The Selection by Kiera Cass has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in “The Selection” series.
America Singer is a 17-year-old girl living in the futuristic kingdom of Illéa where the society is divided into eight castes. One, the highest caste, contains royalty, while Eight is made up of the poorest people. America and her family are Fives, the artist caste. While it is possible to climb castes, it is difficult. Women can marry into a caste higher than their own, but men cannot climb castes. Instead, a wife must join her husband’s caste. It is atypical for women to marry down. America receives a notice inviting her to register for the Selection, a televised marriage competition for the prince of Illéa, Maxon Schreave.
The Selection is how wives are chosen for Illéan princes. America’s mother is ecstatic about the possibility, but America has no interest in entering the competition because she has a secret boyfriend, Aspen, a Six, a member of the servant caste below hers. America meets Aspen in her backyard tree house, their secret meeting place, and surprises him with leftovers she has saved for his dinner. The two kiss passionately but stop short of becoming physically intimate.
Pregnancy out of wedlock is punishable by imprisonment, and the children from such unions are cast into the street to become Eights. Aspen convinces America to enter the Selection, telling her that if she does not try because she’s in love with him, he couldn’t forgive himself for robbing her of the opportunity of a better life. America finally agrees, knowing that Aspen has to worry about his own mother and siblings. She does not want to be one more person he worries about.
America’s mother lets America keep half of her earnings as a musician if she enters the contest. America is excited to keep the extra money, as that means she can save up for a wedding and life with Aspen. America goes with her mother to the local government office where she turns in her application and gets her picture taken.
While registering for the Selection, America sees Aspen’s mother, who tells them that she thinks Aspen is secretly in love with someone and saving up to propose to her. America is ecstatic, and that night, she prepares a nice meal for Aspen in their tree house. Instead of being happy, he is embarrassed. He tells America that he should provide for her, not the other way around, and he breaks up with her.
A few days later and to her surprise, America is selected as one of the 35 participants in the Selection. Her participation includes a small, weekly stipend for her family, and America knows the money will go a long way in keeping her mother, father, younger sister and brother fed.
When America leaves to go to the palace, the town throws her a send off party. She sees Aspen with another girl. She is angry and sad that she has been replaced so quickly.
America travels across the country to the palace and easily makes friends with another contestant, Marlee Tames, and enemies with Celeste Newsome. Celeste is a Two, who is obnoxious and believes she is most fit to be queen of Illea. While America does not want to win the competition, she wins the favor of the palace staff by being kind and thoughtful and the hearts of the country with her unique personality.
America feels overwhelmed but finds comfort in the palace gardens. After a chance meeting with Prince Maxon in the gardens on the first night of the competition, she realizes the gardens are Maxon’s refuge as well. America is very rude to Maxon during their first meeting but apologizes to him the next day and strikes a bargain with the prince: She will be his friend and help him choose his wife if he keeps her in the competition so her family can get money and she can be far away from Aspen.
They meet regularly in the gardens, and while America tells Maxon that she is not interested in marriage, the two strike up a friendship. Eventually, America even confides in Maxon about Aspen breaking her heart.
America is treated poorly by most of the other girls in the competition. At first their treatment makes her feel sad, but after Marlee tells her it is just a form of intimidation, America gains confidence. Soon she earns the ire of the other girls because Maxon takes a special interest in her. Maxon quickly dismisses eight of the girls he feels no connection with, and the competition is soon narrowed to 27 girls.
There are groups of rebels that oppose Illéa’s government, and they attack the palace. While under attack, America gives Maxon advice on how to calm the other girls who become hysterical. While America handles the attack with grace and composure, some of the other girls do not handle the stress of the situation well. Slowly, America begins falling in love with Maxon, and she starts to feel jealous of Maxon spending time with the other Selected.
To America’s surprise, she sees Aspen in the palace as a new member of the guard. Since America left home to join the Selection, Aspen was drafted into the army where he tested very well. He is now assigned to the palace.
Aspen’s appearance confuses America’s feelings, especially after she has an argument with Maxon over Celeste’s poor treatment of other Selected. This leads to America questioning her ongoing participation in the Selection. She is angry with Maxon, so when Aspen sneaks into her room to see her, she begins to think that she may still be in love with him.
Aspen apologizes to America and tells her that he never stopped loving her, despite breaking up with her. He was never with another girl. He was only helping a friend, and America misunderstood what she saw. America forgives Aspen and the two kiss. Having a romantic relationship with someone other than the prince during the competition is considered treason, which is punishable by death. America uses her anger at Maxon to fuel her disregard for the rules, despite the possible consequences.
After another attack from the rebels that leads to some of the Selected choosing to leave the competition, Maxon narrows down the girls to the top six, calling them The Elite. When America ends up among the six picked to stay, she is surprised at how relieved she feels and realizes that she does have feelings for Maxon and could see herself happy with him.
Maxon comes to America’s room and tells her that he is under immense pressure from his advisers to choose a wife based on social and political alliances that can be formed with the girl’s family. America asks why he chose to keep her, and Maxon tells her that he has deep feelings for her. If he knew that she returned his feelings, he would end the Selection immediately and declare her the winner. He asks her if there is a chance she will return his feelings. She tells him it’s possible, and they kiss.
When Aspen sneaks into her room later that night, America tells him that she cannot continue their romantic liaisons. Instead of getting discouraged, Aspen tells America that he will fight to win back her love. America realizes that she is not staying in the Selection for Maxon or Aspen, but for herself. She is at peace knowing she is right where she is supposed to be, among the Elite.
Everyone watches the weekly report from Capitol. Even the Eights, who are often homeless, find a church to watch it. The reader is told that King Clarkson blesses the food before the royal family eats the first meal with the Selected. During the rebel attacks, America sees girls praying. In his address to the nation, Maxon tells the Twos and Threes that they have been blessed, so they should bless others by providing food to the local food banks.
America has a tense relationship with her mother and believes she never performs well enough for her mother. She has a positive relationship with her father, who makes America feel safe, loved and special. America wishes her mother treated her the same way. Aspen’s father is dead, and Aspen works hard to help his mother support his younger brother and sisters. He goes hungry to make sure they have enough to eat. Aspen’s mother is nice and treats everyone, including America, very well.
While Maxon has an overall positive relationship with his parents, he tells America that of late, his father watches him stumble through political decisions, and when Maxon does things in a way King Clarkson wouldn’t, the king corrects his mistakes. Maxon makes an announcement about his new food program to feed the poor, and while King Clarkson looks unimpressed, Queen Amberly is very proud. After Maxon narrows the Selection down to the six Elite, he tells America that he is under intense pressure from his advisers to choose a wife who is a good social or political match.
Language used includes d–n, jerk and h—.
Maxon tells America that there are two sets of rebels: the ones from the north who break into the palace and rummage through rooms, seemingly searching for something, and the ones from the south who steal, destroy and kill. Rebels attack the palace during America’s first week there. They throw objects at the palace, and America assumes it’s rebels from the north. While America is with Maxon, an adviser tells him that rebels attacked a town, burned it and killed several people. After southern rebels attack the palace, the king is told than there are several injuries to the guards and palace staff.
Celeste provokes one of the contestants and gets slapped in the face as a result. The girl is thrown out of the completion, which is exactly what Celeste wanted to happen. In a jealous fit, Celeste rips the sleeve of America’s gown.
America tells her mother that even if she were chosen for the Selection, there would be 34 other girls at the palace who would be much better at seduction than she could ever pretend to be. Before registering for the Selection, America secretly meets Aspen and the two passionately kiss but stop before becoming physically intimate.
Illéan law forbids premarital sex as a way to keep diseases at bay and keep the castes intact. The penalty for being discovered is jail time, and babies born out of these unions are thrown into the streets to become Eights. America thinks the reason everyone marries young is because waiting is torture. While America hated that the law restricted her from having sex with Aspen, after they break up, she is glad that it forced her to save herself.
After America is chosen for the Selection, she is asked to sign a document confirming that she is a virgin. The palace official then tells America that she must do anything the prince asks of her, and it is implied that requests may include sexual favors. America is embarrassed and upset about the directive.
During the competition, when she thinks that Maxon is making physical advances toward her, America panics and knees him in the groin. She later apologizes to him, explaining to him what the expectations for sex were. Maxon is horrified and asks America to tell the other girls that he is a gentleman and would never ask them for sexual favors.
Maxon unexpectedly kisses America, his first kiss. America is surprised at first, but decides that she does like Maxon and kisses him again. Later, she is upset to find out that he has kissed other Selected.
America is told that her maid, Lucy, a Six, was sold to the palace after she and her former employer’s son, a Three, fell in love. America is also told that during one of the earlier attacks, a rebel grabbed Lucy and licked her face. He dragged her away to rape her but he was shot and killed by a palace guard. The incident left Lucy with post-traumatic stress.
As a palace guard, Aspen sneaks into America’s room at night, gets into her bed and the pair kiss passionately. He visits her during the day and sits on her bed, and the two kiss.
After the second attack, Maxon comes to America’s room. They talk, and the two kiss. America decides to continue with the Selection, and when Aspen comes back to her room during the night, she tells him that they can’t continue with their liaison. Aspen is determined to win America back.
Alcohol: Some of the Selected, including America, drink wine. Queen Amberly’s sister gets drunk at a party.
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