Review: The Selection

(I am finally getting back to reviewing dystopians I read last year before I started this blog…)

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The Selection is the first of a trilogy that I would classify as young adult “light” dystopia. In it America Singer lives in Illéa (America in the future after Chinese takeover and such), a country where the only hope for a young girl to escape a low caste is a prosperous marriage. While America loves a boy a caste below her, she still enters The Selection, a chance to become the wife of Prince Maxon. It proves to be a competition reminiscent of today’s reality show The Bachelor, but also made me think of the back story we never got of the Biblical story of Esther.  America must confront her past feelings for Aspen, her growing feelings for Maxon, and choose the life she wants to live.

graphic-thoughtsThis book gets a lot of hate, and I will admit, it has its issues. However, while reading, I found myself very caught up in the story. I have even read a decent portion of the book a second time, which is unusual considering the short time period I I’ve owned it.

The plot itself is interesting. I cannot get into most reality shows, especially ones like The Bachelor, but for some reason I still felt drawn to the premise of the story. Perhaps it seemed different because it was the tradition of the country, and also because of the royal element (I mean, who among us was not mesmerized by the royal wedding two years ago?).

I also loved Maxon. I thought he was sweet and such a gentleman, the way a prince should be. (However, after having read Cinder, I do believe I like Kai more, largely because he was more down-to-earth and less oblivious to the world around him.)  I also liked America’s maids that tended to her; I think they may have had more personality than anyone else in the book. Though I am somewhat intrigued by the king and queen, especially the queen, and hope to learn more about them.

I enjoyed America and Maxon’s growing friendship/relationship and especially enjoyed their time together, but I felt it was slightly underdeveloped. At one point America refers to something from a conversation or conversations with Maxon that makes it seem like they have had a conversation or conversations that I completely missed. There was nothing to indicate unrecorded conversations between them, yet this reference felt like there was a missing link.

I don’t love Aspen, the boy from home America calls her first love. He’s OK, but together… he and America are that annoying couple that you never want to be around. I also don’t really love America either. Again, she’s just OK, she has her good qualities and her less favorable qualities, but honestly I found myself caring more about Maxon that her.

The “dystopia” nature of this book feels a bit light to me. There is a caste system in place that doesn’t really make much sense to me (there is a whole caste dedicated to artists, for instance, and they’re one of the lower castes), a history of the country that also sounds somewhat unlikely (but I cannot deny that if you explained someone from 200 years ago what the world would be like now it would be very hard for them to believe), and the threat of the rebels in the book take a backseat to the romance. I suppose I would not mind this latter point so much had the world building had been better developed in general.

I am hoping to see some better story development and character growth in the next two books. I am holding out on reading The Elite for as long as I can because I hear it’s frustrating, and I don’t want too large of a gap between it and the final book, The One. I’m also going to be frustrated if America chooses Aspen, not just because of me, but because I think about 95% of The Selection fans prefer Maxon to Aspen. There doesn’t seem to be much of a competition here.

One last pet peeve is that some of the names bother me. We have the usual future dystopia names mixed in with names like Amy, which just felt off to me. Also, America’s last name is Singer, and she’s a musician. Her first name is America, because she’s a fighter. There’s a girl whose last name is Farmer and she’s… you guessed it. Overall, the choices for the names felt a little shallow, but I do like Marlee and Maxon’s names.

I think The Selection had its flaws, but it was an entertaining read that kept me interested throughout. That’s why I’ve rated it 4 stars out of 5; I really liked it.

4starsContent Advisory

Language: None to mild – Unfortunately I cannot remember if there was any language in The Selection since I read it last year, but it was either sparse and mild or non-existent.

Sexual: Mild – All that happens is passionate kissing, but America desires more with Aspen, explaining to the readers that sex before marriage is forbidden by law. It is also suggested that the girls must do whatever Maxon wants, and America is convinced he is going to be try something sleazy, but he does not.

Violence: Very mild. There is mention of raids on the castle, but the description of the violence is mostly just a description of fear and chaos, and not bloodshed.

If you’ve read The Selection, what were your thoughts on it? 

My Top 10 Elements in Dystopia

In my not-forgotten-but-slightly-neglected quest to figure out what works for dystopias for me and what doesn’t, I thought an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday freebie would be the top ten elements I like to see in dystopia stories I have read. This can be the nature of the characters, the plot, the society structure, etc., and it can be from specific stories or in general. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Sameness of the society

Though I think several dystopias have adapted this idea, but I like the way it is illustrated in The Giver the best. Not only does everyone follow the same progression through life up until they are selected for their job and start to train for those, but they do not exhibit much independent thought because of this environment. The ability has not been taken away or suppressed by drugs, but they have been encouraged through positive reinforcement all their lives to live a certain way, to not question it, and to not want any more. When Jonas learns of the past and colors and things no one else in his town knows about, it challenges his thoughts on the status quo. It’s easy for everyone to be the same, but is it really a life worth living?

2. Separation within the society

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I think The Hunger Games in particular does an excellent job in showcasing a clear divide between the two main groups of people within the society: The elaborate Capitol and the struggling Districts. Not only do they force the Districts to give up children each year for the annual Hunger Games, which serve as a source of entertainment and gambling for the Capitols, but they subject the winners to their ways for the rest for their lives, so even the winners don’t really win. Some, like Finnick Odair, are even forced into prostitution because of their good looks and charming nature. Whatever the Capitol wants, the Capitol gets, and subjects the Districts to.

The Selection also shows a divide with a caste system and monarchy set in place, though I do not find Cass’ world building quite as detailed or effective as Collins’, but it does have a lot of potential.

3. The “stand-out” among the society

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I think there are several dytopias who have their main character a stand-out. Tris (and others) are Divergents in their society, and cannot be categorized by one faction of their society, which some see as a threat. In The Giver, Jonas stands out because he is the Receiver, he has the ability to receive past memories and see things differently than the rest of his society. In Across the Universe, those who think differently from the norm, like Elder and Harley are considered crazy, when really they are just creative and the others have had their creativity suppressed. It’s an obvious element not just for dystopia, but for any story, but it is an effective one. I believe most all of us have a desire to stand out somewhat, even if it scares us.

4. The “good guys” aren’t as good as they seem

For all the things that drove me crazy about Reached, the conclusion of the Matched trilogy, the strongest element of the story, I thought, was how it was clear that the Resistance, the “good guys” in the story, aren’t as good as they had been romanticized by Cassia and Xander to be. They are willing to sacrifice people and create chaos in the name of their cause; they turn to panic rather than logic or strategy to overthrow the government. Cassia’s world grew more gray in Reached, which I think was a necessity for that series.

It’s also interesting to see in Divergent and Insurgent how among these five factions, one cannot really be labeled “the good guys.” Yes, there are the honest ones, the peaceful ones, the humble ones… But just the same, the factions are not particularly good or particularly bad. It is the individual who is good or bad.

5. A secret rules the society/main character

In either movies or books, I am always fascinated by the notion that everything the main character has believed about their life has been a lie or at least a facade veiling secrets. It happens in Across the Universe, Insurgent, The Giver, Ender’s Game, Cinder, The Maze Runner series, and of course in other stories as well.  It’s funny when you’re on the outside looking in, not understanding why the main character can’t accept that their reality is not actual reality when it seems so obvious to you. Or sometimes, it takes the reader by surprise too. But either way, if I think about it, it would be hard for me to accept too. It’s a “what if” question that certainly makes for a fascinating string of possibilities.

6. Humans as test subjects

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The Maze Runner series was not my favorite, but one thing I did find fascinating was what these teens were being put through. First they are forced to live in an environment with a seemingly unsolvable maze (as well as potentially dangerous), and then when they finally escape it, they only face more trials that they forced to go through in the name of science and discovery. Unfortunately, I found the end of the series to be unsatisfying for an explanation as to why all these weird techniques were supposed to help, as well as an unsatisfactory resolution to the characters and their journeys, but the overall concept of using humans as test subjects is certainly fascinating.

7. Revolution

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This is also a common theme in dystopia, but I think the way it was built up and ultimately played out in The Hunger Games trilogy is especially fascinating. Katniss plays the rules of the game to a point, but she slowly, and not completely purposefully, starts the destruction of the system from the inside out. She also has a lot of help along the way because even a teenage girl as strong as Katniss can’t take down a whole government herself.

8. Genetic mutation/manipulation

Unfortunately I have not seen too much yet of this yet in the dystopias I have read, and in the ones I have found it in, they have been used in somewhat underwhelming and disappointing ways, but as I have mentioned before, genetic engineering fascinates me. I want to see more!

9. Strong and diverse characters

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This, in a nutshell, is what really makes The Hunger Games stand out from other dystopias in my mind. I have never, in any other dystopia series I have read, fallen so in love with so many characters as I have in The Hunger Games. They are so well-rounded, each with such unique personalities, that they just feel so real. Sometimes I think authors get so caught up in their epic story line that they forget to give special treatment for the characters. But plot alone cannot carry a story; we need more epic characters! (Though I will say that The Lunar Chronicles are producing some pretty great characters as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop more and meeting new ones in the last two books!)

10. Post-War

Any story that starts off in the ruins of a previous society marred by war, or even years after war but with lingering aftermath, (Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender’s Game, The Selection, Cinder, etc.) piques my interest. What caused the war often determines how the society is rebuilt afterwards. There is often this notion that society will be better this way than it was before, but many times, as we see, that is not necessarily true.

Books mentioned in this post:

dystopiasWhat about you? What elements interest you in dystopias?