The Selection is a trilogy written by Kiera Cass. And, as with so many popular book series at the moment, she also wrote a few accompanying short stories (one about Prince Maxon and one about Aspen). The books are described by the author herself as “The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games” and I guess that is pretty accurate.
Kiera Cass introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world. It’s not really clear where the story actually plays out, but I think it’s mostly the North American continent (maybe spanning into South America and Canada as well). I can say for certain it takes place in the future. Apparently a big Fourth World War broke out between America and “New Asia” (some kind of union of several Asian countries) but America united and fought back. They won the war and formed a new country Iléa, led by a politician turned king. But the new country was poor, depleted and destroyed by war, so in order to cope they decided to impose a caste system.
The castes range from eight up to one. Number one is the highest caste (Iléa royalty), two are celebrities (models, athletes, politicians, …) and the army and the royal guard, threes represent the scientific and educational community (teachers, scientists, doctors, engineers, …). Number fours are businessmen, property and business owners and farmers and fives are artists and performers, sculptors, painters, … Caste number six are the workers (maids, secretaries, seamstresses, cooks and drivers) and sevens are the manual laborers (gardeners, farm hands, …). The lowest caste, number eight, are basically the homeless and beggars. The caste system is enforced heavily and wrongdoings are punished immediately: ranging from physical punishments to demotion to a lower caste. Outside of the castes, there are two groups of people: the Northern and Southern rebels.
When the king has a daughter, she is married off to neighbouring countries to create or fortify alliances. However, when he gets a son, that son has to marry “a girl of the people”. Around his eighteenth birthday, the country hosts a “Selection”. That is what is happening in the first book of the trilogy: The Selection. Every girl in the country can sign up and 35 girls are chosen to go to the palace and meet Prince Maxon. Our main character, America Singer, is one of those selected girls. Come on: that name, seriously? She is named after the country they are living in and she is a singer, which is her last name. Originality was nowhere in sight the day Kiera Cass came up with this name. Anyway, she is chosen but doesn’t really want to be there. She is a five and in love with Aspen, a boy from her village. However, he’s a six and that complicates their relationship. It was Aspen who encouraged her to take part in the Selection but even before she is chosen, they have a huge fight and break up. So it is a heartbroken America that meets Prince Maxon. She tells him she does not want his love or the crown, and that she has known love and lost it. Of course, for some reason, that attracts him greatly: clichés about playing hard to get affirmed! Anyway, he falls for her almost immediately and she agrees to be his friend and “inside man” to help him choose the perfect girl.
The two spend a lot of time together: America starts to get over her ex and develop feelings for Maxon. They are all very conflicted and emotionally troubled, as adolescents can be. However, as America and Maxon are growing closer together, Aspen shows up. He was drafted and joined the army. He flourished in the military and was assigned to the Royal Gard. America tells Maxon that they are from the same town, prompting him to assign Aspen as her personal guard. America is once more conflicted and very troubled. It gets worse when the rebels start attacking the palace and unrest rises. This causes Maxon to accelerate the Selection and cut the girls down to six: the Elite.
That is the start of the second book: The Elite. With only six girls left in the Selection, the competition is starting to heat up. The girls are faced with different challenges and America manages to screw up a fair amount of them, making her the least favourite of all the girls in the public’s opinion. However, Maxon and America are still growing closer together. Just when she decides to go for her relationship with Maxon and really commit to becoming a princess the people can be proud of, something happens. Another girl from the Elite (who happens to be America’s best friend of course) breaks a basic rule and needs to be punished. Maxon is forced to enforce the punishment and order her and her boyfriend whipped and banished to live as eights. America cannot understand how he could be so cruel and is conflicted once again. While she is still dealing with that, the palace is attacked by rebels and later she stumbles upon Maxon passionately kissing one of the other girls. Then the palace is attacked once again, which finds Maxon and America hiding alone. They admit their feelings for each other but Maxon also admits that he has been flirting with one of the other girls (America saw them kissing) and has developed real feelings for another one. After the attack, America is convinced that she is going to be sent home and she accepts that her future lies with Aspen. However, Maxon tells her she is not being sent home but that she needs to take care and that he doesn’t trust her anymore. She was lashing out at Maxon by taking risks and messing up her assignments. He trusted her with information that she used against him and now he cannot trust her anymore. However, there are still some feelings left but he wants her to fight for him. While messing up the assignments, she also set his father against him who is intent on keeping everything the way it is. The book ends with a showdown between America and Maxon’s father, the king.
The One is the third and final installment in Cass’s trilogy. On the one hand, the political situation is explained more clearly: it turns out the Northern rebels do not want to end Iléa, they just want to right its wrongs, while the Southern rebels want to annihilate the royal family and impose their own rules (which are just as wrong and more violent and horrific). The Northern Rebels find a way to speak to Prince Maxon and America alone and propose an alliance: they will support Prince Maxon if he ends the caste system and they want America on the throne with him. Meanwhile the Southern Rebels are becoming more and more dangerous and violent: they have started killing people by caste to try to make the royal family turn themselves in to them. America uses her connections to the Italian royalty (which she made during a previous challenge for the Selection) and unites them with the Rebels.
On the other hand, the book focuses on America and Maxon’s relationship. Maxon is punishing America by flaunting his relationship and closeness with Kriss, another girl of the Selection, but still has feelings for America. America herself has chosen Maxon but doesn’t know how to break the news to Aspen. So basically, they both love each other but are hiding it from the other one, with America thinking to herself (on several occasions!) that she will not say it first and Maxon not trusting her enough to tell her first because she might break his heart. The problem is that Maxon has never been sure of how America feels about him, while he has always loved her. And America has struggled with her feelings for a long time and now when she is sure, she is afraid to tell him. So we get a whole lot of tiptoeing around each other and teenage angst.
As for the Selection, the assignments and challenges are still going on. America has decided that she does care about the kingdom and that maybe she could be a good princess. Therefore she starts to (finally!!) take the assignments seriously and when she won’t convict a criminal to a life sentence but instead buys his freedom, she manages to win over most of the public and become the favourite once again.
Nearing the end of the book, Maxon realises that America is trying very hard and when it is time for him to reveal who he has chosen: he goes for America. The night before the announcement he goes up to her room to tell her he loves her and that he wants to marry her. So finally the two admit their feelings for each other and spend the night together (and we’re supposed to believe they did not have sex…). Anyway, tragedy strikes again the next morning when America is telling Aspen about her choice and Maxon finds them together. He is heartbroken when he finds out that Aspen is America’s first love and the boy who broke her heart. He realises they have been spending time together all along and that when they were arguing, she was finding comfort with Aspen. He turns away, not giving America a chance to explain.
When the time for the announcement of the engagement is upon them, America has steeled herself for Maxon wanting to marry Kriss instead. However, before they get that far, the Southern Rebels attack the castle. When America is almost shot, the prince leaps in front of her and saves her life. He is hurt badly and, thinking he’s going to die, apologizes to America for almost not choosing her. He tells her he has loved her all along and will love her forever. Then he orders Aspen to take her away, save her and leave him there. Aspen locks America up in a safe place, and returns to the fight.
After the fight, America is released. The Northern Rebels were able to fight off the Southern Rebels with weapons that were supplied to them by the Italian royals. America is heartbroken thinking Maxon is dead and she runs to find her friends. She finds Aspen at the infirmary, who tells her that prince Maxon has survived but that his parents didn’t, making Maxon the king of Iléa. He also tells her that he still cares for her but is not in love with her anymore, that he actually loves someone else. Now America is completely free and she runs to find Maxon. Maxon is recovering from the gunshot wound in bed when she walks in. He tells her about his plan to gradually abolish the castes and then officially asks her to marry him. In the epilogue, America is getting ready for her wedding to Maxon. She walks down to aisle to marry her prince and afterwards they are to be crowned king and queen. THE END.
Now, from reading this review, you might get the idea that I did not like this trilogy. Well, you’d be half right. I did like the books: it was an original premise and the story played out rather well. However, I was frustrated most of the time with America and Maxon dancing around their feelings and acting childish (not wanting to admit they were in love before the other did). It was obvious to everyone that they were in love but they were too immature and insecure to do something about it. Also, I did not like the ending very much. Cass killed the king and queen so the conflict between the king and America was not resolved but just stopped. Also, the political unrest with the rebels wasn’t resolved either. Basically there was one battle where the Northern rebels helped out Iléa and they beat the Southern rebels. But, as the saying goes: one battle does not win the war. So you know, apparently we’re supposed to believe that all the rebels were killed and everything is right in the world again. Kiera Cass tries hard to give America and Maxon their happily ever after. I felt like she ran out of pages and wanted to quickly finish the story, so she kills one source of conflict (the king), does not talk about another (the Southern rebels) and just puts America and Maxon together. Also, the Aspen-America story is not tied up in a neat little bow: all of a sudden, Aspen is in love with someone else and realised that he isn’t in love with America anymore but will always care for her. Really? We understand how America evolves from loving Aspen to loving both of them to realising Maxon is the one for her. But until the night that America and Maxon spend together, Aspen is still in love with her. But then, one battle later, he found his true love? Yeah right!
So, in conclusion: a lot of frustrating and frankly unbelievable story twists, but I think Cass created a nice and neat world and handled it all pretty well. If you don’t mind having to get through a lot of pages to get to the story, I would recommend it. If you want to get down to it immediately, then this trilogy will be a great source of frustration for you. I do think it’s mostly worth it though.
What did you think? Did you feel frustrated by America and Maxon’s relationship? Or maybe you were firmly on team Aspen? Let me know in the comments!