The Selection by Kiera Cass might liven up the old Cinderella story. But a curious reticence to put the characters through anything too grueling keeps the book from being anything more than a lukewarm fairy tale.
America Singer is born after World War Four has seen the United States renamed Iléa (after the man who won the war against the Chinese) and the people divided up into a caste system that rigidly defines what jobs they are allowed to do and how much wealth they can have. America is a caste-level five and grows up in a family of artists who barely manage to keep food on the table.
Whenever a Prince of Iléa reaches a marriageable age a televised contest, known as The Selection, is held in which young women vie to marry the Prince and be the next Queen of Iléa. America is personally reluctant to try to be part of The Selection, but her family's need for money is enough to see her enter and, to her surprise, she is picked as one of thirty-two girls who will travel to the Capital to meet, and possibly, marry Prince Maxon.
At first "The Selection" seems to borrow a bit from "The Hunger Games" in that it's set in a futuristic society that functions under an oppressive government while injecting a reality-TV component. But the tension that was so prevalent in "The Hunger Games" never really materializes as the heavy-handed tactics of the government are only occasionally mentioned but never put on actual display. There is a small attempt to flesh out the fall of American society, and the author does deserve credit for tying in the current economic climate and debt owed to the Chinese. But the few paragraphs dedicated to the subject aren't enough to fuel the story or give it a strong sense of realism.
When the story moves to the palace and the actual contest for the Prince's marriage proposal I expected a teenage version of "The Bachelor." But the petty, and often violent, squabbles we're used to seeing on reality television never really materialize. Almost every character is unrealistically nice and considerate- and ultimately very boring. America is meant to be the plucky heroine, caught in the middle of a love triangle (naturally) but nothing she does is particularly clever or interesting. Her relationship with Maxon is little more than a tired cliché about a Prince who listens to a commoner for the first time ever and he, especially, is so blandly idealized that it's impossible to care whether or not they become a couple.
I hate to say it, for fear of being like the mean-girls who don't actually show up in this book, but "The Selection" reads like it was written by a middle-schooler who doesn't like conflict. The young women who are supposed to be conniving are only "bad" enough to throw a glass of wine on another girl's dress- and how many times have we seen that done before? Every character is someone we've seen many times in other, more interesting stories. The reality-TV angle is hugely underutilized and doesn't add any social commentary worth mentioning as it only exists in the odd interview here and there. Generally, the plot feels recycled and predictable.
"The Selection" is, in my opinion, a book that can only be enjoyed by pre-teen girls who are still in their princess stage and don't like to see people argue--or maybe by people with a strong aversion to conflict and tension. It's a generally sweet, but flat book that won't likely hold the attention of fans of the far superior "Hunger Games."
2 out of 5 stars