The Selection by Kiera Cass, 327 Pages
I was really excited about this book, I really wanted to like it. I am not immune to the lure of a beautiful cover featuring a beautiful girl in a gorgeous dress. A dust-jacket featuring a svelte redhead in endless ruffles of turquoise tulle reflected back in different poses by a bank of water-spotted mirrors, wrapped around a Tiffany-blue hardback stamped with a silver tiara. Despite my disdain for bodice-ripping romances I can enjoy a made-for-TV romantic comedy or an episode of The Bachelor while I’m cooking dinner, so I was game to give the YA dystopian fantasy a shot.
This is a book that tries to bridge the gap between The Hunger Games and Twilight. Someone was bound to try soon enough, those two incredibly popular series combined would seem like a golden ticket to publication. On the one hand, we have a highly regulated society in which many are starving and it is very difficult to move across the government’s dividing lines, hosting a competition to publicly elevate one of its number above the rest. On the other we have a novel completely centered around a love triangle, with a heroine who is a bit of a Mary Sue.
America Singer is a tri-lingual, naturally beautiful musician with a secret boyfriend of a lower caste. Being a Five is not so great, it is an artisan class with sporadic work that leaves her family perpetually short on food, but her boyfriend Aspen has it worse as a Six in the servant class. She has the big-time hots for this boy and they have two years worth of treehouse trysts backed up, creating an incredible pressure that they’d like to relieve post-marriage (pre-marital sex is ground for imprisonment). Big no-no, America’s momma is hoping she will use her pretty face to marry up at least two castes. When a Cinderella-esque invitation arrives exhorting America to enter a lottery for a chance to win a place in a competition to win the hand of the crown-prince of Illéa, becoming a One in the process, her mother is practically foaming at the mouth and even secret-boytoy Aspen doesn’t want her to pass up the opportunity.
She is persuaded to enter, and of course she is selected.
Many blogs have already likened this novel to The Bachelor, and I would have to say that it actually reads like Bachelor fan-fiction with a prince subbed for the schmuck. America is incredibly judgmental of the other Selected, often based on a single visual impression or line of dialogue, yet these judgements are never false. The sexy brunette is seductive and conniving, the bubbly blonde is sweet as pie. Everything plays out as exactly as you might guess, in the most clichéd manner possible. The palace is repeatedly attacked by mysterious rebels with no definite purpose in scenes that fail to thrill. The book is light on both dialogue and description, propelled by endless stated actions and sentiments “I walked downstairs and then sat in a chair and then ate dinner. It was delicious. I felt full.” There were several paragraphs in which every sentence began with “I”. The scant dialogue all sounds the same, though the novel depicts characters from a range of social classes and geographic locations. I wouldn’t even know if I split an infinitive, but there were many glaring errors in mechanics, as though someone printed their fan-fiction straight from the computer and had it bound. Unfortunate dialogue tags abound, everyone “sings” everything. At one point I wondered if this book were supposed to be a musical.
The heroine herself comes across as inconsistent and disingenuous. She is home-schooled and plays the victim of incomprehensible feminine politics, but makes unerring judgements of her fellow ladies and presumes to give Maxon advice on interacting with them. At one point she states that she wants nothing more than to be alone with a violin, on the next page she is alone in her room with a selection of instruments and says she can’t “be bothered” with them. She claims to be madly in love with Aspen but only seems to think or feel anything about him when he is directly in her line of sight. She performs actions that are inconsistent with the reader’s knowledge if her character, simply because they seem to be on the author’s checklist of princessly characteristics.
The romance is pretty dull. With America and Aspen it is a lot of forbidden horny leg-rubbing; America and Maxon engage in slightly more interesting conversation about why he sucks (America is a real charmer).
This is not the worst of it, you guys, and I’m sorry for rambling on. I’m almost done.
The worst failure of this novel is a failure of the imagination. I could deal with a stupid plot and two-dimensional characters if I got some great poetic language, engaging world-building, or sumptuous descriptions of luxurious locales and fashion. The author seems to have an obsession with cap-sleeves, everything America wears has them! I’m not sure if it was a deliberate choice to make her seem demure or a lack of creativity. The sumptuous cuisine? Bacon, eggs, and pancakes; or vanilla ice cream with fruit. Literally dozens of female characters have names but no physical descriptions or personalities, even when they have speaking parts. COME. ON. The palace is made of stucco (but has marble floors). Stucco, you guys. It was described in a way that made me picture the mansion they always use on The Bachelor, but it is somehow big enough to house more than two hundred people, forty or so with their own rooms and enormous individual bathrooms. Magic.
I am disappoint. This could have had real potential if a tougher editor had entered the picture.
So now that I have ripped this poor book to shreds, I am giving it away. Whether it’s morbid curiosity or a genuine belief that this might be just the story for you, I encourage you to enter.
To enter my giveaway for a hardcover copy of Kiera Cass’s The Selection all I ask is that you post a comment featuring:
1. A picture of what you would wear to meet and woo royalty
2. A description of the most incredible meal you can imagine
If you choose to do both, I will count it as two entries. I will randomly choose a winner on Wednesday, May 2nd at midnight PST. This giveaway is limited to the continental United States and Canada (I’ve seen a few canucks pop up on the map). Spread the word!