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The Selection

The Selection - Whenever I give a one-star rating, I try to write a review to explain it, since one star is way harsh, Tai. In this case, however, I think it’s warranted. To quote Harry S. Plinkett’s Phantom Menace review, it’s almost mind-boggling how complex the awfulness is. Each chapter was like peeling back a new layer of awful, and I was morbidly curious to see how deep the layers of awful would go. It was awful inception. I find it easiest to address these layers bulleted-list style, so here we go:-The world building.I try not to be too picky when it comes to YA dystopian. All I really ask is that the setting be fairly believable and maintain some semblance of internal logic and consistency. I fear The Selection is 0 for 2.The world building is an amalgam of anachronistic and disparate elements, with no rhyme or reason that I can discern aside from an attempt to simulate a medieval-based fairy tale in dystopian clothing. At some undetermined point in the future, the U.S. becomes the kingdom of Illéa, ruled by an absolute monarchy with a strict caste system. Nods are made to the poor and downtrodden in lower castes, and mentions are made of bands of barbaric rebels reminiscent of medieval brigands, but for the most part, the dystopian setting really doesn’t contribute to the story. Technology has a negligible role and seems to only surface for convenience. For example, the Capital Report is broadcast live and the characters can fly across the continental U.S. in half an hour, yet the Selected girls communicate with their families via letters (I guess e-mail no longer exists) and I recall only one incidence of mobile phone use throughout the entire novel (and it seems to be the only mobile phone in the palace).There’s also the incredibly throwback Victorian social mores of Illéa, which I will go with more detail later.Furthermore, I find it very telling that there are no characters of color or LGBT characters (at least that the text mentions). You seriously mean to tell me that out of 35 Selected girls, not a single one isn’t white? The U.S. is a very ethnically diverse country and I find it hard to believe that’s going to change significantly in the future. This is a minor point, but one negative reviews often stress--the names. Now, it makes sense to give characters in sci-fi or fantasy settings unusual names, as a reminder of how different their worlds are from ours. However, the names in The Selection are an odd mixture of contemporary American names (Anna, Janelle, Fiona, Amy, Kriss, Marlee) as well as silly-sounding name smushes or names that are just weird (Aspen, Maxon, Emmica, Tiny, Bariel, Amberley, Clarkson, and our heroine, America Singer). In fact, I think the names are a great metaphor for the worldbuilding as a whole: bizarre, anachronistic, and nonsensical.-The Victorian era called; they want their gender roles back.Illéa is a deeply misogynist society. Princesses are sold into marriage to solidify international relations, while princes choose from a lottery of potential brides at home. Premarital sex is against the law (good luck enforcing that one, guys!). Selected candidates must be virgins, yet America is advised not to turn the prince down should he elicit “more than kisses.” I think this makes it pretty clear that Illéan society places a great premium on female virginity, and not so much male.Now, I ain’t saying that a book with a misogynist society is necessarily misogynist itself. In George R.R. Martin’s oeuvre, for example, Westeros is a pretty shitty place for women, yet many of his female characters are complex and well-developed. They do the best they can in a world that isn’t kind to them. The problem with The Selection is that all of its women seem to buy wholeheartedly into their society’s misogynist ideals and support them--even America, who is supposed to be spunky and outspoken. She isn’t railing against Illéa’s gender roles because they’re misogynist—she’s railing against them because they inconvenience her.Her one goal, like the rest of the Selection’s women, revolves around marriage. Her primary goal and motivation is to marry a young man of a lower caste. She only enters the Selection due to pressure from him and from her social-climbing mother. When she is given the aforementioned advice about the prince, she is horrified not because women should enjoy the same level of sexual freedom as men, but because men aren’t subjected to the same oppressive standards as women. This position is further enforced by the fact that she finds it so difficult to wait when she is with Aspen, the young man she wants to marry. Finally, she frequently slut-shames the more sexually confident young women in the competition, who are also the text’s designated Mean Girls and have no redeeming qualities.The most positively portrayed women in this narrative are the Victorian ideal—kind, proper, modest, and nurturing. Strong women, like America, the queen, and the queen’s sister, campaign for the poor and downtrodden, but they also know their place. They don’t defy Illéa’s gender roles and stand by their men. Women who don’t—America’s overbearing mother, the Mean Girls—are vilified.-Technical difficulties.Ironically, the amateurish writing style was the least of my problems with this book. This is not to say it didn’t bother me; it just seemed to pale in comparison to the rest. That said, sometimes I seriously wondered if this book was actually edited. Cass seems very fond of bizarre descriptions that seem creative but actually make no sense, e.g. “he looked like summertime,” “He had his own smell, a mix of chemicals that burned out from him.” The dialogue is full of wonky paragraph breaks that make it confusing. In particular, Cass likes to describe the actions of one character followed by dialogue from another, all in the same paragraph.Finally, Cass seems to subscribe to the adage of “tell, don’t show.” We’re constantly given bare assertions without compelling textual evidence. America’s family is poor and starving, yet they seem to live in a comfortable middle-class home and have enough leftovers that America can give them to her boyfriend. Cass also pulls a classic Mary Sue move by having characters frequently compliment America on all these wonderful qualities and having her deny them profusely. Whenever a character goes on at length about how flawed they are while everyone else compliments them, it comes off disingenuous, like the literary equivalent of those girls on facebook who post pictures while complaining about how ugly they are and then wait for the compliments to roll in.-Conclusion:So I guess the biggest failing of this book, other than everything, is its attempt to pass itself off as dystopian. All of its efforts at a dystopian setting were laughable, and I honestly think if this book has to exist at all it’d be better as a medieval-based fairy tale. It would be easier to accept the anachronistic nature of its world and characters if they were placed in an era in which that sort of thing was remotely believable. Do I recommend this book? If you’re morbidly curious and/or an incorrigible terrible hunter, I say go for it. I fear my review only scratched the surface of how utterly bizarre this book is, so you’ll kind of have to read it to believe it. I would stay away if you’re a radical feminist, as it may send you into paroxysms of rage. As for enjoying it unironically, I’ma have to paraphrase Harry Plinkett again. You may like it… you know, if you’re stupid.