There will be a total of five books in this series; four have been released to date. To avoid any spoilers but just see my general impressions, you could skip to the Overall Evaluation at the end of the reviews.
The Selection – Note: No spoilers for Book One
For me, reading these books was like when I am in the mood for cookies, and don’t have the best cookies around, but keep eating what is there because I want cookies.
This is a five-book series that begins with a selection being held in Illéa (part of the former United States – this book takes place after World War IV) for a wife for Prince Maxon. All girls between the ages of 16 and 20 are eligible to apply, and 35 will be selected for the initial competition.
America Singer is 17, and her mother encourages her to apply, because if she gets selected, it will mean extra food for the family. The Singer family is in the Fifth Caste and times are often rough. Society is divided into eight castes, with the highest being One, designating the Royal Family. America says she doesn’t mind being a Five, except when they go hungry. But her mother is a “caste climber” and wants more for America.
America’s ambition is not to be Illéa’s princess, but to be Aspen’s. Aspen Leger is a Six (“Sixes are born to serve”), but America loves him. They carry on a secret romance in her tree house. Castes are encouraged to marry within their own caste, but it’s not impossible to marry a step below or above, although not easy.
Aspen decides he won’t make America be a Six, and breaks up with her. Just afterward, America finds out she has made the cut for the initial selection. She is immediately elevated to a Three, although her family remains Fives. (If she wins, she and her entire family will become Ones as members of the royal family.)
America takes off for the palace in Angeles, meets the other contestants, their handlers, and their maids (each girl gets three maids to prepare her dresses, make-up, and so on).
On her first night in the palace, America gets claustrophobic and runs out into the gardens. There she meets Maxon for the first time, and she vents to him about how much she hates this whole process. She also tells him her heart lies elsewhere, even though Aspen broke up with her. She asks him to let her stay anyway, because she couldn’t face Aspen and her family needs the money. She says that if he lets her stay, she will be a friend and help him decide among the other girls. He accepts.
The girls have to pass through various hurdles, including avoiding the desire to kill each other. But there are external enemies as well. As the story progresses, the palace is attacked several times by rebels – there are both northern rebels and southern rebels; the Northerners are more benign than the Southerners, but both cause panic in the palace.
America begins to think Maxon is a pretty good guy, and that she could even fall in love with him. But then she gets a surprise when a new staff member shows up at the palace and she is once more confused.
As the book ends, Maxon narrows the selection of girls down to the Elite – the final six.
The Elite – Note: Spoilers for Book One
The Elite picks up right after the end of Book One. America is now part of the final six – the Elite – in competition to be chosen as Prince Maxon’s wife, but is also dealing with the complication of the presence in the palace of her former boyfriend, Aspen, who showed up as one of the guards. Maxon knows she had a boy back home who broke her heart, but doesn’t know that Officer Leger is that boy.
Meanwhile, America flip-flops back and forth so much between Aspen and Maxon I was contemplating suing for whiplash.
And in other developments, America reads the secret diary of the country’s founder, Gregory Illéa, whom everyone thinks is a hero. It turns out, however that “he was nothing more than a power-hungry monster.” The current king, Maxon’s father, is a tyrant as well. The King sees America – a Caste Five and a believer in “justice” – as posing a definite danger, and he even threatens America, warning her she does not want to have him as an enemy.
The One – Note: Spoilers for Books One and Two
The One begins right after America has decided to stay and fight for Maxon, in spite of the threats from his father, King Clarkson. Of course, she still doesn’t know how she feels about Aspen, but whatever.
Complicating the selection process at this point is a parley requested by members of the Northern Rebels. Rebels August and Georgia request to meet with Maxon and America. They tell Maxon they will support him over both his father and over the Southern Rebels. Further, they want Maxon to pick America as his consort. Maxon blows up: yet another party trying to direct whom he should marry!
For his part, King Clarkson calls Maxon to him and says that if America stays, she must be obedient, and he wants her to read public service announcements telling everyone “to be happy with your own caste, not to associate closely with those outside it.” America refuses, and fights with Maxon over it.
In any event, America has to return home for a few days, because her father has died of a heart ailment. After his death, she learns an astounding secret about her father. She and Maxon also come to see how they feel about each other. But then, Maxon finds out an astounding secret of his own, and everything changes, yet again. It is only after a rebel attack when everyone almost dies that they learn what really matters.
The Heir – Note: Spoilers for Books One, Two, and Three
At the end of The One, America and Maxon married, with Aspen – now in love with the maid Lucy – serving as Best Man. As America explained: “Aspen had shifted to fill a desperate place in my life. Not my boyfriend, not my friend, but my family.” Maxon, being more or less perfect, is okay with that.
This fourth book, The Heir, is from the perspective of Eadlyn, 18 and the oldest child of Maxon and America, who have now been married for twenty years. Once again there is unrest in the kingdom, and Maxon and America ask Eadlyn, heir to the throne (she preceded her twin brother Ahren by seven minutes), to create a distraction for the populace by holding a “selection” for a mate. Eadlyn is appalled, but loves her dad so much, and he looks so worried and tired all the time….
Eadlyn, as some of the selected boys let her know, is arrogant and spoiled but, as we know because we know and love her parents, not irredeemably so. In fact, exposure to the boys of the selection is very good for her, as her parents knew it would be. She not only learns humility, but she loses some of her comtempt for the people she loved mainly in theory only.
As the selection proceeds, we aren’t sure who will win, but of course there are favorites, not only for Eadlyn, but for the readers. The selection has to be deferred however when tragedy strikes the royal family.
Overall Evaluation: The book and its successors read like fan fiction (in a mashup of The Bachelor, Hunger Games, Matched, and the like) and aren’t very well-written, but they’re still as addictive as even not-your-favorite cookies. Besides, I would read these books for their covers alone. They remind me of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, my all time favorite! (Caveat: I also pick out beer and wine based on their labels rather than their reputations.)
The Selection published by HarperTeen, 2012
The Elite published by HarperTeen, 2013
The One published by HarperTeen, 2014
The Heir published by HarperTeen, 2015
Note: The author announced on her website:
“Warner Bros has won film rights to Kiera Cass’ global bestseller The Selection, the first of a five-novel series, and has set Black List scribe Katie Lovejoy to adapt it. DiNovi Pictures’ Denise DiNovi and Alison Greenspan are producing with Pouya Shahbazian.”