*This review will contain spoilers!*
For a while now, I've felt like the only person in the world who hasn't read 'The Selection'. I read about this book everywhere, people would constantly talk about it, and the announcement of the spin-off series had the entire YA community in a massive tizzy.
When I had the opportunity to receive the second and third books ('The Elite' and 'The One' respectively) from NetGalley, I thought I'd request them, and once I was accepted I knew it was about time I started this series, even if I am a few years too late.
'The Selection' is the princess equivalent of Big Brother; 35 girls get chosen from a large pool of applicants, stay in an amazing palace for months on end, and the prince of Illéa, Maxon, chooses the girl who he wants for his wife as the winner. Our protagonist, America Singer, isn't so sure about competing in the Selection - the idea sets her teeth on edge and it's completely against her morals - but when her boyfriend, Aspen, tells her to apply she does so willingly.
If it was a reality show that actually existed, the likelihood is that I would watch it religiously; it's a very overdone concept (in Big Brother as well as America's Next Top Model, America's Got Talent and Britain's Got Talent, and The X Factor) but it's a concept that sells so well because seeing into people's private lives brings out the voyeur in all of us.
However, I just think this entire concept is a bit too Jane Austen for me. 'The Selection' is based in the future, after World War III and World War IV, so you'd think that girls would know that they were worth more than a cheap competition to win some guy's heart. Yeah, I'm gonna come across as a stuffy old feminist (even though I'm neither old nor stuffy) but I just think having girls parading around in dresses and being given so many rules and regulations is old school.
I can't see why this book has such a huge fandom. America changes her mind more times than I can count, hating Maxon, then liking Maxon, then being annoyed at Maxon, then liking Maxon, then potentially loving Maxon, then getting jealous about Maxon, then liking Maxon, then hating Maxon... I could go on, but I'm just giving away much too information about the entire plot of the book. Until the last fifty or so pages, this is the only thing that really goes on.
And in the last fifty pages? Something did happen, and it was called the most unbelievable, poorly constructed love triangle I've ever had the struggle of reading. America is in love with Aspen (who is described as "tall, but not too tall. Thin, but not too thin" - other than that I cannot tell you what he looks or sounds like, but I can tell you he smells like "homemade soup"...) but she leaves him back at home in Carolina, after he breaks her heart and she leaves to go on the Selection. In a HUMONGOUS AND TOTALLY BELIEVABLE coincidence, he gets drafted into the army and his first position is as a royal guard at the palace where the Selection is taking place! GASP. Except not really, because it just comes off as a plot twist and a construct to make this book a bit more exciting, which seems to be the impossible task.It just really didn't seem like anything happened in this entire book. There are endless descriptions of dresses and etiquette which grated on my nerves. America asks more questions than I could even begin to comprehend, with more than five pages just being her asking rhetorical questions to herself about how she feels. There are multiple attacks from rebels, but because the girls have such nervous dispositions and are so valuable to the country of Illéa, they get hidden away. This means that there is action going on somewhere, but instead of getting to view or experience it, we just get repeated mentions of girls crying and praying and wailing. Very captivating stuff.
I'm trying not to be too horrible about this book, because I did actually enjoy reading it - there are just a lot of things that are overtly wrong with it. Don't get me wrong, the history behind Illéa was intriguing, and I absolutely adored the history lessons when we learnt about the cause of World War III. I also loved the supporting cast - Marlee is a sweetheart while Celeste is the perfect high school bitch, meaning there are some brilliant character dynamics explored. It was just a fluffy novel that didn't have much substance and I do like having a break from serious novels sometimes, but I had definitely been expecting something more substantial from a series that has had such critical acclaim over the years. The fact that there are another two books, and a spin-off series, and the rights have been optioned to make this into a (very slow-paced and non-eventful) movie? I just don't understand it, because if the unnecessary descriptions had been chopped down I'm pretty sure we could have covered the entirety of the Selection just in this first book.
I'm going to carry on with the series, but I have all of my fingers crossed that it's going to get better. At the moment that just doesn't seem possible, which is a shame to me - there was a lot of potential in this series. I just think unnecessary love triangles can definitely ruin books, and when Maxon is described as such a kind-hearted, adoring and lovable gentleman, and Aspen is "tall, but not too tall"? There doesn't seem to be much competition between them, at least not from where I'm standing.