After completing The Selection, the first novel in Kiera Cass’ Selection Series, I had a renewed hope for my dwindling interest in Young Adult dystopic fiction and eagerly put my name on the wait list for The Elite. Having just finished The Elite, those hopes have not exactly disappeared by they have been dampened. Many of the predictable elements I have been expecting in the first novel—and was thrilled to find absent—made their appearances in this second novel instead. I’m still interested enough to continue with the series but my expectations are probably more realistic than before.
At the end of The Selection, the growing danger in the kingdom forces Prince Maxon to skip a few steps in the elimination process and cut most of the remaining girls until only six are left—the six known as the Elite. America Singer is one of the Elite. Though she knows she has feelings for the prince, she isn’t quite sure whether what she feels is stronger than what she felt—and maybe still feels—for Apsen, the boy she’d thought she was going to marry until he dumped her on the eve of the Selection but who is now working as a guard at the palace and wants her back. With fewer girls left, America’s faith in Maxon is tested and she must grapple with what becoming a princess would mean as far as the pressure and expectations—she isn’t sure she can or wants that job that comes hand-in-hand with Maxon.
The second book in a series or trilogy like this is usually my favorite. After having the initial introduction to the surface circumstances of the dystopic world, the second book is usually where the deeper world building begins and with a series centered on the leading political family in the country, you’d think there would be plenty of opportunity. Well, the opportunities are there but the world building isn’t—at least not to the depths necessary to flesh out the larger world of the series. We get a few more hints of the other nations in this future world but there’s still little sense of how the geography has evolved as powers merged, rose, and fell. Similarly, we get glimpses of the Northern and Southern rebels but not enough to get a sense of the true threat they pose.
While I was okay with America’s first person narration in the first novel, in this second installment it became the epitome of why I can’t stand first person narration, especially in Young Adult novels. She wasn’t always the most astute or reliable narrator before but she wasn’t quite so oblivious or obtuse when it came to reading people as she was in The Elite. It’s not necessarily a hiccup in her characterization—she’s a teenager and now that she’s more emotionally invested in what’s going on around her with Maxon and Aspen she becomes even less reliable, even more oblivious, misunderstands and misinterprets with remarkable frequency—but I feel like that kind of characterization is overdone in the genre and it felt like a cop-out. Not every girl devolves into an incompetent and confused ball of hormones when faced with an emotional struggle like the one America faces and she’s been shown to be so much smarter than much of how she acts through this novel. The excerpts from Gregory Illéa’s journals are ridiculously heavy handed—I have a difficult time buying that America is really that naïve, especially considering how grounded she was in the first book.
I have hope that the next installment—The One, which I am already on the wait list for at my local library—will be a return to the approach I found so engaging in The Selection. With the final chapters of The Elite setting up a more tangible foe for America—even while there hasn’t been enough progress on the significance of the northern and southern rebels, which promise to play a crucial role in the near future—I have hope for The One, but having been so unexpectedly disappointed in The Elite, I’ll be heading into it with more reservations to balance out that hope.