I hate to admit it, but I brought this book home because the cover art is ridiculous. What kind of girls dress up as matching cupcakes, why is this girl flashing her armpit at me, and what the hell kind of cupcake clone party are these chicks attending?! I expected to have fun snarking on the story, but it's really good!
It's also worth mentioning that over on Goodreads, there was huge drama about this book. The debacle was so big that Publisher's Weekly covered it (Should Authors and Agents Weigh In on Citizen Reviews?). Many people have avoided The Selection entirely because of the drama. I didn't learn about that until after I finished The Selection, but here's my two cents: Anyone who doesn't read an entire book shouldn't be reviewing it. I never review titles that I don't finish. I believe that if I don't know how the entire story comes together, then I am not qualified to comment on its quality. But enough about that. Let's talk about The Selection!
The Selection is a perfectly paced guilty pleasure with a believable heroine, a rigidly caste-based post-apocalyptic society, a perfect prince, and a supporting cast of gossipy teenage girls competing to marry Prince Perfect in a bizarre televised marriage pageant. Yes, it's YA romance with a crazy premise. But it's well-written YA romance with excellent characters and enough tulle gowns, sparkling jewels, and catty divas to make it an indulgent pleasure. If bad YA romance is frosting from a can, then this is gourmet buttercream. Read on!
Here's the premise: When the United States defaulted on their Chinese loans, China invaded and conquered the U.S. They created the American State of China. During a subsequent war with Russia, the U.S. regained its independence. The newly free nation christened itself Illea and adopted a monarchy and strict numbered caste system. People are born into their castes, and the only way to move up is to marry a higher caste member or pay a huge sum of money. Ones and Twos live like royalty, but Fives, Sixes, Sevens, and Eights are often hungry and sometimes starving.
In this stringently stratified society, everything is tightly controlled, including sex. Premarital sex is a jailable offense, so people marry very young. And speaking of marriage, royal sons are married to Illean commoners in a process called the Selection. When a Selection is to take place, girls between the ages of 15 - 19 may submit an application to be considered. Thirty-five applicants are chosen to live in the palace and date the prince. Any girl who doesn't "click" with him is sent home. The last girl standing marries the prince and eventually becomes Queen of Illea. And then the credits from The Bachelor roll across the sky, except not really.
Meet our heroine: America Singer is sixteen years old and a Five. That means she's a member of the artist and performer caste. By day, America sings at private parties, reads every book she can find, dotes on her younger siblings, and worries about her family's financial situation. By night, she makes out with her secret boyfriend, Aspen, in a treehouse. She dreams of marrying him, despite the fact that he's a Six.
When The Selection is announced, Aspen gets all weird and insecure and asks her to apply. He says if she doesn't, he'll always worry that she could've had a better life than the life he can offer her. America doesn't think she'll be Selected, but of course, she is. Aspen abruptly dumps her, and she learns that her family will be richly compensated for every week she spends at the palace. So she begrudgingly goes off to meet Prince Maxon--mostly so she can avoid Aspen. She has no intention of liking Maxon, but she wants to stay at the palace as long as possible. It will allow her younger brother and sister to eat well for a while.
Meet our hero: Prince Maxon isn't movie star handsome like Aspen, but he's cute enough, and his awkwardness is adorable. He's sheltered, formal, and disarmingly compassionate, though he freezes up when he sees a woman cry--and it's hilarious! Maxon is terrified of the gaggle of preening girls that has taken over his family's home. So he and America strike a deal: She will be his friend and tell him what the girls vying for his affection are really like when he isn't there. In return, he will let her stay at the palace long enough to secure her family's financial future and mend her broken heart.
It gets complicated: America befriends her maids. The Selected girls are by turns sweet and deliciously horrible. More than half the girls are sent home. Meanwhile, America and Maxon strike up a solid friendship. Their realistic and endearing banter makes them one of the most likable pairs I've seen in a book in a long time. Instead of just writing He was cute and she kind of liked him (so many YA authors do this, and it's a totally unacceptable writer copout!), Cass shows the growing affection between America and Maxon with dialogue that's believable because it's so sweetly clumsy. Their interactions always make me smile. But. But. Just when America thinks she might be over Aspen and ready to like Maxon, Big Drama That Can't Be Resolved in One Book happens.
It's going to be a trilogy, y'all! The second book comes out in April, and I can't wait. When I finished The Selection, I missed the characters so much that I didn't want to start a new book. That hadn't happened to me since I read A Dance With Dragons. If you're looking for something indulgent, girly, and well-written but non-taxing to read at the end of the day, The Selection is an excellent choice.