Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

There are only eight days left to enter my HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY and win thirteen free YA books! Go enter. You won't be sorry.


Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass
I’ve decided to stop rating by stars. Books are so subjective that I feel like an ass trying to put a quantifiable numerical rating on them. So:
Rating: I had a lot of problems with this book, and yet I want to read the next one. Go figure.

 
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself--and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined

Let me start by saying both the premise and the cover are gorgeous. A dystopian twist on The Princess and the Pea? I’m all about it. Unfortunately, the only things this book really has going for it are the premise and the cover.

I know it’s unfair of me, but I kept comparing this dystopian to the Hunger Games. Actually, it’s NOT unfair, considering the blurb for the book describes it as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games, so it’s the book’s fault, I guess. The first portion shows how life in Illea, a country strictly divided by caste, is for our protagonist, America Singer (that name makes me CRINGE, btw). The caste part of this book is very interesting. Or at least, it could have been. In Illea, Ones are royalty and Eights are basically the dregs of the earth and everybody else falls on the spectrum between them. America and her family are Fives, meaning they are in the caste of artists and performers. The boy America loves, Aspen (oh God that name), is a Six. This is No Good. Marrying down is a bad thing. The castes don’t mix on pain of death.

Or at least, not really. The biggest problem I had with this book is how low the emotional stakes are. I didn’t feel like bad things were going to happen. America talks a lot about all the hardships she and her family face, but they really don’t seem that hard. She says they’re hungry sometimes, but every time we see the Singers they are eating. Yes, it’s very sad that her little brother is forced to be an artist instead of a soccer player, like he wants. Katniss is over in the corner rolling her eyes at you, thinking, Boohoo, can’t be a soccer player. Come talk to me when you literally have to SHOOT SQUIRRELS to stay ALIVE, little boy.

This is a dystopian. I expect severe hardship, suffering, grit, a totalitarian government, and horrendous oppression. All those things are hinted at in The Selection, but never taken as far as they should have. When America is chosen to be one of the girls sent to live in the palace and maybe become Prince Maxon’s royal lady love, she decides to go because A) her sweet and stupid boyfriend Aspen tells her to and B) her family will receive money if she does. This is good conflict on paper. She’s in love with Aspen, he is poor and lowly, her family desperately needs money. If she goes, her family gets fed, but she’ll lose the love of her life. If she stays, she’ll be with Aspen, but her family will starve.

The problem? Her family isn’t starving. Her boyfriend takes himself out of the picture. Goodbye stakes. Even when she goes to the palace, the conflict is very low. She’s more upset about boy, boys, boys. The sketchy “rebels” are not remotely threatening, and Prince Maxon’s explanation of their motives is entirely too vague. Again, I must compare it to The Hunger Games. When Katniss is in the arena, the stakes are complicated, but also pretty freaking clear. If she doesn’t win the Hunger Games, she will die and her whole family with also probably die. But then there's that nice boy with the bread and the little girl who reminds her of her sister. Can she kill them and still live with herself? Are there bigger things worth dying for? There you go.

So yes, America goes off to the palace to compete for the hand of Prince Maxon. In my eyes, this is where the plot picked up a little. The writing still had its problems– I didn’t truly get what she was fighting for, the dystopian land wasn’t dystopian enough, the godforsaken NAMES– but I found myself turning the pages more quickly here. I know lots of people had problems with Maxon as a character, but he was actually the first person in this book I liked. He’s stiff, na├»ve, goodhearted, and slightly strange. He trusts in America way too quickly and with no reason, but I forgave him for that.

I had issues with America. Particularly in the beginning. She was bland and slightly catty for no reason. So bland she actually says things like “I hated war” in her narration. Of course you hate war. It’s war. This is the sort of sentence that a character should never go out of their way to say, because it's a waste. I actually came to like her more throughout the book, mostly in her scenes with Maxon. She feels underdeveloped, as do all the other contestants, particularly Marlee. I also expected the cameras to be a bigger issue here. They are essentially on a dating reality show, and yet they were hardly ever filmed. This is a dystopian! Everything should be pushed to the nth degree here. And yet it wasn’t.

The plot is also somewhat aimless. Every now and then there’s a rebel “attack” which mostly amounts to things bouncing loudly against the palace walls. We get to know America’s maids, who actually provide most of the heart and pain of narrative, which this novel sorely needed. There’s a little (though easily anticipated) twist near the end, and then… well. Let’s just say this book is more of a first act for an over-arching narrative than a complete novel in and of itself. There wasn’t a climax here. It was mostly setup for Book Two.

And yet, I read it through. Maybe it was because I started to like America more and more as the book went on. Maybe it was because of Maxon. Maybe it was just because I wanted to know what happened, or I loved the premise so much I kept hoping it would deliver. It improves, no doubt about it, but I’m not sure it’s as good as it could be. The execution was not great. Some of the dialogue doesn’t feel very real, but then other times it was pretty great. The book had its moments, even if they weren't quite enough.

I’ll pick up the sequel. I have a feeling the proverbial sh*t will finally start hitting the fan in that one. I’m hoping the dystopian elements get more dystopian and my brain will stop reading King Clarkson as Kelly Clarkson (unlikely). But we’ll see.

NOTE: This review is my opinion and my opinion only. Lots of people LOVE this book, and I can see why. I don’t want to discourage you from trying it. It’s a very popular book that’s been read by tons of people, regardless of my feelings. If you loved it, feel free to tell me why you did, and why I’m a big bully for thinking naming a red-haired girl with a good voice America Singer is pretty cheesy.

18 comments:

  1. OMG. I officially love your reviewing style--even though I haven't read The Selection. But I want to. Badly. Because it looks so good, and if nothing else, I can post a really long making fun review. ;)

    I don't know about those names, though. "America Singer" and "Aspen" and "King Clarkson"? (You've probably cursed me to read that "Kelly Clarkson", btw.) Also, I'm not a big fan of the caste system, so I wonder what I'll think of this book? Hrm. Seems like I'll eventually read it. ;)

    Great review, Gilly! (:

    Loves,
    Megan@The Book Babe

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks. Once I saw Kelly Clarkson I could NOT. UN. SEE. IT. And I am a sucker for the really long making fun review. I always have to cut back on the snark because I can go overboard. But you may like this book! Who knows. Look forward to seeing what you think :)

      Delete
  2. Great review, Gilly!

    I gotta admit, I hated this book. Not at first, of course. At first it just made me cranky. I wasn't even TOO mean in my review. But the more I thought about it, the crankier I got. I personally won't touch the sequel, so you'll have to let me know if it gets better. :)

    (And yes, I nearly snorted milk up my nose thanks to those stupid names.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I honestly am not quite sure why I want to read the sequel, but I do. Maybe I'm incapable of dropping series because I'm just too curious. I will of course let you know.

      And ASPEN. My God, every time I read the word Aspen I think I died a little inside.

      Delete
  3. Loved your review! I seriously thought basically all the same things. The names, the "problems", Prince Maxon. Meeting him was disappointing, but strangely, I did grow fond of him. America got on my nerves. BUT I want to read the 2nd book as well. Although I have no clue why I do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know! I'll probably pre-order The Elite! IT MAKES NO SENSE.

      Delete
  4. I actually really liked this book! But, your review still made me snicker(in a good kind of way!) ;) I've never read The Hunger Games, though, so that may have something to do with my liking it so much. I do have to admit that I didn't care for the names either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, the weird thing is, I enjoyed reading this book. I can totally see why you and so many other people really like it. Glad I made you snicker. But yeah, to me the Hunger Games parallels were pretty clear. And the names didn't do much to make this better!

      Delete
  5. Well, this is my first time visiting your blog, but I must say that your review of this book (which I express a similar opinion about) is both informative and hilarious! And I enjoy those kind of reviews! I can't really tell you why I want to read the next book, either, but I do. i think it's Maxon for me. =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw thanks! And I agree. I'm pretty sure Maxon is the reason I'm going to read The Elite.

      Delete
  6. I haven't finished this yet, but I'm having some of the same problems with it as you did :/

    Also, can I just say that I LOVE that you actually write negative reviews here. I read so many book blogs that are just like "this was great", "this was awesome", "there were several things that weren't great about this book BUT IT WAS STILL GREAT I PROMISE" about absolutely everything, and that gets old fast.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you like my negativity! But I agree. I tend not to trust reviewers who are always gushing over books quite as much... I'm pretty sure I fall on the other end of the spectrum. I tend to see a lot of flaws in books, which doesn't always mean I hated them, but I think it's kind of my duty to tell people what problems I had, even if they won't agree with me. I always try to underline what's good in the book as well, unless it's a total scrap of garbage, which, thankfully, I've yet to come across.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure if they love everything they read, or if they just don't put negative reviews up on their blogs for some incomprehensible reason. Occasionally I see comments on twitter or something about people who are about to review something a 3/5 and feel bad writing a "negative" review. I don't understand their life choices.

      Delete
    3. Every blogger has a different style. To me, a 3/5 is a pretty solid reading score. It's the 1 and 2 stars that are negative for me, but I stopped doing star ratings.

      "I don't understand their life choices". I am cackling. Seriously, cackling hard.

      Delete
  7. I couldn't agree with you more about this book! I was stunned by how much everyone else seemed to love this book and I almost started to question my own opinion. But it really was a great concept, like you said, but the plot to me just felt so unplanned and uneventful. I think Kiera Cass fell into the "show, not tell" trap and instead of showing the reader the world and the characters and the overall development, she just threw things at us. But, like you also, I strangely want to read the next installment. Maybe I also just am holding out hope that Kiera Cass will finally live up to the promise of her book's premise in the sequel? Here's to hoping!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I really enjoyed reading this book. There were parts that made go, "Huh?". But all in all I like the premise and I have to admit it was different.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I wanted so much to like this book. LOOK AT THAT DRESS. AND THAT COVER. AND THAT HAIR. AND THAT TAGLINE!

    It was so disappointing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yes, whole-heartedly agreeing with you! I wanted to like this book SO MUCH. The Hunger Games meets the Bachelor? Where 35 catty, social-ladder-climbing girls must somehow fight to the death over the chance to date/marry a prince? YES! I was hoping there would be some sort of competitive atmosphere to the "competition," like Real World/Road Rules Challenge type of crazy games or something. Or some sort of "Survivor" element to it all, maybe where the girls vote each other off. Nope, none of that. I also kept hoping we'd see more of the dates or the romance, give us some sense of the other girls' personality and "journey" with Maxon... nope. This series has so much potential, and yet it fell a little flat for me. The characters felt very one dimensional (particularly America's mom and contestant Celeste) and America did start to grow on me, but she isn't as vibrant or engaging as I think a lead character should be. She doesn't always have to be likable, but she should be interesting, and she often isn't.

    That being said, I furiously kept turning pages and immediately downloaded "The Elite" as soon as I finished. There is something about this book that makes me want to keep reading, oddly... Great review.

    ReplyDelete

Note: comments on posts older than 90 days are automatically moderated, so they won't show up here immediately. Thanks for commenting! :)