The Selection takes place in the country of Illéa, the monarchy that rose from the remains of the war-ravaged United States of America. Now, its people live in a world divided by restrictive numbered castes, their lives dominated by the constraints of the level they were born into. Ruling over them all are the king, queen, and their only child– Prince Maxon, who has just come of age. Following tradition, Maxon will choose a bride from Illéa’s own common citizens in a competition known as the Selection, where thousands of young women will enter a drawing for the chance to compete for the prince’s heart– and the crown.
America Singer, born into a family of Fives– musicians and artists– never considered a life beyond caring for her family, practicing her music, and saving up enough money to marry the boy she loves, Aspen, who is a caste below her. She never wanted to enter the Selection in the first place, but against all odds, her name is drawn, propelling America into the competition of a lifetime that widens her narrow perspective of the world– and Maxon’s– far beyond what they ever dreamed.
This book may sound similar to the premise of The Bachelor, but it’s a lot more than a romance novel. There’s an interesting dystopian spin on the setting of the book, where it’s almost like the US has gone back in time rather than forward. Illéa seems perfectly modern at times (other than the whole caste system and monarchy ideas), but then the author will throw in a detail that brings into sharp relief the ways that the country has changed. This creates an interesting new society that’s similar to our own yet very different– for example, computers and cell phones still exist, but only the wealthiest of people are able to own them. This actually makes for a nice change, as it’s almost like society was catapulted back to technologically simpler times, which makes the premise of the plot move more smoothly in certain ways (and makes the book more interesting, as the characters can’t run to the Internet for the answer to every question they have).
America is a vivid protagonist, and the book is told from her first-person point of view. We view life in the palace and the country as a whole through her eyes, and she’s a lively voice to follow. America, like many protagonists, is fiercely loyal to those she loves, and she strives to remain true to her ideals even as her determination is tested by the emotional and legal politics present in the palace. While the book (and ensuing trilogy) does follow her path to finding love, it also deals with the secrets and turmoil that hide beneath the surface of Illéa and the ways in which America confronts the problems facing her country. It’s a nice change to read a book with a very romance-story premise that ties in heavier topics than just another love triangle, especially a story with such a strong-willed heroine.
This book has always been a pleasure to read, but the last time I picked it up for a re-read I found it difficult to put down. Something about the effortless flow of the plot and the way the characters are so easy to relate to and fall in love with just kept me turning pages without pause. I would highly recommend this book and the rest of the trilogy to anyone who’s looking for a unique and engrossing take on a dystopian romance.