*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