Ok, so for our next book we’ll have a change of pace and enter this interesting new fad of Young Adult fiction set in a future dystopian society, usually built on the rubble of a destroyed United States of America. The story of how I found ‘The Selection’ is my favourite kind of book discovery; I picked it up off a shelf in Big W because I thought the picture on the front was pretty, read the blurb and thought it sounded vaguely interesting, and checked the price, which I think was about eight dollars. Simple as that! I’ve found a lot of dud books that way, but occasionally you find a gem.
I wouldn’t put ‘The Selection’ in either of those categories; it’s not brilliant, but it’s not awful either. It’s a fabulously easy read, the kind of fluffy book you want to read when you don’t really want to think. Quality-wise, I would stick this book somewhere between the Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games trilogy, and I imagine that if you like those books, you will probably like this one too. Interestingly enough, it is the first book in a proposed trilogy (the second due for release in April 2013) which is an important fact, because if I had realised that before I reached the end of the book, I would have been a lot less confused, but I’ll talk more about that later.
So what is it about? The best description I could give is that it is like the illegitimate love child of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the TV show The Bachelor. I know, right? But you’ll understand when you read it.
Our protagonist is America Singer, a rather independent redheaded teenager (we never find out her exact age but my guess would be 17 or 18), and the middle child of five living in Illea, the country that used to be North America (sound familiar?). America and her whole family are ‘fives’, which means they are artists, whether they want to be or not; that’s right, the citizens of Illea are organised into ‘castes’ which is basically their social status, wealth demographic and profession all rolled into one delightful number somewhere between one and eight (one being the highest, eight the lowest). Choosing your caste would not complicate the story enough, so you inherit your number from your parents; changes are possible, but usually have strings attached such as marriage, money, military drafting or in rare cases, sheer luck. Fortunately for America, she is a talented musician, which means she can work quite happily as a five; unfortunately for America she is in love with a ‘six’ which means trouble (dun dun dun!) because only a fool would marry down, right?
Now Illea is a monarchy (Chapter 17 provides a detailed history lesson), and they have a little tradition when it comes to marrying off their royals. Whilst the girls are betrothed to members of other nation’s monarchies to encourage alliances and good graces between countries, the boys must marry a ‘daughter of Illea’, to make sure there is a fellow countrywoman on the throne, or to boost morale or something along those lines. Of course, this is done through a process called ‘The Selection’, which allows all girls of eligible age to apply for consideration. One girl from each province is selected to be taken to the palace where she will learn to be a princess, whilst trying to get to know the prince in a televised thirty-five-way-date. America, who has no desire to marry the prince, is eventually talked in to applying and inevitably finds herself in the midst of The Selection. Cat-fights, potentially dangerous political uprisings and the obligatory love triangle ensue.
The other characters are varied in terms of their ability to make you feel connected; Prince Maxon is rather delightful and my inner 14 year-old was soon swooning, whilst Aspen, America’s secret love from home is less personable, although he loses a lot of page-time in the middle and I’m hoping this might be rectified in the following two books. The love triangle isn’t terribly thrilling, but once again it has the potential to be expanded in future books. America’s family are characterised relatively well, as are some of the other girls in the competition, although I feel like most of them needed something more to bring them to life and there is certainly more than one blatant cliché among the supporting cast.