Berg's Book Club

The Selection by Keira Cass | Berg’s Book Club

Book cover for The Selection by Keira Cass. Woman in gown covers her face with arm.

Book Title: The Selection
Author: Keira Cass
Series Name: The Selection
Book No.: Book 1 
Genre: Teen & Young Adult, Romance, Dystopian
Published: October 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Star Rating: ★★


Introduction

Welcome to Berg’s Book Club. As you learned last week from my The Book of Dust review, Berg is my little Daemon. He is a soft, kind soul that hates washing machines and is cheeky to me. He likes to cause mischief for his brothers and sister. This week, he is helping me review a book I never had high hopes for. The Selection by Keira Cass

It’s one of those books where a friend tells you how bad it is that you just have to go and look at it yourself.

My friend, Lizzie, did a presentation in class that made me want to read this book. It’s a pity. I’ve been reading many dystopian books that have potential and don’t quite make it. And this was one of them.

The Selection by Keira Cass
Book Review

The Selection by Keira Cass has so much potential. But just like Ally Condie – Kiera Cass does not use the story to build the world around her characters.

Fairy Tales Reimagined

Here’s the thing. I honestly love fairy tales that are reimagined. I read one recently and it was great (I might reread it for a review) but this one was awful. I’m surprised it stretched to five books – not because of the storyline, but because of how the author tells the storyline.

The story is based on the fairy tale of Cinderella. A prince is looking for a wife and all eligible women are able to apply for a spot but only 35 of them make it through the first stage. Sounds good so far and that’s why I thought it had potential- it could have a good storyline. There is so much the author could have done to this story.

Your Majesty—

Tugging my ear. Whenever.

The Selection Caste System

Everyone is part of what is known as the caste system. A system where you are given a number to show your status – the lower the number, the higher the status. I like this idea, it shows how flawed the society is that Cass is trying to build. I liked this idea.

The ranks

The upper class are between one and three. The Royals and their family are one obviously, threes can be teachers, doctors etc.

The middle class are four and five. Fours are business people. I don’t know why they are lower than teachers as I’d assume they’d earn more money. Small businesses aside. Then the fives are entertainers and artists.

For the lower class, sixes are servants, waiters etc and sevens are manual labourers. Eights are known as the untouchables. They receive no education, are traitors, orphans or are disabled, physically or mentally. As someone who is disabled, I can see a dystopian world putting us into this category.

Birth status & Development

You are born or married into your caste system. But it is hinted you can buy a higher title. Also, if you are born disabled or are an orphan, I assume your birth rights are wiped. I also assume same-sex marriage would be illegal or frowned upon because you take the caste of the male you marry. So it deals with a lot of issues in society – or rather features them.

Cass doesn’t develop them at all. She has all the features and all the opportunities, but the focus is on the protagonist and the prince. I really do like the idea of the caste system for this world but it is not explained more in-depth. Where it came from,  how long it has existed, what are the effects are and what happens with all the issues mentioned above.

Political

A good chance to be political. You might argue that Cass didn’t want to be political, but that is the very nature of writing. You can’t not be political because society is political and that is what you are writing about. Even if that was the case, a caste system is a political feature that no one forced Cass to add in. So it should have been developed.

As most the story takes place in the palace, the only time you see anything being done to improve the life of the lower castes is when America makes Maxon see the truth behind it. Maxon then makes his father set up a food bank. In my opinion, this seemed too easily considering the father didn’t listen to anyone else’s advice until this moment.

The caste system is great for the story but it needs a lot of development.

The protagonist is a five, which means that she is among artists and entertainers. Lizzie made an interesting point. Considering how we treat art in education now, how we see it as something so insignificant and unimportant. Would it really be a middle-class ranking and would it really be above the job of a servant? What do you think?

However, I do like the idea of the futuristic caste system she tried to set up in a dystopian society.

Characters

I’m not a huge fan of the characters names. Here’s why.

America Singer

America Singer, one day you will fall asleep in my arms every night. And you’ll wake up to my kisses every morning.

Maxom — The Selection

America Singer is one letter short of becoming American Singer. Cass uses the surname Singer because America’s family are entertainers and America is talented with her voice.

I feel Cass was trying to symbolise America, the protagonist—not the country—as the American dream. But she could have chosen a different name and got the effect she wanted. Feminine alternatives for Martin Luther King maybe? Essentially, more subtlety is needed

Aspen Leger

Aspen Leger. What does the name Aspen make you think of? Really, the only problem I have with this name is it makes me think of the pain killer, aspirin. In reality, Aspen is a ski resort, so if you look at it this way, this character takes you up and down. I can see why that would suit him.

Aspen is a bit of a jerk. He constantly gets America’s hopes up and then destroys them. But the name also makes me think of aspirin.

Emmica

Emmica is too close to America and I see it as a variation of the name “America”. This character is a minor character but is mentioned enough that it bugs me. I kept misreading the name and got confused as to what happened.

I mentioned in my other book review, Glasdrum the problem with giving characters similar names

Other Characters

The only people who seem to have decent names are the royal family, like Maxom; some of the 35 girls who made it through to the second phrase; and America’s siblings. So basically no one important unless they are the royal family.

The other characters seem to not develop. They are flat. Celeste is meant to be America’s enemy, but she’s a terrible one, aside from ripping her dress and provoking America’s friends so that they are either embarrassed in front of Maxon or get thrown out of the selection, she does nothing. In total, I think she only gets one girl kicked out.

Storyline

During the journey, America learns more about her country. It used to be the USA but was destroyed by China and renamed the American State of China then someone from the Illea family freed the country and renamed it Illea, which is how it gained a royal family. Not too bad, but I find the currency used weird.

The British are not mentioned at all, but the small amounts of money are called pennies. Should it not be something either completely made up or linked to China? That is who destroyed America after all. Makes no sense to me… I thought the British were involved for a while.

On the actual storyline front, the outline isn’t bad. Like many stories, it has a love triangle. The whole point of the selection is that Maxon finds his perfect wife. He loves America because she is honest with him, and quite often rude, but America loves Aspen and Maxon. Mostly Aspen.

There are 35 girls in the selection and only a few of them are named. Many of the named ones don’t have personalities, or they have one trait. An example is Tiny, who is seen as a fragile wimp becausw she faints under stress and nothing else.

Only America and Maxon have development arcs, and they are minor ones.

The love triangle

When Aspen breaks up with her, she sees how much of a jerk he really is. Aspen says he doesn’t want America to have the same caste system as him because he is a six. And, therefore, is a servant who does not get paid a lot so will struggle to provide for her. He tells her to sign up for the Selection even though she doesn’t want to. And he hates it when America treats him with food from money she has saved up so breaks up with her because of this.  When she is picked for the Selection, he tries to stop her going.

Aspen is then drafted in as a royal guard and starts acting as nothing happened and they never broke up. Waking her up and kissing her, touching her up when she is most vulnerable. Something that could get them both killed for treason. If he really loved her, he wouldn’t risk her life.

The Prince has 34 other people to choose from but wants to win over America after their first meeting and keeps her there as a ‘friend and consultant’ like she offered in the hope she finally does fall for him.

If this were a simpler matter, I’d have eliminated everyone else by now

However, I feel the way Cass got rid of most of the girls is weak. There were 22 girls left until the end, when it drops down to ‘the elite’ with a blink of an eye. The elite is the top ten girls who made it through the selection. I felt Cass did this because she felt like she was running out of time.

How was it done?

Some of the girls leave because they are “too afraid” to stay when the palace is under threat. And Maxon worries that someone is going to get hurt if this is dragged out any longer, despite the fact that the attacks didn’t come anywhere close to the royal family. I feel this is a lazy way to solve an issue if you have written yourself into a corner.

I would have understood it more if one or two of the girls had gotten hurt or were killed in the attack. If that was going to happen, did there need to be the contestants. Not to mention, only a handful of the losing contestants were named. So maybe Maxon should have chosen from 15 instead of 35. I mean there are 5 books of this, so it really did feel rushed.

All the ones remaining offer a benefit to the kingdom if he marries them except America. But the first book ends with the Elite remaining which means that the readers would have to read the remaining four to know when – and it is obvious that it will be a when – America is selected as Maxon’s perfect wife. Personally, I think this could have been done in one book. Or if Cass wanted to make the book stronger and everything that has already happened more visual and engaging by developing the storyline,  then maybe two books, splitting when half the girls had gone home.

Overall thoughts

So essentially, this book could have been so much more. There are a few good bits that leak through the book. My Dæmon, Berg, says it would have been much better if lots of snow was in it– but I’m fine with the lack of it


Thanks for reading – See you next week when Berg and I will be reviewing Diablo by Fallacious Rose.

If you do read The Selection or have already, please let me know what you think in the comments.

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~Shannon~

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7 replies »

    • I bought it because I got told how bad it is, and it’s one you have to read to see why it’s so bad – it’s also one that kept catching my eye before I knew it was because I liked the cover but never picked because of the blurb

    • Glad you enjoyed the review – several of my modules are about ways to reimagine fairy tales and building on them (along with developing characters) – this book doesn’t do that at all! And as you say it falls flat.

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