Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Kiera Cass, The Elite

As often happens with sequels, I did not feel that this book lived up to the potential of the first one, The Selection. I raced through it in a few hours because I needed to know what happened (which I suppose is a positive thing), but from early on I was constantly highlighting and making notes in my Kindle about various annoying, contradictory things America would do or say. I could not STAND her in this book.

I don't think I can write this review without spoilers, so ...there's your warning. THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS.

America is all over the place. She'll forget about Aspen for weeks on end, then Maxon does something to upset her (i.e. he is complicit in the public torturing of Marlee), something so bad she swears she's quitting the competition and can have nothing to do with the royal family anymore, and suddenly she's remembering that Aspen is "the one constant" in her life and decides to enjoy a steamy make-out session with him. Then a few days later, Maxon will do something utterly mundane like give her a blue bracelet and that stupid gesture changes everything again. A direct quote after she gets the bracelet: "And there it was, pushing up through all the worries: hope." I think it was probably that line where I officially started hating this series. A bracelet gives you hope?? He's already given her so much; I don't understand why one stupid trinket is enough to make up for all her concerns.

Maxon was also infuriating and inconsistent. He says he understands that he needs to regain America's trust after that whole torture escapade, but then grows frustrated with her for not being able to decide whether to marry him or not (a frustration I shared, but for different reasons). When she tells him she still can't decide about 3/4 of the way through the book, he responds:
That's not acceptable. I need an answer. Because I can't send someone who really wants this--who wants me--home if you're going to bail out in the end.
Excuse me, what? Am I the only one who remembers him telling her at the beginning of book 1, as soon as they become friends, that he'll let her stay until the very end, until it's narrowed down to just two people, if that's what she wants? But no, suddenly she's playing him and being selfish and behaving "unacceptably" - never mind that he's playing every girl in the Selection every second this ridiculous competition goes on. Humph!

Then she catches him making out with Celeste and all the doubts come rushing back, he's horrible, he's a traitor, he can't be trusted, he's just like that slimebucket Gregory Illéa! She's so fed up she decides to drop out of the competition, but not before going out with a bang. The Celeste thing inspires her to do the first actually decisive and brave thing (other than when she rushed to support Marlee in the torture scene) in this entire series: she goes on the Capital Report and proclaims that the caste system should be abolished. She opines constantly in the pages before doing this about how she knows it is an unforgivable thing she's doing and will result in her getting kicked out of the Selection. She knows what the consequences will be, but says she doesn't care and doesn't want to win anymore anyway: what matters is standing up for what she believes in!

So it provoked a major eye roll in this reader when, after everyone reacted to her presentation exactly as she predicted, and Maxon says she has to leave, she immediately begins apologizing and begging for him to forgive her.
"Maxon." The quiet plea in my voice made him look at me. "I'm so sorry. I was mad, and I wanted to . . . I don't even know anymore."
You don't even know anymore? Let me do you a favor and scroll back about five pages to the passage where you discuss your motivations at length!
He and Celeste were so much alike. Everything about them was a show. And I knew that he would spend the rest of his life sweet-talking the public into thinking he was wonderful, all the while keeping them trapped where they were. Just like Gregory.
 I sat down on my floor, legs crossed under my nightgown. As upset as I was with Maxon, I was even more upset with myself. I should have fought harder. I should have done more. I shouldn't be sitting here so defeated. 
I wiped the tears away and assessed the situation. I was done with Maxon, but I was still here. I was done with the competition, but I still had a presentation due. . . . I wasn't here to win anymore. So how could I go out with a bang?
Nothing about the Celeste situation, which provoked her to drop out of the competition and "go out with a bang" is resolved between this section and when she actually does go out with a bang, and yet as soon as it happens she is begging Maxon to forgive her. I thought it was really lame and that both characters were just completely inconsistent and kind of weak actually.

Another thing that drove me crazy was how she would only read a paragraph or two of Gregory's diary at a time, and then would declare herself too overwhelmed to carry on. Come on!!! This is clearly the key to everything, why don't you just sit still for a few hours and finish it!?!

But the most disgusting moment of all occurs after the rebel attack at the end of the book. The rebels attack and it is the bloodiest attack so far in the series...America sees a guard get shot in the chest and start bleeding out right in front of her before Maxon whisks her away to safety. She remarks, "I tried to slow my breathing and erase what I'd just seen from my mind."

Happily, she has no problem "erasing" it from her mind as she spends the next few hours canoodling with Maxon (whom she hated about 2 hours earlier). Not once do they pause to consider how many more people might be getting murdered every minute that passes as they sit comfortably in safety, talking about relationship woes.

The culmination of this selfishness occurs after they get out and are informed that 25 guards were killed in the attack. Only then does America think of Aspen:
I prayed that he was safe. I'd been so consumed last night, it hadn't occurred to me to worry.
Is this not the epitome of selfishness?? She saw bullets whizzing and a guard get shot in the chest just before she is taken to safety, and it didn't occur to her to worry about Aspen, or even her maids, her precious maids whom she constantly prides herself on being so nice to and treating like equals. Instead, she can only think of herself, her confused feelings for Maxon, her feelings on being a princess, HER HER HER. Speaking out publicly against the castes is one of the few times she does something brave and unselfish, but she takes it back the minute it happens because, selfishly, she's worried Maxon won't want her anymore.

At the point when she declared herself "too consumed" to worry whether Aspen had been slaughtered during the night, I let go of whatever lingering hope I had that she would come to her senses and pick Aspen. I now hope she winds up with Maxon, because I think they deserve each other. Aspen certainly deserves a lot better, and I have a hunch Lucy is after him, so maybe that will work out. I don't think I'll be reading the final book though so someone will have to let me know what happens.

The one good thing I can say is that I did race through the book wanting to find out what happens. It was very suspenseful and often action packed.

2 stars.