Before I get started on this review, I’d just like to say two things. Firstly, after I finished the first three books of the series, I did try to read The Heir and The Crown. However, they seemed more like spin-off fan fictions of the main books than novels with actual plots of their own. As such, I wasn’t really a fan of them, so I won’t include them in this review. Secondly, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Kiera Cass. However, I still wanted to give this series a try after seeing how it kept being recommended on BookTok. With that, let’s get into this review.
When I first saw the premise of this series, I initially dismissed it as too cheesy for my tastes, given that I am almost twenty years old (at the time of writing this). However, when I started on the first book, I found myself getting quite captivated by the simple writing style, which made the books easy to get through and digest. Additionally, I also found myself growing rather attached to the characters, who are generally pretty well-written.
Regarding the series’ protagonist, America, she surprised me a lot by being such a lovely, mature and idealistic individual. Honestly, I was expecting her to be b*tchy, or immature and judgemental, especially after we found out that she only joined the selection because her mother essentially pressured her to do so. Fortunately, that was far from the case. Throughout the series, she treated others (including her maids) with genuine politeness. I think my favourite moment involving her was when she gave her jewellery to a thief who had stolen some clothes for his daughters, allowing him to repay his debt to the king and save him from life imprisonment.
Plus, even when America was falling for Maxon, she didn’t resent the other girls when they were getting close to him too. Rather, she was supportive of them and even gave them some nice advice regarding their worries or feelings. Also, I was really impressed when America unhesitatingly went over to comfort Celeste when she was crying in the library, despite their previous animosity and Celeste’s hostility towards her. Even though Celeste had done nothing up till that point to deserve America’s compassion, America still took the initiative to reach out and be kind to her anyway. (Side note: I’m so sad that Cass killed Celeste off in the middle of her redemption arc. Just when is readers were starting to see her as a three-dimensional person with actual feelings and insecurities and not just some petty b*tch, she died. Plus, I’m really shocked that her death was so abrupt – it was literally just in one sentence, and after that, America only mentioned how much she missed her once.) Moreover, even though America can’t physically fight at all, she’s still a strong protagonist nonetheless, being courageous enough to stick to her own beliefs (despite how idealistic they may seem) and stand up for what’s right regardless of the odds stacked against her.
As for Maxon, he is such a soft love interest – probably the definition of the word “gentleman”. Given that this book is aimed at young teens, I think it was good of Cass to write this sort of likeable, kind and mature male love interest, so that young girls know what to look out for should they want to date. You can tell that he really cares about America – being protective of her (but not overly so), listening to her worries (in fact, after hearing about America’s financial difficulties growing up, he immediately made changes to the financial support given to the castes), being completely honest with her, and apologising to her when he unintentionally wrongs her. Even though he and America had their moments of conflict and tension along the way, their relationship was still a deep and tender one – far from the usual hasty romances associated with teenagers and youths.
I also did like Aspen’s character. Despite being the man who was vying for America’s love and competing with Maxon, he was still a sweet, lovable guy, and even though America never ended up returning his affections, he still cared for immensely and never blamed her for not reciprocating his love for her. Lastly, I liked how even though the other girls in the Selection were not the main focus of the novel, the books allow us to get enough glimpses of them to show that they possess well-written characterisations and personalities. Generally, the same can be said for the other supporting characters as well, such as Maxon and America’s family members. That’s one of the things I love in books, because they just make the story feel so much more well-rounded and real.
Now, on to some other things about the series. The worldbuilding was simple and easy to understand / get behind, and I liked how facts about the history of the current world were incorporated into the story through the girls’ history lessons. I was also really glad that Marlee and Carter were able to get their happy ending, but I was sad to hear that Queen Amberly died. She was like America’s second maternal figure, and you could tell that Maxon loved her a lot as well.
However, I am a little conflicted over the the love triangle between Maxon, Aspen and America. I wonder if America ever felt bad about being in love with both Aspen and Maxon simultaneously, and spending times alone with both of them. In spite of her maturity, I could tell that by the end of the first book, she was still confused about whether to choose Maxon or stay with Aspen. Even though she was young, and her heart was being pulled in two different directions at once, did it count as cheating if she was essentially being romantic with both Maxon and Aspen? Oh well.
Although The Selection is marketed as a dystopia, I feel like it doesn’t really work as one. It comes off as more “romantic fantasy”, and doesn’t appear very deep or thoughtful, despite several dark moments scattered throughout the series to remind you of the dystopian theme and the fictional society’s unethical hierarchy. Frankly, I think The Hunger Games is the only YA dystopia that actually did real justice to the genre.
As such, some may find The Selection superficial or cheesy, given that it mostly revolves around romance and the monarchy. Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable and digestible read, and I recommend it if you are looking for some light, romantic escapism – 4.1 / 5