The Selection

By: Kiera Cass

Series: The Selection

Book Number: 1

Star Rating:

Sensuality Rating:



Spoiler Disclaimer


America Singer lives in Illea, a country born out of the ashes of North America following the fourth World War. In Illea, everyone lives under a caste system, which maps out what they can and can't do, starting from birth. America is a five, the caste designated for artists, so she has pursued a career as a musician. Even though things can be financially lean for her family at times, she's mostly content with her life, but her mother wishes more for her middle daughter. However, America fancies herself in love with a young man named Aspen who is from a lower caste. It's extremely rare for a young woman to marry beneath her caste, though, as it would mean her becoming part of that caste as well, but America is too infatuated to care about that.

Then comes the Selection, a competition in which thirty-five of Illea's most beautiful young women are brought to the palace, where they're decked out in glamorous gowns and jewels with the intention of vying for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon. While most girls her age would jump at the chance, America doesn't care about any of those things and isn't planning to even apply until Aspen pushes her away, insisting that she at least try, and her mother pressures her, too. She finally gives in, never expecting to be chosen, but when it happens, she's whisked away to the glitz and glitter of the palace. America is inclined to not like Prince Maxon from the start, but when he surprises her with his gentleness and kindness, she starts to question the life she's had mapped out for herself. Soon she's falling for the handsome prince, but between Aspen unexpectedly showing up at the palace and violent rebel attacks against the royal family, it proves difficult to explore these new and confusing feelings.


The Selection is the first book in Kiera Cass's YA dystopian series of the same title. Set sometime in the presumably far future, North America was basically destroyed during the fourth World War and later rebuilt as the country of Illea. It's a monarchy with fairly strict laws and the people live under a caste system of one through eight, which determines the jobs they can hold. Every time a prince of Illea comes of age and is ready to take a bride, thirty-five eligible young women from various castes around the country are chosen to come to the palace and essentially compete for his heart and the chance to become the princess.

America Singer is a five, the caste that encompasses all artists. She receives the invitation from the palace to compete in the Selection, but she's already secretly in love with Aspen, who is a six. However, it's very rare for a young woman to marry into a lower caste, which would then become hers, so this presents some obstacles to America and Aspen being together. Still America has no intention of accepting the invitation until Aspen pushes her to do so and then breaks up with her, feeling that she deserves better. Although she didn't expect to be chosen, America ends up among the thirty-five Selected and quickly finds herself whisked away to the palace where she's surrounded by opulence she's never dreamed of. She's prepared to dislike Prince Maxon before they've even met, but once she gets to know him a little, she starts to like him. He proves to be very kind, so America confesses her love for Aspen and finds Maxon is quite understanding. Since there doesn't appear to be any hope of a love match between them, she instead makes a deal that he keep her for a while so that her family will receive much-needed funds the longer she's there, and in return, she'll pass along inside information to Maxon on who she thinks will make a good princess for him. However, America didn't expect to start having feelings for Maxon herself, a development that is complicated when Aspen turns up again, begging for another chance. Then there are also the rebels who keep making incursions into the palace, putting everyone at risk.

America is a pretty average girl from the Fives caste, where she's found her niche as a singer and musician. She's from a good family, all artists of one sort or another, and most of the time, being from a middle caste, they get by financially, though not always. Whenever they have a little extra money, they hire people from lower castes to do housework and such, because they like to help out the less fortunate. This is how she met Aspen, who is a Six. They started meeting secretly in her tree house after everyone else was asleep, and America often saves some of her food from dinner to share with Aspen who usually has little or nothing. She's fallen in love with him, and even though it means she'll have to drop down a caste, she's determined to marry him. But then comes the opportunity for the Selection. America doesn't want to take part, but her mother, who has dreams of moving up castes, places pressure on her, and then Aspen insists, too. Reluctantly America puts in her application just to make them happy. Then everyone is surprised when she's actually chosen to be a Selected. From what she's seen of Prince Maxon on TV, she doesn't think she'll like him at all, but then he surprises her by showing a kind, caring side. She's still in love with Aspen, though, despite him breaking up with her, so she decides to be honest with Maxon about her feelings and makes her proposal to him. But the more time she spends with Maxon, the more she starts to have feelings for him, too, so that when Aspen resurfaces in a surprising place, it leaves her confused about where her heart lies. America is a nice girl, who obviously cares about people and not castes. She shows this not only in her love for Aspen, but in the way she treats her maids at the palace. I liked her as a heroine character, but I didn't exactly love her, mainly because despite the entire book being written from her first-person POV, there were times I couldn't help but feel like I still didn't know her very well.

America essentially has two heroes. The first we meet is Aspen. I can't recall if his father had died or had abandoned the family, but in any case, Aspen is pretty much the main breadwinner for them. He's a hard worker, who's simply had a difficult break in life because of the caste into which he was born. He's a proud person and hates that America is better off than he is, which makes him feel inadequate. It's because he thinks she deserves better that he pushes her to enter the Selection even though he says he loves her, which I think was meant to show him to be rather selfless. However, there's a lot of pride mixed in there too, and I would have liked to see him fight harder for her. Aspen seems like a good guy who cares about his family and others, and realizes he may have made a mistake in letting America go. Of course, America's other hero is Prince Maxon, who despite being royalty, can be pretty down-to-earth. When America first meets him, she's basically having a panic attack and ends up shouting at him in her anxiety, but he proves to be understanding. He's struggling with wanting to be a good leader, but feeling like many of his ideas are being dismissed by his father and their advisors. He treats all the Selected with kindness and respect, and listens when America shares stories from the "real world" outside the palace walls, which Maxon appears to have had little exposure to. Overall, he seems like a nice guy, although perhaps a little too bland and perfect. Unfortunately we only see both young men through America's eyes, which left me feeling like they were even more underdeveloped as characters than she is. I'm also not a huge fan of love triangles unless one of the two is clearly the wrong choice. In this case, both Aspen and Maxon come off as likable, which frustrated me a little, because I know that one of them is going to be left out in the cold at some point.

It's my understanding that Kiera Cass has made no secret of being a devout Christian, and while The Selection isn't an overtly Christian book, I could tell pretty early on, despite not confirming my suspicions until after reading it, that the author's faith very much informs her writing. That being the case, this is a pretty squeaky clean story with few elements that could possibly be objectionable to teen readers or their parents. I think I counted a mere half-dozen instances of the word damn, which is pretty much the mildest of all curse words. There are a few instances of sexual matters being discussed in extremely veiled, oblique terms, but there's no sex of any kind even off page. America shares kisses with both Aspen and Maxon, some tender and some more passionate, but they're written in a very straightforward way with no reference to any emotional or physical feelings that they might conjure. There's also no violence to speak of. The rebels make a couple of attacks on the palace and injuries are said to have occurred during the second one, but that's not something that America witnesses first-hand. Maxon also mentions to her that some of the more violent rebels have killed people, but again it's just hearsay, not actually seen on page. Given how mild the story elements are, I'd say without a doubt that it's completely appropriate for the teenage audience at which it's aimed and probably even fine for most middle-schoolers.

I think what attracted me to The Selection when I first heard about it is that it appeared to be The Bachelor in a dystopian setting. I love both The Bachelor and dystopian stories, so I figured what's not to like? However, I finished the book with mixed feelings. While there were things that I did like, there were a lot of aspects of the story that I felt were underdeveloped, the dystopian world being the most prominent. Most dystopian stories I've read are pretty hard-hitting, while this one lacks a sense of true injustice or urgency for the characters to dismantle the status quo. Most books in the genre have governmental systems that are oppressive and unjust, and while this one has some of that, it's mostly told rather than shown. Obviously they have the caste system keeping people in their prescribed roles, which is bad, but we don't really get to see it in practice, aside from hearing about America's and Aspen's families sometimes struggling financially. There's a death penalty for theft, and sex before marriage is outlawed with severe penalties for those who break it, but again, it's all told and never seen happening. We also have two different rebel groups attacking the palace, but even the royal family and their advisors have no idea why these rebels do it or what they want, which lacked credibility. Although the people in the palace are frightened when the attacks occur, none of the violence is seen on page. Likewise the Selection itself is totally voluntary, not compulsory, and the ladies are welcome to leave at any time for any reason. While I wouldn't want a woman forced into that kind of position, it does keep the stakes pretty low. All of these things sort of made the story feel more like a fairy tale fantasy with a somewhat distant threat rather than one with a sense of immediacy, which was pretty disappointing.

The other thing that I thought could have been better is the romance. As I mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of love triangles, so it put a bit of a damper on things, since I didn't even know who I should be rooting for. America and Aspen have known each other for two years and are already in love when the story opens, so we don't get to see them becoming acquainted and falling for each other. They share a couple of romantic moments in the tree house, but the second one ends with their breakup. Conversely we do get to see America and Maxon getting to know one another, but the development of feelings comes about rather quickly. America is only at the palace for a few weeks, and during that time, all we see of them alone together are a few "dates," most of which consist of walks in the garden and conversation. While they did share a few points of connection during that time, it never reached any real emotional highs or lows. My final critique point would be that there were a number of awkwardly worded sentences, which should have been smoothed out by the editor, and the writing itself was rather simplistic. Often the word choices were plain and unsophisticated, when more complex words would have really made the prose shine.

The bottom line is that I liked the characters in The Selection, at least for as well as I got to know them, and I appreciated their general kindness toward one another. I also liked that while she hasn't exactly chosen which guy she wants to be with, by the end of the book, America has made a decision that should affect how she moves forward in the competition and her relationships with the two men in her life. It also ends on an intriguing cliffhanger, where there's still much to be resolved. I guess I felt some mild curiosity as to what's actually going on with the rebels and whether there will be any deepening of the world building in future books. Because of these things, I had decided, upon turning the last page, that I'd like to continue with the series, which is why, despite it's many flaws, I gave the book three stars. However, after finishing it and writing this review, I became aware of a controversy surrounding the book that I somehow hadn't previously heard about, dating back to 2012 when it was first released, in which the author's agent said nasty, unprofessional things about a reader who gave it a bad review and then conspired to up-vote all the good reviews on GoodReads to game the system. I saw a screenshot of their exchange on Twitter, and the author, while admittedly not as mean-spirited as the agent, appeared to do nothing to stop said agent and instead went right along with the plan. There was also apparently another YA author in Ms. Cass's orbit who harassed and doxxed the reviewer, getting herself ejected from GoodReads. Even though Ms. Cass allegedly apologized to the reviewer, the whole business has left a bad taste in my mouth, so between this debacle and the book not wowing me, I don't believe I will be continuing the series after all.


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