Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

I've wanted to read this book since the first time I heard about it. That said, I knew that there was a fifty fifty chance on this book for me. This would either be something I totally loved or totally hated. Why? Because the premise both compelled and repulsed me at the same time.

Claimed to be The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, The Selection actually drew me in because of it's reality TV attitude. I was there for the tension and intrigue among the contestants, as well as the developing romance between America and Maxom vs. America and Aspen. As someone who went and auditioned for Canadian Idol, I've had a bit of experience with the whole competitive aspect of reality TV and when romance was mixed with that I couldn't look away.

So, are you curious what I thought of The Selection? Did it live up to my expectations? Leave me deliriously giddy or completely ticked off? Read on and find out.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Okay, first let me cover my one tremendous beef with The Selection. (Or rather, its marketing...)

If you are looking for another dose of The Hunger Games, I'll tell you what you need to know right now: please look somewhere else. I don't know who came up with the idea for the whole 'peanut butter and chocolate' marketing plan this book went through. I just know it was a really, really bad idea. There are a lot of things that I really loved about The Selection. There are a lot of things I think it did really well. But any aspects that could be paralleled to The Hunger Games are, without question, the weakest elements in this book.

The rebel threat is interesting, the caste system adds a unique layer that will hopefully be explored more vividly in future books and the fact that history is being kept from being recorded is a very scary thought. But these things were not the forefront of the story, and it's not fair to have people coming to this thinking they are.

My biggest issue among these three topics is by far the rebel situation. It was done in a way that is completely passive -- as was pretty much every violent or threatening situation covered in the book. I did not dislike our leading lady America for this passivity. I didn't come to The Selection expecting to find a warrior princess. But when the worst thing that directly threatened her was another contestant ripping the sleeve off one of her dresses, comparisons to The Hunger Games are not a smart move.

Okay, now that I've got that out of the way, let's talk about what was great. And there was a LOT of great...

What The Selection lacked in dystopian danger and physical jeopardy to the main character, it made up for in a somewhat twisted fairy tale type charm, filled with internal conflicts, fascinating characters and an intriguing premise that (rebels aside) succeeded admirably. The love triangle, although I picked a team easy here, is set up in a way that I'm sure will up the danger quota down the road. The relationships between America and the other girls competing for Maxom's hand, as well as those between America and her maids, were extremely well developed, considering the size of the cast. 

Despite the fireballs I threw at the book a minute ago, allow me to grant it the praise it deserves. Of all the books I have read in the last (roughly) year or so I've been blogging, none has allowed me to recapture and experience the loss of first love and the hopeful thrill of discovering new love in the last place one would expect it the way that The Selection has managed to do. 

The Characters: 

The reason I felt this incredible connection has to be The Selection's totally awesome heroine, America. Is her name totally cheesy? Yes. That was one of the things that had me a little hesitant. But who really gets to pick their own name? Cheesy name or not, America seemed like the kind of girl I could easily be friends with. And because of her honest and real narrative, this book really made me feel. I went through everything America went through with her. The friendships, the homesickness, the confusion, the love, all of it. 

This was what I'd call an "active" reading experience. I've talked about being frustrated when a book doesn't make me leave my chair -- when my imagination does not kick in to let me forget that I am turning pages. This was the opposite. Not only did I pretty much forget about the book in my hands, but I felt it along with America. I laughed. I cried. I blushed. I cringed. I had moments when I had to stop reading because I was terrified or mortified about what could or would happen next. This is the absolutely most awesome sense of connection I can have with a book. This is the holy grail for me as a reader. I'm very glad I found it here. 

If I could use a quote to try and clearly explain why America won my respect by the end of the book, I'd draw your attention to this:

"So, you're choosing him over me?" he asked miseribly.

"No. I'm not choosing you or him. I'm choosing me." 

(The Selection, pg. 325)

The two love interests, Aspen and Maxom, were both interesting, too. Neither of them was actually what I expected which lead me to wind up feeling differently then I thought I would feel by the end of the book. I liked that. It's always fun, to me, when an author does things that go beyond my expectations.

We meet Aspen first, and honestly, I just thought he was alright. He has this very "I'm the Man" attitude going on that really irritated me. I get it: he's poor, his family needs stuff and he has a strong need to prove himself. But really ... he just wasn't my type. And I really, really hate what he did near the end of the novel. I'll save talking about that for a book chat or something, since I don't want to spoil it. I guess my other big issue with Aspen is that we really don't get to see the relationship between him and America grow. We enter it en media res and personally, I just wasn't impressed.

Maxom, on the other hand? Oh my God I loved him. Sign me up, sign me up! Here's the thing, guys: I was totally ready to hate his guts, just like America was. But he was absolutely nothing I figured he would be. He's in the same class as only one other book boy I've read about who left this kind of impression on me: Linden from Wither. This is a really, really hard thing for an author to pull off, in my opinion. A lot of times when a reader decides they're gonna hate somebody, it sticks. But Maxom had this very sweet and innocent quality that is very unusual for a YA love interest, a vulnerability and honesty that actually made me stop going, "Oh, God. I feel so sorry for America, having to go and meet this twit who has girls brought to him that he can pick between." and instead think, "Gee, this guy is actually pretty neat. I'd love to see America and Maxom get together. I'm still kinda eh on the Selection itself, but at least the prince is worth fighting for," That is huge.

The other really great characters here were some of the girls that America is competing against for Maxom's hand. There were a lot of characters here, and of course there was no way Kiera could really flesh them all out in vivid detail. But I really loved Marlee and I look forward to finding out what her deal actually is in the next book. Something has been set up around her, I have *no* idea what that is, and it's killing me. Celeste, who could be considered the book's "villain" was decently done, although I wish we'd seen a few more layers about her. I suppose that would be hard to pull off in first person POV though.

The Romance: 

The first thing I want to touch on, and I have a little already, is the parallel between Aspen and America vs. Mxom and America. I understand that Aspen and America needed to already be together to make the plot work, but it really put his character at a disadvantage and (to some extent) made him feel like a plot device to me. Whereas with Maxom, we actually get to know him as America does and so (at least for me) I felt my attachment to him growing as hers did.

There is also the parallel of the things Aspen does to get America to go into the competition, in comparison to how Maxom behaves at every turn where she pretty much tells him she does not want to be there. Does this work in Maxom's favor? Is it likely what helped make his character into more then I assumed it would be? Yes. But it also poses a problem: As far as The Selection is concerned, the love triangle is weak. The fact that I had such an easy time picking which guy I want the heroine to be with, that it felt almost painfully obvious to me, is an issue. I am curious to see whether Kiera will address that down the road, or whether she meant for it to be that way.

One of the things I really liked about the book is that it didn't just make all 35 of the girls competing for Maxom turn into simpering piles of goo the moment they got to the palace. I'm sure there are some who are naturally growing to care about him, as with America. But at the same time, there are those who are discovering they don't feel anything for him and still others who are plain out to win a crown. Maxom's situation is not as simple as it might seem. Consider the idea that for him there really aren't "plenty of fish in the sea". When coupled with the fact that he seems genuinely concerned about picking someone who will want to be with him, the idea of the Selection becomes a little more easy to swallow.

The last thing I want to say is that I loved the growth we see between America and Maxom in this book. We see her go from having perceptions about him, to becoming his friend, to beginning to have feelings for him. It's truly beautiful, still isn't "flawless" by the end and actually feels like it has a certain sense of naturalness behind it. It's rare to find well paced romance in YA when you step outside of the confines of contemporary, so this was a very welcome change.

In General:

The Selection was everything I hoped it would be, nothing I really feared it would be (personally) and many things I never expected it to be. I cannot possibly sing the praises of this book loudly enough, or express how bad I want the next book "NOW!" without fearing my enthusiasm will be seen as pure impatience. I do realize it takes time to write a good book, and based on her debut, I think I am safe in saying Kiera Cass is destined for great things. The Selection was an absolute joy to read from start to finish.

Is it as fluffy and frilly as the dresses on the front cover? Absolutely. But I wouldn't have it any other way. This is the kind of book that can make a person fall in love with love again. There are books, and they are different for every person, that are truly treasures for our hearts, minds and spirits. Sometimes its because they have a message we need to hear. At others, a place we long to go. Or perhaps its when an author has told a story we might have thought of ourselves. I'll leave you to consider which and whether these apply to me about The Selection. What I will tell you is that it's possibly my favorite thing I have read all year.

If you like pretty dresses, romance and memorable characters, The Selection is not to be missed!

So, have you read The Selection? What did you think? Are you team Aspen, team Maxom or are you staying neutral? If you haven't read The Selection, do you want to? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment! :)


14 comments:

  1. I've had my eye on this one for a while. You bring up an interesting point with 'The Hunger Games' marketing comparison, but I think since it's arguably the most famous dystopian novel for YA right now, there's going to be no escaping being compared to it. (Kind of like PNR to 'Twilight'.) I sighed with relief though when I read the rest of your review and found you enjoyed it. Can't wait to read it.

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    1. I totally agree there's no getting around it. Dystopians are "the thing" right now, and The Hunger Games is definitely at the center of that. I just think its a shame for the author, and an inconvenience to readers, when stuff like this happens. It really doesn't help anyone when something like that is misplaced.

      As for the book itself, though? Yes! I'm SO glad I did not get this for my Kindle, because then I would need a physical copy. (Between the pretty factor and the I loved it factor I wouldn't have been able to resist.)

      Anyway, if / when you get around to this one let me know what you think. There are a lot of things at work within The Selection and I think its fascinating how varied peoples' views on it have been.

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  2. I've had reservations about this one because of all the negative reviews. It does seem to remind me a bit of Wither already and I couldn't finish that one. Thanks for the great review. I will def reconsider this one now.

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  3. This has to be one of the best books I have read in a long time. Kiera has a way of writing that just lets you believe this happened. Usually I can predict what will happen in books but I am constantly guessing with this one. Worth every penny!
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