I admit, I was pretty skeptical going into this book. The Amazon summary made it sound like the author just borrowed ideas from Matched, Wither, and The Hunger Games and so I wasn't expecting to find much original here. But...all in all, I am happy to say I actually liked this more than I expected to. There were definitely some things that irritated me, but in general this wasn't bad!
A brief summary of my own rendering. This takes place in the future sometime after the Fourth World War, in the Americas. The USA no longer exists: it has given way to a fragile country called Illéa, in which society is divided into a rigid caste system arranged by number, with ones being at the top (royals) and eights being at the very bottom (basically homeless). Our protagonist, America, is a five, which is a pretty low caste, meaning her family has often struggled just to put food on the table. Then the Selection happens. The Selection is this bizarre ritual whereby 35 or so of the most beautiful girls in the country are chosen to come to the royal palace in order that the prince may eventually choose one of them to be his wife. The whole "selection" process is televised for national entertainment (like a less bloody version of the Hunger Games). America is Selected (to be one of the 35)...only her heart already belongs to another. DRAMAAAAA!!!
America herself is pretty likable, if predictable. She's your typical YA heroine: unlike all the other lemmings in the Selection who go out of their way to suck up to the prince at every chance, America is a rebel! She refuses to wear tons of makeup and -- *gasp* -- would rather wear pants than a gown! She is actually rude to the prince! She doesn't even want to win the crown! So I'm sure it will come as a huge shock to everyone that the prince finds her irresistible. That whole setup was a little cliché...the trope of the feisty antiestablishment tomboy heroine. But that's okay, I still liked her, and I thought Cass did a decent job developing her and giving her her own voice.
I also very much enjoyed Aspen, America's forbidden lover. Aspen is a six, meaning he is even poorer than America. He's got a huge chip on his shoulder about dating a girl who is wealthier than him, which leads to him occasionally acting like a huge douche, but in an endearing way. And he is very sexy...I am totally team Aspen here.
So, I liked the main characters and I thought the book moved along at a good pace...I enjoyed reading it and never felt like it was a chore. However, there were definitely some drawbacks. First and foremost, all the rebel attacks on the palace. The rebel attacks amped up the action in the book, so that was good, but I just didn't really feel they were all that believable. Seriously, how do these imbeciles keep managing to break into the castle again and again? Maybe rather than spending a fortune on bringing 35 women into the palace and giving them each a team of maids and a new custom designed gown for literally every day they are there, the royals could use that money to amp up their security a bit? Like drop 5 of the girls and hire 5 extra security guards instead? I mean come on...it just seemed a touch ridiculous that the palace could afford to host something as elaborate as the Selection, but then didn't have enough security to prevent vagabonds from breaking in again and again and wreaking havoc.
Also, the world building felt a bit off. I just kind of felt at times like there was a disconnect between the casual, almost normal way the characters talked to each other and how America conceived of herself and her situation and, on the other hand, the really rather grim situation she was actually in. Like she is participating in a really bizarre event...this one man is courting dozens of women who are expected to be okay with basically being objects with no autonomy--the entire thing is televised for national entertainment--all while rebels are constantly trying to break down the door and murder them all. The prince can kiss America today and then someone else the next day and that's just the way it is, everyone has to be ok with it. And you do see America occasionally acting out about that, but I don't know, it just felt a little superficial to me sometimes. It felt a little too much like our own world...I just thought the mood of the book didn't always match the subject matter. For example, when reading books like The Hunger Games, or even Divergent and Wither, you never really forget for a moment that this world is Different than ours in some seriously dark ways, even if there are similarities. The world building in The Selection just didn't have quite that complexity, I didn't think.
I started to get sort of bored about halfway through the book when it just felt like nothing much was happening except America and Maxon pulling their ears at each other, but then there was a major plot twist that I will not spoil for you here which was EXCELLENT and from that point on I was hooked. I have just purchased the sequel. Onward!