Friday, April 26, 2013

THE SELECTION


Review of THE SELECTION by KIERA CASS
(review based on an advance reading copy)

I have a soft spot for characters like America Singer. Her voice charmed me from page one and made this entire book a fast, easy, enjoyable read. America speaks her mind, candidly, a trait I admire in people on and off the page and believe makes for less common plot and relationship dynamics. So much drama in stories comes from lack of communication - the secrets characters hide, the lies of omission, the unvoiced emotions or poorly phrased feelings - that I relish stories with frank, blunt characters, especially in a book like THE SELECTION with a premise particularly susceptible to tiring amounts of competitive deception.

So what is that premise? Numerous reviews describe it as "a cross between The Bachelor and THE HUNGER GAMES." People aren't plagiarizing that description from each other; the same comparison popped into my head word for word before I noticed it in so many other reviews, probably because it's so apt. In this future society, the royal family marries princesses off to foreign countries to cement alliances (not so unusual) and marries princes off to their choice out of 35 randomly selected girls from the public in a televised competition (okay, much more unusual). The royal family, distanced from the troubles of their people, believes this competition - called The Selection - helps the lower classes feel closer to both their leaders and a life of luxury most can barely even imagine. As some of you reading this might already be thinking, I feared this book might be too predictable. We already know the protagonist, America Singer, will be chosen for The Selection, even though that development takes a few chapters. I assumed before opening the cover that America would somehow distinguish herself from the 34 other girls and that the prince would pay her special attention. In other words, my greatest fear starting this book was that I already knew too much about how the story would play out for it to be enjoyable. I was happily mistaken. Yes, I correctly guessed much of the plot's core, but where Cass surprised me is with the prince Maxon and the relationship between him and America. While in some ways the idealistic Prince Charming, Maxon has far more depth than I anticipated and their relationship develops brilliantly. In summary: if a wee bit predictable, THE SELECTION's still a lot delightful.

Back to THE HUNGER GAMES, though, THE SELECTION deconstructs reality television in a similar fashion...without the violence. Or, it can be argued, that Cass explores a different branch of reality television closer to pageantry that overlaps many themes in THE HUNGER GAMES. I do want to clarify that THE SELECTION falls much closer to The Bachelor than THE HUNGER GAMES. While a dystopia, it's a subtle dystopia and we're so close to the character that we don't see much beyond her. Also, Cass sprinkles some intriguing politics into the story here and there, but then hardly touches those plot threads while the story mostly fixates on The Selection and romance elements. 

My only frustrations with this book both had to do with the end. First, the ending entirely fixates on romance at the expense of all else. While that's true for most of the book, it didn't bother me earlier, because the romance is so well handled. I can't be too specific for spoiler reasons, but the 99% romance 1% everything else thought pattern did bother me in the wrap up. Second, turns out THE SELECTION is the first book in a series! While I have nothing against series (I quite enjoy them), I like to know whether I'm reading a series or a standalone before starting the book and I find myself perhaps disproportionately annoyed when this information appears to be deliberately withheld for marketing reasons. For a series, the end of THE SELECTIONS is actually quite satisfying (though be warned that The Selection - the competition - doesn't finish in book one), but when I expect a novel will conclude, it's jarring when it simply cuts off instead. Also, on this topic, I really think this story could have been one book. Again, I have nothing against series, but I firmly believe stories should be as short or long as necessary to tell the tale in the right manner. Some are cut down and others dragged out from their ideal length, usually for publishing reasons, and in this case, while I liked the book, lengthening it into a series feels like stretching a good thing too taunt. I loved THE SELECTION, but I'm not convinced there's enough meat in this story to fill more books. I already have an advance copy of the next one, though, so fingers crossed! 

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