Book Review – The Elite by Kiera Cass

the elite - book coverAfter 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.

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20 thoughts on “Book Review – The Elite by Kiera Cass

  1. bookloverfob says:

    What do you think of the king and queen’s characters?

    • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

      The king has been harder to get a read on because we saw so little of him in Book 1 – not that there was much of the queen there either but we did meet some of her family and she does interact with the girls more. I think I need more on the royal family going back generations to come up with firmer opinions but the king is pretty detestable and controlling while the queen does the best she can with what she has available to her. She clearly cares for the girls at the Elite stage of the series but her first priority is Maxon and the woman who will help him become the man he needs to be (a better man than his father, hopefully).

      • bookloverfob says:

        So who do you think Maxon should choose?

        • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

          I don’t know that – structurally and for the series – there is much choice for him. The series is from America’s perspective so I will be very surprised if she doesn’t triumph and if Maxon doesn’t choose her in the end (however, I’m always willing to be surprised).

          • bookloverfob says:

            Ok.America out of the game, I always thought that Celeste would be the best choice- sure, it wasn’t love, but she actually was an okay person, and she could sure rule a country. Her or Kriss, even though I detest her as she is to uptight and Maxon would not benefit from a girl as serious as her.

            • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

              I guess I have to wait until I finish the series to answer this one then. Right now, there is nothing I like about Celeste and I really don’t see that changing (and nothing that she’s done through books 1 and 2 make me think she’s anything but selfish and conniving). As for Kriss, I don’t find her uptight at all. She is cautious and reserved but also patient and kind – all things I think would make for a level-headed ruler – not the most exciting perhaps but she wouldn’t be cruel.

              What other YA series have you read/do you like? I’m looking forward to Winter from the Lunar Chronicles coming out in a few weeks and dreading the end of the Hunger Games films (it’s almost worse for me than when Harry Potter ended).

  2. bookloverfob says:

    Do you think that Marlee deserved what she got?

    • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

      Absolutely not. Disobeying an unjust law is not a bad thing and the agreements the Selection candidates must sing are completely unjust – she simply fell in love with someone who wasn’t Maxon. But in the context of the story, her punishment makes sense according to their laws.

      • bookloverfob says:

        So would you blame or thank Maxon, in America’s position?

        • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

          Neither. I’d probably discuss it with him and find him in agreement but not knowing what could be done about changing it (at least, not knowing yet). I think America is slowly realizing that even in that world things aren’t black or white; she is still figuring out how to work within the shades of gray to gradually lighten the situation to benefit as many people as possible. Going too drastically can cause as many problems as you hope to solve and while the passion that inspires is wonderful, situations need to be approached with greater care and foresight than she is wont to possess (at least, at that point in the book/series).

  3. bookloverfob says:

    I think that the worst thing after the caning was Aspen, who twisted America’s sadness to hatred for Maxon. Instead of supporting her, he told her that Maxon was a terrible person, basically.

  4. bookloverfob says:

    Great review!

    • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

      Thanks. I should be getting The One from the library in a few more weeks. I’m interested to see how things unfold now that the king is a more tangible foe for America to deal with.

      • bookloverfob says:

        The One is my personal favorite, as the trouble with the rebels becomes a larger issue and there is more romance. Are you on team Aspen or Maxon?

        • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

          Maxon. Aspen’s approach is to get her back is to bring her down and that’s never a good thing if you want a healthy relationship.

          • bookloverfob says:

            Me too. Aspen let his pride rule his relationship with America in The Selection, and fed her negative remarks about Maxon. I wonder if Maxon would have done the same thing in Aspen’s position?

      • bookloverfob says:

        Also, who is your favorite elite (apart from America)?

        • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

          Well, I liked Marlee – thought her interest in the guard was something America had picked up on in Book 1 but I guess that was wrong. Basically anyone but Celeste who reminds me of someone I loathed in middle/high school – plus we’re supposed to hate her.

          • bookloverfob says:

            Okay. Don’t wanna spoil it but Celeste is one of my favorites. May be something that happens in The One though. Her aside, Marlee still is my favorite. Do you think that America was right to be angry with Maxon after the caning?

            • Lauryn E. Nosek says:

              Upset? Yes. Directly angry at Maxon? Not so much but I’ve chalked it up to the weird fact that no one warned her what was going on ahead of time (I mean, why wouldn’t anyone give her a head’s up so she wasn’t blindsided? Have they not met her?). Also some aspects of her characterization in The Elite seemed inconsistent with how she was written in The Selection. Her obliviousness to her own feelings and Maxon’s interest in her were well established but she seemed more aware of the people around her and their attitudes than she did in this one. The material was there but the execution of things was a bit choppier. I think the series is stronger when the struggles/tension in the story is drive by outside/tangible circumstances than by America’s inner turmoil/confusion.

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