The Selection by Kiera Cass has a premise that’s part, The Bachelor, part Wool, and part Sever and part Cinderella. America Singer is a Level 5 and while she loves her artist family, they struggle to support themselves. Her life would be much easier if she was a Level 2 or 3, as they have wealth and status. Still, she can’t complain as her boyfriend, Aspen, is a Level 6 which means the servant class. Aspen gives up his own food to make sure his sisters and mothers have something to eat. America doesn’t much care that he is a lower caste than her, even though her life would be even harder, but her mother would. America’s mom has ambitions for her beautiful and musically talented daughter, so America has kept her relationship hidden for two years.
Then a letter arrives about the Selection that changes everything. The U.S. is now the nation of Illyea. When the country was not able to pay its debt to China, it went to war first with China and then later Russia, until a man named Gregory Illyea was able to pull the nation back together and thus the country was renamed for him. The nation is ruled by the royal family, his descendants, and Prince Maxon must find a bride. The Selection is a matchmaking process where a lottery is first held to pick girls from each province, despite their caste anyone could be the next Princess. America has no intention of filling out the forms despite the pressure from her mother, until Aspen tells her she deserves a better life than what she will have with him and wants her to enter so he will never need to have doubts about whether he held her back. America’s mom bribes her by saying she can keep half of all the money they make performing music, which America sees as a way to start saving to marry Aspen.
Before the lottery Aspen breaks up with America as he says he can’t bear to see her hungry to going without, then America is selected in the lottery. All of the girls selected receive payments to their families and between the extra money and wanting to get away from her broken heart, America decides she will try to play the game to stay away from home as long as she can. Life in the palace isn’t easy though, the competition among the girls can be brutal, and the royal family is vulnerable to terrorist attacks on the palace, but the biggest danger is the Prince himself as slowly America forms a bond with him. She tells him about the love she left at home and admits she is only there for the food and the money, but makes a pact to be his friend and help him with the Selection by coaching him about the other girls, etc.
It seemed like a good plan until the friendship veers into something else, just at the same time that Aspen shows up at the Palace in his new job as a guard.
I actually don’t want The Bachelor, so I was surprised that I liked this book. I found the caste system to be interesting and a bit reminiscent of the Levels in Wool. The contest aspect of the Selection, complete with the televised interviews even has shades of The Hunger Games. However, the book most reminded me of the Chemical Garden series in the way that the main character begins to feel something toward the man who keeps her in a gilded cage.