirt (I tried, but got stymied at the top). So there, dad!
(c) words. Words that say things like “35 girls. 1 crown. The competition of a lifetime.” UGH.
(d) princesses. The cover is saturated with poofy-frilly-dressed princesses. Maybe there aren’t 35 of them, but there are enough.
So I really really wanted to hate this book. And I picked it up off the library shelf without a thought in my mind except, “I can’t WAIT to hate this book!” But…I liked it. And – in my defense – I’m not alone (it not only has a Wikipedia entry, it has its own wiki). So now, you get to read my review of it.
The Selection is set in a future world that seems semi post-apocalyptic. For the security of civilization, people have been divided into classes numbering from 1 to something (sound familiar?), with a few people who are without a class. The highest classes live in luxury and rule or guard the kingdom. The lowest classes are basically serfs.
Our heroine, America Singer, is caste 5: the artisan class. High enough so that her family doesn’t starve in the streets, but low enough that they sometimes go hungry in their cold, unheated, homes. 16-year-old America is a musician and singer (are you surprised?) living with her artist father, her loving mother, and her sibs. She’s mostly happy and madly in love with Aspen, a six (servant, remember?) that she has known her whole life. Their secret tryst (that may be redundant) involves regularly sneaking out after the government curfew to meet at a tree-house where America brings Aspen her unfinished meals and they make out (not necessarily in that order, but usually as Aspen is a growing boy). Then, (DOOM DOOM DOOM) the call goes out across the Kingdom (yup, it’s a kingdom) that the Crown Prince Maxom has reached marriageable age (why is it that marriageable age in a kingdom is always a lot lower than would be considered marriageable under our laws?) and all girls of compatible ages (also too young) are invited to apply to be paraded before Prince Maxom in a long, drawn-out, televised process of elimination. America’s mother is thrilled, America is not, (SPOILER ALERT) Aspen brutally dumps America, family and couple drama ensues, and – lest you think the book ends here – America is Selected to go to the palace with the Other Lucky Girls. And her lucky family gets an allowance of extra money and food while she is there.
UGH. Right? A Princess-Contest?! I mean, how much more trashy can you get?!
So I should have stopped there, and I would have stopped there, but I didn’t stop reading because:
(a) I like America. She’s spunky and funny and down-to-earth. She’s keenly aware of class politics and, as the lowest-ranking participant in the Selection, is alternately shocked by and shocking to those around her. She wants to stay in the game so that her family can receive an allowance and have some extra food and clothing, which they do for every month she lives at the palace. But she wants to go home and leave this place where she feels out of place and rejected. She is homesick, sullen, and sulky, but also amazed and enjoying the life of luxury. She changes her mind and her emotions frequently, but she doesn’t come off as flighty. Rather, she’s intelligent, but conflicted. She’s so real. What’s there not to like?
(b) I like the writing. It’s concise and (from what I recall, but I don’t have the book in front of me) grammatically correct…unlike some other books I have read, but not reviewed, because I cannot bring myself to read past the convoluted sentence structure (I’m looking at you, Tsarina. Your editors need some serious help). The scenes are believable – the characters, their reactions and actions seem real. There are some overly dramatic parts that seem contrived to keep the plot moving a certain way, but hey – it’s fiction. In one sense, it’s all contrived.
(c) Kiera Cass weaves in some complexities that make this more than a poofy-skirted princess story. Like civil unrest, bands of mysterious rebels with a hidden agenda, a sheltered and friendless Crown Prince who sees this weird Selection as his only chance at love (or even compatibility).
(d) Did I mention that I like America? Her personality is the driving factor behind the story, and without it, the story would fall flat.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an immediate classic or a must-read, or a must-own, or anything like that. But I did read it, and I enjoyed it. I would have immediately read the sequel (The Elite) but it’s just about impossible to get from the library – it’s been out or on hold since November. I know, because I check the shelves about once a week and the only reason I haven’t put the sequel on hold yet is that I am too proud to do it. I am temporarily swallowing my pride to write this review because, well, even if I want to hate this book, I don’t. And that, itself, is enough to warrant writing a review.
Reading Ages: Definitely teen reading. It was in the Young Adult section of the library and is about a 16-year-old, but I think a 13-year-old could read it just as well. The language and themes are no more complex – and a lot less violent – than The Hunger Games. You may not want to fill your kid’s head with princess stories, but this is a pretty decent one so far as they go.
Rating: B+. Well-written, engaging, and not full of airheads.
Confession Time: I confess that I did, indeed, enjoy a princess book.