I picked this one up early at the RT Booklover’s Convention on Teen Day. I met Keira Cass there and she seemed liked one the world’s nicest sweethearts. I know these authors were at this convention for a long time and a lot of them seemed like they could really use a fancy cup of coffee, but Keira, every time I saw her, spoke to her, or even walked past somewhere she was, was just so happy and full of spirit! And this just made me want to read the book that much quicker. That, and the gorgeous cover kept drawing my attention.
The book is a dystopia! It takes place many years after world war three, when America has become Illea. Basically Illea is set up as a caste society, where each person is born into a number (1-8), where 1 is royalty and wealth and 8 is the poorest of the poor. When it’s time for the royal family to marry off their princes, a princess is chosen via a “Bachelor” type media frenzy. Girls that fit the right age group are all permitted to send in applications (no matter their caste), and the prince (aka: Maxon) will get his pick of the final 35 girls. The final 35 move into the palace and are televised and photographed through the whole process. And they also get bumped up in castes, get large salaries sent home to their families, and hence forward, no matter how far they get, will have a sort of celebrity status.
America is of the right age to apply and get out of her level five status. Fives are artists and America’s job is music. Her mother really pushes her to apply, even though she could care less about marrying a prince; she’s already in love with a boy from the caste below her, and has been having a secret romantic relationship with him for two years! She loves him. However, after Aspen (secret boyfriend), persuades her to sign up for the Selection, he breaks up with her. He realizes that what he wants is selfish and he can’t make her marry below her already low number; he doesn’t ever want her to hurt, suffer, or starve like he is sometimes forced to do. And if he were to be drafted, he’d be making America wait a long time for him.
When America is actually picked to be one of the 35, she’s so heartbroken that she will do anything to get away from where Aspen is. Before any of the other girls even get to meet Prince Maxon, America is rescued by him. She has sort of a caged in, homesick nervous breakdown her first night, and runs out of her room, needing fresh air, but she’s not allowed to leave the palace and a guard catches her and prevents her from leaving. Maxon has the guard release her and then follows her outside. And from that moment on, the two forge a wonderful friendship, in which they both become incredibly honest with each other.
It’s clear that this book is more of a romance than a dystopia, and I’m fine with that. Because the romance is sooooo good! A clear triangle comes to pass. I love a good triangle! As more girls leave the palace, the friendship grows between America and Maxon. Aspen is never out of her thoughts, but then again neither is Maxon. And neither is her family. America’s family has had its share of financial worries, and she wants to stay as long as she can to help support them.
I loved how the romantic relationships seemed so real! They took time to build and friendships happened first. And I love how healthy that is. I also loved the relationships between the girls. That felt more like the relationship of the girls in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens or the movie Ms. Congeniality than the girls in The Bachelor. They were all there for different reasons: for a husband, for an advance in society, for the money, for the title of future queen, etc. And it was hard to hate America’s competition because they each (except for maybe one girl) had something redeeming about them.
I loved watching America teach Maxon how to behave around girls. And I loved watching America learn to behave as a princess (there were some Meg Cabot type Princess Diary moments, and I loved every second of that). While there are definitely qualities in America that would make her an excellent royal, she is also so outspoken and never afraid to say what’s on her mind. And while this can lead to trouble, it just made me like her so much more; she wasn’t the perfect cadidate and this made her seem more authentic. I love how much she cares about her sister, about her maids, about the people of her country without even really seeing that she does. She’s loyal, brave, loud, and talented but never seems to see herself that way, which also made me like her more –she could have been so vain, but wasn’t.
I also loved Maxon. I feel like Maxon is to Peeta, as Aspen is to Gale. Gale and Aspen are first loves, but Maxon and Peeta are the boys that help the girls survive through their toughest trials. That’s kind of where my Hunger Games analogy ends; it’s really nothing like those books. But, I just can’t help comparing the romantic leads…
I thought the numbered society was fascinating. I easily could have read a hundred more pages about it. And yeah, I would have loved to see some of the eights and how they survived. And even see more of that dystopia world, but I get why the author chose not to do so; this overall is a love story, and it’s from one middle caste girl’s perspective. Also, the danger the palace was always in sort of worked as a constant reminder for me, telling me that yes this is sort of a fairy tale reality show, but also people want to kill the royals at all times. The scenes where the girls and the royal family are in hiding from the violence, and attacks were so intense and terrifying. And I loved how you really got to know the girls by how they acted in such hard circumstances.
There was such a cliffhanger. And I know it’s a trilogy. But still! I need more of this right now! I absolutely loved this one. It’s probably one of my favorites of 2012 so far. I give it a 10/10. And I look forward to reading more by this author.