This book is hands down my favourite bad YA romance. Ever. Here’s the condensed Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/550080477
We’re back to dystopia now, an entry that two reviewers I enjoy gave a one star and a ‘what the hell was that!’ so naturally, I had to give it a try. (That, and the term ‘Selection’ has a certain gravitas in my own novel). This is some kind of weird Hunger Games rip-off except instead of 24 people battling to the death, it’s 35 girls battling over a man—and you know what that means!
Mud wrestling! Woo!
(No, not really.)
Our cover features a girl wearing a wedding cake dress and sniffing her underarm. This is going to be good.
“One can never help being born into perfection,” I whispered.
First line. FIRST LINE. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Oh wait, that was a prelude or something. Ahem.
So our main character, America, (seriously), isn’t pleased that she’s been sent an application for Strictly Come Hunger Games, and doesn’t want to be royalty because of all those rebels that keep attacking. But her mom says it’s a good idea because of all the money she’ll get, and if I remember anything from Hush, Hush, it’s how important money is.
America exposits this, and her backstory of being of the lower caste of artists (I sense some ‘persecuted artist’ subtext!) ‘three steps up from dirt’. It seems that every caste has a number, because this dictatorship wasn’t imaginative enough to have the colour-caste system of ‘The Wind Singer’. The artists are ‘fives’.
Anyway, more exposition tells us how, in this Brave New World… the public holidays are different! Dun dun dun! Christmas is still the same though, because you can’t change the birth date of a deity, even though Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born on December 25th.
Mom reads out the invitation to apply to Strictly at the dinner table, and America’s thirteen year old sister is written like a six-year-old. America doesn’t want to marry a stupid prince though, and doesn’t think she’s pretty (why is this coming up? Oh yeah, so her family can go on about how amazingly beautiful she is actually and how they have to beat the boys off with a stick when she’s not looking).
Then America does some schizo complaining about how it sucks to be poor and how she wishes her mother would stop complaining that they’re so poor!
That night America’s friend Aspen pops over to their tree house for secret smoochings, and so America can go on about how much she wuvs him and it hurts to be apart from him. Uh, you might want to get that checked, my dear. But Aspen’s a Six, of the servant class, which means theirs is a forbidden love.
They give some helpful exposition on the whole Selection process and how poor Aspen is. He’s so poor he’s even poorer than America! And he gives all his food to his siblings, so… well, he should have died of starvation by now, I guess, but I suppose he’s too sexy to die, and then the audience is brought face to face with the height of poverty—having to give up extra-curricular activities to work! The horror!
Aspen wonders if America, nicknamed ‘Mer’ would really be okay with being as poor as him. She says it would be fine if they made sure not to have too many children, but apparently birth control is only given to class four or above (whut?) so that means they can’t control how many children they have. (whut?)
But, he still thinks she should enter the competition, and her protests seem a little dumb since it’s made clear that all the contestants get monetary compensation, regardless of whether or not they win. Still twu wuv seems to be Mer’s only concern.
There’s some more exposition about how Aspen’s younger brother Jemmy was once publically whipped for stealing (why was that story there?) and then they go on about how much they love each other again.
America’s mother bribes her into entering the Selection, and she babbles about what different kinds of clothes the different castes wear, whining about how the higher castes wear some of the fabrics the lower castes have to, but as a fashion statement! It’s socio-economic appropriation! Waaaah!
But she applies, mostly so it can lead to a trite conversation with her dad about marrying below your station for love. And, you know, the plot of the book. Mer also has a pep talk with her brother, who sucks at everything arty so the future looks kind of bleak for him.
So they go to the sign-up place where apparently the girl’s pictures are going to be taken as a surprise, and Mer makes disparaging comments about those who are both above and below her status. She meets up with Aspen’s sisters for that staple of YA—a boring conversation. They mention that Aspen is putting away money for marriage, and Mer is shocked that the boy with whom she talks about marriage all the time might want to marry her!
It’s time for the Singer family to watch the royals on TV, and… Oh. My. God. The king is called ‘Clarkson’. Clarkson.
I wonder if his chief enforcer of the peace is The Stig?
Anyway, Mer describes the prince and says she almost pities the girl who’ll end up with him because he looks so boring, based on… her wonderful skills at reading people? Seriously, she pities the girl who’ll become Queen? I mean, I know being a royal is hardly all sunshine and roses, but this girl could be from one of those starving-in-the-street castes! I think she’d prefer the boring King-husband!
And we learn that the Queen was a Four, which means she spent her early days in a shop or on a farm. So this society values agricultural labourers over artists and domestic servants? I’m not seeing a lot of logic in their social order.
Ha ha. I said ‘logic’.
Then the extremely camp Strictly host Gavril is introduced to have a boring interview with Prince Maxon, and later that night Aspen visits for some not-sex, because apparently pre-marital sex is illegal in Strictly-land.
Aspen and Mer meet up again so he can whine about her giving him leftover food when, as a manly man-thing, he should be providing for her. What a tool.
But he breaks up with her two minutes later because she’s too good for him. I’m glad he’s in the story, he’s clearly integral to the plot.
This causes wangst—or would if it wasn’t entirely skipped over so we can see the results of the selection! I guess the wangsting will have to wait. A bunch of really stupid names are read out, and America’s one of them!
Lots of barely mentioned people come by for official-type things, including Severus Snape (not really, but the physical description matches) who sends Mer’s little sister out of the room so he can discuss… her health! Exciting!
Oh, and also whether or not she’s still a virgin. He sets out the rules, which are all pretty mundane except the ‘no writing love notes to anyone or you’ll be executed for treason!’ rule. Mer gets promoted to Three (I’ve just realised that whole number thing is also present in my book. Shit, people are going to think I was copying from this piece of s…urely very fine literature).
Also she has to do whatever the prince tells her to or else, then complains about him being above the law. Yeah, no duh, Mer, he’s the flipping prince and you live in a dystopian dictatorship.
Oh, and Aspen drops by, in case we forgot he was in the story.
Mer gets a big send off party at which all the rich people are hostile towards her and all the poor people adore her. I’d have thought it would be the other way around, but we can’t miss an opportunity to hate rich people and condescend towards the poor!
Of course the worst part is when Mer sees that Aspen is with some new ho in the crowd!
The mayor of Mer’s province asks if she wants to say anything, but even though she can’t think of anything, he praises her for her intelligence. Mer says cheerio to her dumb family, and worries that the prince doesn’t want a wife—but rather some arm candy, despite going on about how much she hates this guy she’s never met so much I’d have thought she’d be pleased if he didn’t really want to interact with her!
After some whining, Mer tries to makes friends with some of the other contestants. Though two of the three she’s travelling with are friendly, the other one’s a typical rich-bitch ho so Mer gets a chance to whine about how horrible it’s going to be existing with these girls.
They get to the palace, greeted by their supporters, who Mer alone stops to greet because she’s speshul.
My god, we’re a quarter of the way through already, and I’m having so much fun! Not as much as Mer is though, riding around in the back of a car, observing the adoring crowds. One of the nice girls, Marlee, already has a lot of supporters, making Rich Bitch Celeste unhappy, and immediately accuse her of sleeping her way to the top. I think we’ve found our Dawn!
And now it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for… MAKEOVER TIME! Woo! And just like in America’s Next Top Model, the girls cry and whine over what the designers want, and Mer tells them she doesn’t want any fake stuff because she’s fo’ real, yo. Not like that dumb slut Celeste who puts loads of make up on, what a bitch!
But we now finally know why Mer was sniffing her arm on the cover—that’s what she does when she tells the guy giving her an interview that she smells like a dessert. Billions of characters are introduced, and our heroine goes to watch the first episode of Strictly-land’s Next Top Queen and obsess over how big Celeste’s boobs are.
SlNTQ’s first episode made Mer seem popular with the people, so now everyone hates her. This, on top of all the other wangsting issues of Aspen, the barely-mentioned rebels, the finery surrounding her and the stupidity of the Strictly show makes Mer run out of the palace and have a panic attack. And who should come along and help her but…
Granny Goodness! Dun dun dun!
No, it’s Prince Maxon. To show her gratitude for his help, Mer snaps at him for being such an asshole by… uh… existing, I guess. Then she yells at him for being well-spoken and blames him for this apparently traditional method of picking a queen. And he responds by being nothing but polite to her the entire time, the bastard!
The next day much attention is spent on dresses, make up and jewellery (only the simplest for our Mer though—she’s for real, remember) and Maxon arrives for his first official meeting with the girls, while Mer spends her time once again looking at another girl’s chest.
Hmm… I wonder if there’s going to be a twist ending—
Maxon meets all the lucky contestants and Mer tells him flat out she’s in love with someone else. Maxon reacts with… politeness. Mer instead convinces him to let her be his spy in the harem and then takes breakfast with the royal family and the other girls.
And then suddenly eight of them are gone. There’s no page break, no ‘later on that day’, no nothing. One minute they’re all eating breakfast, the next Mer is talking about how eight of the girls are gone.
My god! They were sucked into a plot hole!
At breakfast, Maxon randomly interrogates Mer about a strawberry tart she’s eating and asks how much she’d bet that her sister would cry with joy if she ate it.
So a stupid bet is made, I wonder what the outcome will be? Well, we’re told almost immediately—Mer loses and as forfeit must go on a walk with Maxon. She bores him with talk about her family and he calls her his closest friend. Of one day? Poor dumb Maxon.
And then she knees him in the thigh for no reason! This is comedy gold!
And he responds by sending her gifts! I think we’ve finally found a YA romance where the girl is the abusive one and the boy is a simpering soulless acolyte!
Gossip about Mer’s ‘date’ is interrupted by La Resistance attacking, and the girls are herded to safety by a guard called Markson. Hmm, Markson and Clarkson. If I ever get the urge to write a song about this book, and who knows, that day may indeed come… now, what rhymes with ‘selection’? Other than erec—
(Continued in PART TWO)