Category: Book Reviews

Book Review – The Selection, The Elite, and The One

*This review is written to include as few spoilers as possible, so if you haven’t read these books yet, you still can read on without ruining them.

The Selection Series is a series of young adult fiction novels. The series has four books now and a fifth and final book coming out next year. The first three books are called The Selection, The Elite, and The One, respectively, and were originally written as a trilogy. The fourth book, The Heir, was released last month and I recently wrote a review for it. I decided to review the first three books together, since there is no time gap between them and the story flows continuously from book one to book three.

This series is about a sort of dystopian future, in which the main character named America Singer, lives. Her country is called Illéa— it was formed after the Fourth World War and includes all of North America. The social system is organized into eight numbered castes, with “eights” being destitute and “ones” being the monarchy. A person’s caste, which is inherited at birth, determines what he or she is able to do as a profession—for example, Twos can be athletes, celebrities, armed services, and so on, while Sevens are manual laborers, and Fours hold intermediate jobs such as businessmen, farmers, and factory workers. A person’s caste, and therefore their job opportunities, sets a limit on the quality of life they are able to have. People can buy their way up to a higher caste, though that’s not usually possible financially. They can also marry into a different caste, with the woman always taking her husband’s caste. The lower castes, especially sixes and below, often struggle to survive and live in varying degrees of poverty.

Laws in Illéa are strict, and include harsh penalties for crimes such as stealing, breaking curfew, and premarital sex. The monarchy reigns with complete sovereignty, and treason against the throne is a crime punished by death. However, the monarchy is not hated in Illéa— many citizens view King Clarkson, Queen Amberly, and Prince Maxon with adoration.

The monarchy holds a special event when the time comes for the next heir to the throne to find a mate—the Selection. It is a competition of 35 girls from all over the country, within an appropriate age range, who are “randomly” selected after willingly entering their names into the drawing pool. Basically, it’s like The Bachelor, but with a prince and 35 potential princesses. The Selected are paid for their time, trained in the art of being a princess, and weeded out by the prince on an undefined timeline until he eventually chooses one to marry. All girls chosen for the Selection are automatically upgraded to the caste of Three, and the top ten, which are called the Elite, obtain an even higher status in society. Obviously the girl who is chosen in the end becomes a One, as a member of the royal family.

The main character, America, is from a family of Fives, which are artists and performers— as her last name suggests, she is a musician (but not a famous pop-star, which would be a two). She is within the accepted age range when the Selection for Prince Maxon is announced, but does not wish to enter because of her secret two-year romance with a boy in her town, a Six named Aspen. However, both her mother and her boyfriend pressure her to enter, because though the odds of her being chosen are slim, it would be a huge opportunity for her to improve her life financially. She enters, and against all odds, is chosen.

Throughout the first three books, we follow America’s journey through the Selection process. The books are driven by her struggles in four main areas: her feelings for Aspen, her feelings for Maxon, Maxon’s feelings for her, and her feelings about potentially becoming the Queen.

Like many popular books in this genre, there is a love triangle, which I personally find annoying. I feel that many books written for young adults in recent years glorify love triangles and make it seem exciting to have two guys fighting over one girl. Teenaged girls in particular are encouraged to believe that having multiple boys pining over them is something to aspire to, which can set them up for overly dramatic romantic relationships that aren’t healthy. It also sets a double standard for women and men in romance; women who lead on multiple men and break hearts are seen as heroines, or at the very least victims of their own irresistibility, whereas men who are romantically involved with more than one woman are seen as pigs. The whole theme is a reflection of our society’s unrealistic view of romance, love, and relationships. It over-emphasizes the thrilling feeling of falling in love and acting on impulses, and ignores the reality that true lasting romantic love involves commitment, compromise, and choosing to love another person even when it’s not easy.

Though I dislike the love triangle aspect of these books, it is a more interesting setup than some others I’ve seen, because there are multiple factors at play. America’s conflicting feelings for Aspen and Maxon are just two of the issues—she also feels uncertain about how Maxon feels about her. Since he is essentially dating several other young women at the same time, she has to come to terms with his varying levels of feeling for them as well, and what that means for her relationship with him. This makes it even more difficult for her to choose between him and Aspen. Her uncertainty about whether she wants the huge responsibility of one day ruling the country beside Maxon is another variable. It all combines to make a strangely compelling story-line. I found myself wanting to keep reading to see how it would all turn out!

There are other themes in the book as well, relating to social inequality, justice, and mercy. America is a compassionate young lady who believes in right and wrong, yet also has seen the many difficulties that people in the lower castes face. In the real world, criminality frequently stems from poverty, and finding a balance between justice and mercy can be a challenge. This book explores this topic through the fictional world.

I enjoyed these books, enough to re-read them and enjoy them a second time.

 

And now, my book review checklist:

 

Plot: Compelling, has exciting developments, but is not the main driving force of the books.

Characters: Well-developed; the struggles between them drive the story.

Audience: Predominantly female, as it revolves around princesses and romance. Also predominantly teen to young adult, because the main character is in her teens and is written to be relatable to that age group.

Length: Each book is about 130 pages, a fairly quick read.

Compulsion to read: High, though some might not find it as interesting as I did.

Ending: Each book ends in a way that leads quickly and smoothly into the next one, and the third one ends in a satisfying way.

Quality of writing: Good; I didn’t “notice” the writing, which I generally feel is a good thing.

My rating: 8/10 stars

Book Review – The Heir by Kiera Cass

I’ve been wanting to add a Book Review section to my blog for a while now, and the time has finally come! I’m an avid reader of fiction, especially young adult fiction, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on the books I read. I decided to just start with the book I just finished, and go from there. I often re-read books that I’ve enjoyed, so I plan to write reviews for them as I do so from now on.

The Heir is a brand new book by Kiera Cass, released on May 5, 2015. It’s actually the fourth book in what was originally written as a trilogy, The Selection Series. I’ve read the other three books, of course, and since it’s been a while, I plan to re-read them next. The books in the series are called The Selection, The Elite, The One, and The Heir, in that order. There will be a fifth and final book coming out next year, but it doesn’t have a title yet.

The series as a whole is about a future country called Illéa in which a monarchy reigns, and the main character in The Heir is the princess and future queen, Eadlyn. She is the first female heir to the throne. In the past, the princes of Illéa would hold a competition called the Selection as a way to find their mate, who would become queen and rule beside them one day. The process involved selecting 35 random girls of the proper age from around the country, and bringing them to the palace for a months-long competition for the prince’s and the country’s affection. In The Heir, the princess is asked by her parents to hold a selection of her own, as a way to win public approval in a time of political discontent. She reluctantly participates, and invites 35 young men to the palace to try to prove their worthiness.

I’ve enjoyed the entire series so far, but this book is interesting because it switches main characters from the original three books. The first three books are about a girl named America Singer, who is a contestant in the Selection for Prince Maxon, whereas this book is about the next heir to the throne, King Maxon’s and the Queen’s daughter. I found America to be a compelling character, flawed of course, but overall a kind and compassionate and a worthwhile person to root for. In The Heir, the main character is Princess Eadlyn, and from the start her character is a bit hard to like. She’s a princess through and through, and has been badly spoiled by her upbringing. She’s selfish, inconsiderate to others, and ungrateful for what she has. She complains about silly things, tends to be dramatic, and seems blind to the fact that the world is not actually revolving around her. Okay, so this description probably could fit many teenagers, but still—most protagonists, teenaged or not, have more redeeming qualities than Eadlyn seems to have. But interestingly enough, this is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book, because I believe that her character is going to evolve and improve drastically by the end of the series. In the course of this book, she already starts to show more concern for others and realize her flaws. Watching that change happen in such a believable way is one reason this book is very interesting to me.

One of the overarching themes in the book is the struggle of vulnerability in love. Is loving others worth the potential pain you would face if you lost them? Does love make us weaker or stronger? This question has a personal place in my heart, because I struggled with this fear early in my marriage when thinking about having children. It’s been said that having children is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside of your body—and it’s so true. Having a child can bring unimaginable joy and love to your life, but it also makes you incredibly vulnerable. If anything were to happen to that child, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by others or just some random tragedy, it would completely and utterly destroy you. Yikes! That’s a scary thought. In my case, I can only overcome this fear through my faith in God, and my complete trust in Him to protect my precious child.

Love can make us vulnerable in other ways too—when we love others, we give part of ourselves away to them, and they have the power to hurt us. Loving others also means that our lives are not completely our own. We are accountable to the ones we love. I know that for some people, this struggle can keep them from letting love into many areas of their lives, whether it’s romantic love, loving friendship, familial love, or even the love of God. This book addresses this struggle in a way that’s entertaining, fun to read, and yet still meaningful.

One of the most memorable quotes for me in the book is this: “I kept thinking that I couldn’t live my life for other people, that love was nothing but chains. And maybe it was, but so help me, I needed these chains… These things didn’t make me weaker; they held my soul to the earth.” Beautiful, am I right?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I am eager to read the next one.

In closing, here is a book-review checklist that I’ve made up to cover the basics.

Plot: Fairly compelling, but some events can feel forced or unnecessarily dramatic at times.

Characters: Definitely the driving force to the book, they are well-developed.

Compulsion to read: Fairly high, and no parts were “slow” or hard for me to get through.

Ending: Cliff-hanger, adding allure to the next book.

Quality of writing: Good, felt smooth and well-written, though not as mature or sophisticated as other books.

My rating: 8/10 stars