The Selection by Kiera Cass is not my sort of book. I'm not a big reader of YA and when I do, most of it I don't care for. But this was free on Amazon UK, and I'd just finished The Fellowship of The Ring and was at the point where any more Tolkein would make my brain melt, so this felt like a great idea.
Which is was. To begin with.
There will be what are technically spoilers, but since nothing actually happens book which couldn't be predicted by the blurb, it's not actually going to matter. It's also the first (and likely last) gif-based review I've written (which you may need to look at the blog page itself to see, rather than just reading in your dashboard.)
I'm so, so, sorry.
The Selection is set in the futuristic dystopian land of America, now the monarchy of Illea which is ruled by the Good King Clarkson.
Obviously, this means its people are horribly oppressed. They have a caste system which determines your job and your prospects. Eights are homeless beggers. Ones are royalty. Our heroine is America Singer, a Five. Three castes from the bottom. Fives are artists and entertainers because, obviously, art and entertainment are useless commodities which are therefore done by a low caste.
But, yannow, this is teen fiction. For teens. Teens don't need logic or credible world building. They're not even going to notice that even though Fives are supposed to be a low caste they can still become rich and famous for their art like America's brother does. I'm not sure why America doesn't aspire to become a famous singer who can earn lots of money for her family, but it's probably something to do with having no positive female role models in her life.
Anyway. Illea is a nation under threat. Some years ago, due to some unpaid debts, the proud nation of America was invaded by China. China won.
The USA became the ASC, the American State of China. Russia invaded but happily, the Chinese were cross about it and attacked Russia too. Logic happened and America became the kingdom of Illea. There should be an accent over the e, but I'm somewhere between lazy and stupid so I'm not bothering.
These days, King Clarkson rules a land threatened by invasion on all sides and by at least two groups of rebels on the inside. He has a son of marriageable age. In Illea, the crown prince marries a commoner to show solidarity. 35 girls are chosen by lottery to go and be Prince Maxon's harem until he chooses one to be his missus. It's not sexism because Maxon doesn't have a choice either.
America doesn't want to be the bride of Prince Maxon. She wants to marry her Six boyfriend Aspen. He's great. He's 'thin, but not too thin'.
He insists that she apply to be one of the Selected because he couldn't live with himself if he denied her the opportunity to become Queen. She does. He then has a massive hissy fit because she earns her own money and buys him dinner. Then he breaks up with her.
So America applies and, amazingly, she's chosen. She doesn't want to be Queen or marry Prince Maxon, obviously. She's busy being broken-hearted because she wanted to marry Aspen and have his babies and be a cleaner like him, but - le sigh - her family will be paid while she's having fun at the palace so it's her duty to stay there as long as possible so they can have food and stuff.
She goes to the palace where the first step is to get a makeover and get featured on a TV show with the other contestants. It's just like The Hunger Games but without the armpit hair and the training to put pointy things in other peoples' heads. Anyway, America doesn't get much of a makeover because she wants to still look like herself. Luckily she's really beautiful. We know this because she gets told. Repeatedly. Then she says she isn't so people then insist she is. So, yeah, she's just looking like herself and everybody loves her because she held everybody up at the airport talking to plebs, oh and she's beautiful. The other girls in the selection are dressing to entice Maxon, but it doesn't work because America's dressing like she normally does and it turns out she's beautiful.
How you look is the only thing which matters. Don't worry about your personality, or your knowledge of politics, or your life skills, or any of that crap: how you look is the only way to net a man and it's the only desirable quality in a Queen. I'd always thought the ability to eat 'local delicacies' without vomiting into the lap of your neighbour was the kind of skill you need for that job, but what do I know.
Luckily, America is very beautiful. Wait, did I mention that? Never mind: it always bears repeating. America is very beautiful and Maxon fancies her immediately and asks if she thinks she could ever feel the same. America's known him for all of ten minutes so she knows that she couldn't, plus there's Aspen who's broken her heart 4eva, but, yannow, her family, so she offers to be Maxon's spy on the inside. She's going to feed him information about which of the other girls would be a great Queen for him.
After which point, this book becomes very disappointing. Initially, The Selection is definitely 'so bad it's good' territory. It's stupid, but wonderfully so. The only explanation for its publication is that everybody involved has nothing but contempt for anybody under the age of 14. The problem lies in the fact that nothing happens. You don't need to be a genius to realise America is going to fall for Maxon, nor that Aspen is going to make a reappearance and America will be torn between the two of them. Unfortunately that doesn't happen in this book. The Selection ends at the first stage of The Selection process, with the 35 girls whittled down to 6. America knows she's going to be one of them because she's extracted a promise from Maxon that she would be and this never feels realistically in doubt.
Cass tries to inject some drama into the book's second half with some rebel attacks so traumatic some of the girls faint, want to go home, then change their minds, but it's so very tedious. It gives America a chance to show what she's made of but unfortunately she's made of not fainting, closing shutters, and taking a neo-colonialist attitude towards her maids. You're not a hero when you treat people like property.
There are not many books which are as actively offensive as this one. I can understand why some might like it but I found it utterly repugnant. It's not just the content, it's the construction of it, a cynical exercise in exploiting what is seen as a hugely lucrative market. It's an ignorant and harmful perpetuation of negative female stereotypes. It's not even good enough to hate-read.
I know I'm not the audience for this book but frankly, I really hope anybody who thinks they are realises they're better than that.