Friday October 5, 2012
Chance to be queen
Review by TAN SHIOW CHIN
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen, 327 pages
WITH a tagline like “35 Girls, 1 Crown, The Competition Of A Lifetime”, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from The Selection.
Set about 300 years in the future, the book follows the story of one America Singer, a 17-year-old who has been shortlisted from thousands of eligible young women in the country of Illea to become one of 35 potential crown princesses.
In this young adult novel, Illea is formed from the former remnants of the United States and Canada after the end of World War IV, which appears to have been won by China.
A monarchy has been established, along with a strict caste system based on your ancestors’ ability to help the government during the country’s founding.
So, we have eight castes, with the royal family and clergy considered the Ones, all the way down to the Eights, who are the homeless, the sickly, the addicts and the runaways.
As expected in this sort of social system, movement up and down the hierarchy is difficult and strictly regimented, with your caste determining the type of life you can expect to live.
America and her family are Fives – the caste for musicians, artists, theatre actors, dancers and circus performers, who rely on commissions to make a living. As is made devastatingly obvious by her name, she herself is an instrumentalist and singer.
While being chosen by Prince Maxon Shreave to become his bride would mean a tremendous increase in both status and income for herself and her family, America is reluctant to sign up for the lottery despite her mother’s insistence, as she is already in love with Aspen Leger, a Six.
However, with Aspen persuading her to take the chance at a better life, along with a promise by her mother to let her keep more of her own earnings, America agrees to send in the participation form. After all, what are her chances of being randomly selected from among the thousands of applicants from across the country?
Of course, she ends up being one of the 35 selected girls, in what turns out to be less of a lottery than is advertised.
Her shock is further compounded by Aspen, who suddenly dumps her in a seeming fit of pique, over him being unable to provide for her.
Heartbroken, she goes to the palace in Angeles to get away from it all.
There, she discovers that her initial dislike of the prince is unfounded when her first accidental meeting with him shows off his kind side.
She admits to him her real reason for being there, and proposes that they be friends, with her helping to advise him about the other girls.
As time goes on, the girls are also exposed to the rebel attacks that occur regularly against the palace.
Divided into two groups, the rebels’ motives are not really clear, although there seems to be some distinction in resources and motivations between those from the North and the South.
The story is told solely from America’s perspective, which makes it rather limited.
I would have much preferred it if author Keira Cass had alternated the viewpoints between America and Prince Maxon, whose character was developed in a promising manner. After all, it is the prince who makes most of the decisions about which girl stays or goes – a major feature of the book.
Looking from America’s perspective, we don’t really get an idea of how and why the prince decides who to send home.
I was also more intrigued by the dystopian aspects of the story, such as the rebels and how Illea was formed, but sadly, the story doesn’t go deeply into those aspects at all. Hopefully, Cass will explore these areas in the upcoming sequel, The Elite (referring to the final five finalists), scheduled to be out next year.
Those who end up liking the book might be interested to know that the CW television network in the US are re-shooting the pilot to see if they will pick it up as a TV series; the first pilot was not deemed strong enough to be chosen.
At the moment, Aimee Teegarden has been cast as America, with Ethan Peck and William Moseley as Prince Maxon and Aspen respectively.
Overall, The Selection is a very light, fluffy and romantic read, the type you need to be in the right mood for, with a few interesting aspects that were unfortunately not developed properly. As per the marketing, it is a bit like a novelisation of the reality TV series The Bachelor, told from the perspective of one of the girls.