Reading the Selection (as an adult)
I’ve had this idea for a while where I would re-read some books from my childhood (see: teenage years). This was inspired by my re-read of the Hunger Games.
I re-read (and for some, read for the first time) the entire Selection series by Kiera Cass. That includes five novels and some five novellas. This took all in all about a week to complete, and I mostly consumed this as audiobooks. If I had to physically read them I’m pretty sure I would have thrown them out a window. Each audiobook for the novels was about 7-8 hours long, nothing too daunting.
So, let’s get into this. Fair warning that this entire post hence for will be littered with spoilers, and if you want to laugh: here’s my live-tweeting about the books.
The Selection can best be described as Project Runway meets The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. Yes, you heard that correctly. In the Selection, we follow America Singer as she is coerced into participating in “The Selection”: a dating competition to win the heart of the prince and the country all on live television.
I’m going to tell you all right now, no, America does not ever attempt to dismantle the Selection for being a stupid and sexist idea. That’s not the point of the book, so don’t get your hopes up.
The kingdom of Illéa is a monarchal society divided into castes. These castes are numbered one through eight: one being the royal family, and eight being the poor. It is possible to climb castes through marriage and so on, it’s still extremely difficult. And so, with the Selection, girls can sign up to compete for the prince’s heart in order to obtain a better caste for themselves and a better life for their families.
America is actually in love with a 6, despite being a 5, named Aspen. Aspen breaks up with her and tells her to join the selection. Because America is a free-thinking, independent teenager: she obviously signs up.
She quickly becomes a favorite of Prince Maxon, and after about two weeks of the Selection process, she considers that perhaps she does love him, and not Aspen who she had been dating all of her teen years. Time sure does fly when you’re in a dystopian YA, I always say.
“No, I’m not choosing him or you. I’m choosing me.”
(this was a lie)
This summary can essentially be the wrap up for all of the three first books. The important things to note are:
- The people are rebelling against the caste system because of course.
- Aspen becomes a guard at the castle for some extra Spicy Drama.
- America makes friends with named Marlee, who is found sleeping with a guard and is then publicly caned (no big deal).
- Maxon’s dad, the king, is an abusive asshole who rigged the entire Selection process, and, America wasn’t even supposed to make it to the final three but she did (because of course).
You keeping up?
“It wasn’t like I made his world better. It was like I was his world. It wasn’t some explosion; it wasn’t fireworks. It was a fire, burning slowly from the inside out.”
In the last book of the original trilogy, The One, America’s father passed away. During some drama with the family, it turns out her father was apart of the rebellion. You would think this would be a main point, however, it’s overshadowed when Maxon finds out about Aspen and America’s previous relationships. Obviously, you can’t have previous boyfriends before courting the prince. Duh.
And then, the king is murdered. And America and Maxon get married and become the new ruling family. Oh and then they dismantle the caste system.
The original trilogy (The Selection, The Elite, The One) was the series I read as a teenager. I remember being obsessed with love interests and really wanting to know what happened to America. Now, as an adult, I find all the characters relatively bland and written in the most two-dimensional manner. The final book felt like the author had no idea how to wrap the series up, so she just killed the king and they all lived happily ever after. I would easily make the assumption that I feel this way because I’m an adult reading YA- but I read YA primarily and can easily tell you: these books are badly written.
“America, you are full of nothing but bad ideas. Great intentions but awful ideas.”
The political undertones are so overlooked in favor of the romance, that it makes me wonder why they were there to begin with. Was it because it came during the Hunger Games dystopian wake? Was it because there needed to be a sense of danger to save America from? Realistically, we could have focused only on the king being abusive and manipulative instead of this entire subplot about a rebellion that was, at best, half believable. Too many characters without any purpose are introduced in this series, and it’s hard to keep up.
The partnering novellas: The Queen, The Prince, and the Guard, The Epilogue, and the Favorite were just like watching filler episodes from your favorite tv show. And when you despise both the love interests for being overall self centered assholes, reading from their perspective is not a fun time.
After The One, many years have passed and America has had four children: twins Eadlyn and Ahren, and Kaden and Osten. Eadlyn was the firstborn, and in true short-sighted America fashion, the law has been changed that women can now become the heir (wow! feminism!). This makes Eadlyn the one up for the crown.
However, there’s unrest in the kingdom despite no caste system. People are still being judged by their previous castes, and no one cares about the poor. In order to alleviate the dislike of the monarchy, Maxon and America decide that, despite promising to never do this, they’ll have Eadlyn have her own selection process.
I don’t have much to say about these last two books. They were bad and Eadlyn was not a likable character. The way she treats people below her is unbelievable based on who America was, and her deep need to seem in control was frustrating. The way the final book was wrapped up felt incredibly rushed, just like in The One. She didn’t pick any of the competitors in the Selection, and instead picked a translator. Despite the country hating Eadlyn, once that decision was made, everyone suddenly supported her. Don’t worry about the caste system and the unrest- because the author didn’t either. It all seemed swept under the rug and wrapped up neatly.
“You can be brave and still be feminine. You can lead and still love flowers. Most importantly, you can be queen and still be a bride.”
(it’s called feminism.)
If you can’t tell, I couldn’t stand these books. The way the characters all interacted with one another felt unrealistic, and the way the “rebellion” in both books was sorted felt like tidy plot points to make it easier to write a happy ending.
Re-reading some of my childhood favorites has made me really question the taste of young me. It also really showed how much these books shaped the way I expected my romantic relationships to go. Maxon and Aspen are both toxic to America, and Eadlyn has no romantic inclination towards anyone till the last 75% of the book. Is true love supposed to be boys holding your mistakes over your heads? Or is it supposed to be something you’re forced into, only to fall for the one person who wasn’t even on the table for an option?
The average rating for all of these books was 2.5/5 stars and I will never be reading them again.