Kiera Cass’s debut novel The Selection features an interesting combination of dystopia and reality TV. The world where the novel takes place is a future incarnation of North America where monarchs rule a kingdom that has adopted a strict caste system. The caste you are born into determines your occupation and relative wealth, 1 being the wealthiest and 8 being the homeless. America Singer, a 5 (musician/artist caste) is madly in love with her friend Aspen who is a 6 (laborer caste). At the time of the Selection, where 35 girls from the country are picked to compete for the hand of the prince on television, Aspen encourages her to sign up. America has no intentions of ever competing for the title of princess, but the girls who are selected receive payment that would help her family out, so she agrees. However, when circumstances change and America finds herself being carted off to the competition, she begins to find that she may be exactly what the shy Prince Maxon is looking for.
Despite being a dystopian novel based around a nationally viewed reality television show, the setting does not evoke The Hunger Games at all, nor did it remind me of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, which has a similar premise. I was glad to see that the author has created her own niche in the rapidly growing genre of dystopian YA. With that, I had a little trouble grounding myself in the world that Cass creates. There is a wonderful scene at the castle about two thirds the way through the book where the girls are reciting the history of kingdom and how things came to be the way they are; unfortunately, I really felt like I needed it on page 2. America did not quite come off the page as a very dynamic character to me, with few defining characteristics that I could sink my teeth into, but I did like Maxon’s quite charm and sense of humor and I am interested in what will become of this couple. And though I want these two to end up together, I have a concern that America is complacent with the caste system as it is. I feel like in other novels I’ve read where this kind of a controlling world is set up, the satisfaction of the story comes when the main character becomes disillusioned and takes their own path to bring the system down. I’m not saying that authors should follow this kind of formula always, but I am not content with accepting the caste system set up by this novel, and I wasn’t sure by the end of the first book in this trilogy if America has the drive to change things should she become queen.
As a testament to Cass’s skill in creating believable relationship drama between America, the prince and the other girls, I was intrigued enough to get me through the book despite the fact that somehow what are supposed to be tense and dangerous scenes instead are turned into nonevents. I am referring to the rebel attacks on the palace, which are supposedly so scary that the prince feels obligated by the end of the novel to send most of the girls home for fear of their safety, but are really brushed over in the actual narration. In both cases, the girls are sequestered into safe rooms where nothing happens, and they don’t ever come into contact with any of the rebels or the havoc they cause apart from having their bedrooms messed up. I was really curious about the differences between the two kinds of rebels and what they might mean later in the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the danger and suspense were made very palpable, and the attacks hardly even registered as plot points to me even though I believe they were supposed to hold a lot of significance.
Even with what I’ve said here, the story was still interesting and certainly a must read for anyone who likes the kind of relational drama that comes with reality TV and soap operas. I’m excited to see what Kiera Cass has in store for future installations of the series.