Friday, June 3, 2016

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

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If I'm going to be super honest, and I am, I once used the covers of these books in a presentation about gender and young adult novels. I wasn't trying to criticize them or make fun of them - I was just trying to point out how girls in dresses dominated the covers of Amazon's Girls and Women - Teen and Young Adult category and how those covers contrasted sharply with Amazon's Boys and Men - Teen and Young Adult category. Although I was raised by an avid romance reader and occasionally picked them up if I literally had nothing else to read, I am not into the romance genre. I like romance in my literature, but I have a prejudice against books whose titles are spelled out in raised shiny letters. 

I have a new job as a middle school librarian and that job comes with an hour of driving each day. I've been using that time to listen to audiobooks, specifically those for middle schoolers, specifically the kinds of books I wouldn't pick up on my own. On  my 4 hour drive to LA I realized I cannot listen to serious fiction while driving (sorry All the Light We Cannot See - I'll get to you some day), so I popped on The Selection. I did not finish the book on the drive. An examination of my twitter feed reveals the following: 
May 30: Shoutout to @Target for being open on Memorial Day with the box set of the Selection series by @kieracass I can't believe I'm addicted [crown emoji, dress emoji, kiss emoji, diamond ring emoji, heart emoji] 
May 31: The problem with buying the box set of @kieracass Selection series is at 3am you can totally start book three. 
June 2: Ran into a former student's mom @Target. She asked what I was up to...Buying more @kieracass novels obviously 
The addiction is real. I'm a feminist, I don't read romance, I don't watch reality TV, I am neither recovering from a breakup nor entering a new relationship, so why was I crying yesterday as I finished the last pages of Crown? 

The premise is spelled out clearly on the cover: 35 girls. 1 crown. The competition of the lifetime. You also need to know we're in a future America called Illea that has really struggled after WWIII and WWIV to make sense of it all, and this world relies on a caste system, where the Prince gets to choose a wife a la The Bachelor from a random selection of girls from different provinces and castes. Like the Hunger Games, except instead of fighting to the death you have to catch a man. 

Our heroine, America Singer, is a low caste girl who ends up being Selected by a sort of accident and then wants to stay at the palace because for once she isn't hungry - at least, that's what she tells Prince Maxon after yelling at him for being conceited, pampered, and privileged. 

So what makes this series refreshing? Instead of cutthroat girl fights, the girls develop friendships among themselves (after all, only 10% of their time is spent actually dating the Prince and the other 90% is them hanging out and learning how to run a country) and while there are jealousies and fights and even some backstabbing, they are going through a weird experience that only the others understand and can give advice about. Instead of lessons in walking in heels and elocution, the girls are challenged to host foreign dignitaries, learn about history and culture, and choose political issues as platforms. And of course instead of trying to win the crown, America offers the Prince a deal where she'll be his honest friend if he'll let her stay and eat and send money home and hide from her exboyfriend. Instead of cheesy perfect princess/prince romance, we get fights, miscommunication, jealousy, family drama, and other real issues that all relationships have to navigate - we just get it all in fabulous ballgowns with updos everyday. It's sweet and funny and filled with a lot of longing and a little bit of politics. 

I would not recommend this to every reader, but I would definitely recommend it to the young adult crowd who is interested in futuristic societies and/or romance. I really do wish the covers were different though because I think it stops a lot of readers (myself included) are reluctant to pick up the books because of them. 

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