I think I mentioned in my review of Cress that I’ve been wary of YA series lately given my disappointment over Allegiant. The Lunar Chronicles have been enjoyable with Cress going a long way to getting me excited for Winter’s publication later this fall, but in the mean time, I’ve been trying to figure out which YA series to try next. I’ve heard so many good things about Kiera Cass’ Selection Series but given the premise, I was hesitant and put off starting the first book for a while (I’m not a fan of reality television in general and the Bachelor/Bachelorette series are probably at the bottom of the list of programs I can even stomach). I was actually shocked that I enjoyed The Selection as much as I did and am looking forward to reading The Elite when my number comes up at the library.
America Singer is a five in the caste system of Illéa – in a system with eight castes, things could be worse. She’s in love with her childhood friend, Aspen, and they must keep their relationship quiet because he’s only a six. When the nation’s Prince Maxon comes of age and the Selection is announced, America is surprised by the fact that Aspen wants her to put her name in as much as her mother wants her to. Though she has no desire to trade her home and family for a chance at becoming a princess, America obliges, only to be selected to represent her province in the Selection – much to her mother’s satisfaction and her own personal misery. But the palace and Maxon aren’t what she was expecting and America begins to wonder just what her future could hold.
The whole love triangle aspect of YA fiction has grown to be an accepted and expected aspect of the genre – and I hate it. The fact that fans wind up spending so much time choosing sides or “teams” undermines just about everything else going on in the books of this genre – particularly in the case of dystopic YA fiction. It took me a while to get into the book because there was so much about America’s relationships with Aspen and Maxon – and it promises to get worse as far as that’s concerned in the next book. But about halfway through the novel the world building began to come through and the larger plots of the series began to show themselves and those have me intrigued.
Of course, given the premise of this series a love triangle is more than just expected and logical – I’m not sure it would work at all if there wasn’t a love triangle of some sort. Beyond my loathing for the Bachelor/Bachelorette series, I was hesitant to read a story where the premise centered on girls competing against each other for a guy for purely feminist reasons. The protagonist was (obviously) going to be coming at the competition from a different perspective and with different goals in mind so that side of things was predictable but surprisingly upbeat and actually addressed the twisted aspects of such a “competition.” There’s a heavy-handed effort to make it clear that despite being positioned between two men, America is sensitive to others’ feelings while ultimately trying to make the best decision for herself – which at this point she isn’t sure about and that, in and of itself, is kind of refreshing, that despite romance being the whole point of why she’s at the palace, she’s taking her time to make up her mind and not rushing anything.
Overall, I think part of why I enjoyed The Selection is that it’s upbeat, which is rare for something that falls into the dystopic sub-genre of YA fiction. The heavier themes and aspects of Illéa and its politics hover in the shadows (and I can’t wait to get to those aspects of the larger story) but for a Book 1, The Selection relies on the characters and hopefulness where so many dystopic YA series rely on sudden, shocking violence for the climax of each book to hook the readers. I have a feeling The Elite may begin taking more steps in that direction but it was nice to see something different in a genre that I had been considering giving up for good.
(On a side note, reading this book had me frequently wondering what it would be like for someone to write a YA directed book with some competition like this or the Hunger Games where the main character and narrative voice of the novel did want to be there. Yeah, teens generally feel like the outsider and like they don’t fit in and all that but there are so many reluctant heroes/heroines in this genre, I can’t help wondering if there are any books out there where the hero/heroine is eager to tackle something like this because watching someone full of confidence and sure of what their role is stumble and question things as they realize it isn’t quite like what they trained for or expected is definitely something I’d be interested in reading. What about Cato or Clove’s perspective in Hunger Games? What about the girls in Selection who were eager and hoping to be picked? Maybe I’ll have to tackle that kind of protagonist myself sometime…)