The Selection by Kiera Cass
Kiera Cass’s debut novel, The Selection, is getting all kinds of buzztastic buzzy buzz—Hunger Gamescomparisons galore (though TBF most YA dystopians are getting these), coveted spots on “which dystopians to read after The Hunger Games” lists, and—bestill my CW nerdlette heart!—a CW TV adaptation with some absolute rock star casting (Aimee Teegarden, Ethan Peck, William Moseley, Sean Patrick Thomas…..yes! yum, yum, YUM).
I wanted SO badly to love this novel and add it to my personal little treasure chest of favorite dystopians. The main reason I wanted this novel to work (and why the people creating all this buzz and adapting it for television want it to work) is that the premise is SO good—35 girls from different provinces, all sent to the Palace to fight for the right to be Queen, in an imperfect dystopian monarchy. Say the pitch with me kids, “it’s The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games,” aka WTF?-must-read-now! Conditions were perfect for book love. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. This book wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it should have been. I am trying to pinpoint why exactly, but it’s tough. The pace is uneven, and the story comes to a screeching halt just when things start getting interesting, and I don’t think the narrative choices and situations the author chose to use really made the best use of this premise.
While I still think the story has potential (after all, we do sort of stop mid-stream with the old “End of Book One” drill, so none of the conflicts are by any means resolved), it has yet to reach that potential in the first installment. I wasn’t overly attached to America, Prince Maxon, or Aspen, so I didn’t really care too deeply about who America ends up with. There wasn’t a ton of chemistry between either couple (though there was a bit more between Aspen and America because we’re told they’ve been together for two years and they’re making promises and sneaking out to chastely roll around in her tree house).
Sadly, there also isn’t a lot at stake for America or any of the other girls participating in The Selection, aside from the thrill of the power play at winning Maxon (who for many girls is just a means to an end), becoming Queen and improving their caste.
Most of the girls don’t really think they have a shot (statistically speaking, they don’t), but they know just being picked as one of the 35 is where it’s at. If they don’t win the Prince’s heart, it’s actually no biggie at all—they apparently have a post-Selection glow about them that makes rich guys want to marry them. America will get a caste bump anyway, PLUS the girls are getting compensated for their time. By any sane person’s grasp of the situation, it pays to stay as long as you can and then get ousted in a late round (Maxon’s kind of a snore, so you don’t really want to win).
We don’t see bountiful queenly benefits or a great seat of power up for grabs. The current queen is frequently described as being serene and regal, registering her opinion here and there, but mostly looking graceful and beautiful as she presides over meals and sits around the Women’s Room. Yawn.
Maybe if one of these girls was secretly a Rebel, trying to gain an insider throne spot, and if the Queen actually had real power to be claimed, this would be a more interesting story. Or if the competition was more of a battle of wits to prove your ability to wield queenly power rather than a battle of dresses (yes, there is a scene where one contestant tries to rip America’s pretty dress off her body; that is considered a power play), it would have better held my interest.
The Selection was fluffy fun, and an entertaining read, but ultimately kind of forgettable. It’s is a lot less Hunger Games and a lot more frilly Miss America Pageant (but actually, Miss America contestants are put through more of a ringer and forced to display talents, so it’s a bit tamer than even that). The breathily-recited war-torn country genesis story and some half-baked Rebel attacks on the palace are meager attempts to present Illea as a harrowing dystopian country, but the flimsy drama/world-building just doesn’t back it up.
I actually think the Hunger Games comparisons do this story a major disservice, because the similarities—a lottery, district teens traveling to the big city, getting made over and competing for a remote chance at a better life—are just SO much tamer and more vanilla than the vividly-described, high-stakes, emotionally-charged world of Panem.
Ultimately I think this kind of fluffy Bachelor-style drama will be much better served in the TV series (kind of like The Vampire Diaries was), so I very much look forward to seeing the pilot. That being said, I’m definitely willing to give book two a chance to win me over with more solid world-building and better dramatic tension.
Check out this trailer for a crown-throwing throwdown.