Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

I read too much YA. I've recently discovered that I can download audiobooks from the library to satisfy my need for instant gratification and the result has been a marathon of YA. In the last two weeks, I've listened to If I Stay, Where She Went, Cinder, and The Selection. I've got Matched by Ally Condie up right now and I think it's time for a break. But that's my problem, not yours.

The Selection by Kiera Cass is a YA mash up of a number of popular genres with themes that feel very "of the season". If I were to describe the book in a single sentence it would be: The Hunger Games (minus the Capitol) meets The Bachelor (if the bachelor was a prince). Yup, that's pretty much it.

In the ruins of what was once the United States, now stands the country of Illéa. Its society is defined by its caste system - each family operates within the same caste and their children are born into a number which determines their place in society and their future occupation. The story follows the tragically-named America Singer as she enter into the selection - a process that young women participate in for a chance to marry her country's prince. She uses the selection as a way to escape a broken heart, courtesy of her ex-boyfriend's pride, and as a means to better her poor family's circumstances. Our America is a five, the caste of artists, which is pretty low on the Illéa totem pole. But, if she married Prince Maxon, her whole family will be elevated to ones and have a life they couldn't ever have dreamed of.

Confused and brokenhearted, America strikes a deal with the prince to befriend him in exchange for removing herself from the running while remaining in the palace (and securing the stipend sent to her family in her absence). As America glides through the "dates" and endure the pettiness of the other contestants, she discovers her feelings for the sweet, sheltered boy. If dealing with her own teenage torment wasn't enough, the entire process is filmed and televised for the whole country.

Set against the backdrop of an interestingly structured world and the rumblings of war, The Selection was a good, though somewhat formulaic, read.  I enjoyed the premise and the story, but wasn't as engaged as I hoped to be with the characters and the dialogue. Also, I'm not sure who started this weird naming convention in YA dystopian books, but it needs to stop. Characters should not be named America or Aspen. Just no. Stop it.

The Selection is the first of a series. Book #2, The Elite, is due out in 2013.

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