The thing about the “Harry Potter” community is that once you’re in, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, gay or straight, male or female, human or Pooka – all that matters is your passion for all things Potter. It’s a series that just about everyone can enjoy, no matter what body you’ve been born into (or have magicked yourself into). All are included and accepted.
When I finished the fourth book and decided it was time to move on, I knew that I wanted to read something vastly different. At first I thought I wanted something a little more intellectual, a little more poetic, a little more weighty. The more I searched for my next read, the more I thought “Nope. That’s not it at all.” What I actually wanted, I found, was something a little more exclusive, a little more… elite. In fact, I wanted “The Elite.”
Title: The Elite (The Selection, Book 2)
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Hardcover: 336 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No; the only magical thing in it is love. (Depending on your personality type, commence swooning or gagging here).
“The Elite” is the second book in Kiera Cass’ “The Selection” trilogy. The series is like a combination between “The Hunger Games”, “The Bachelor” and “The Princess Diaries.” It’s set in a dystopian future in a land called “Ilea” where the caste system is very much alive and well. After the wars, all was chaos. Imposing the caste system upon the citizens of the new society was a way to create order. Now, it’s just how it is. In Ilea, each family is assigned a number and a corresponding trade (one being the highest and eight the lowest). The number “1” is reserved for members of the royal family and religious figures; “2”s are celebrities; “3”s are intellectuals; “4”s are merchants and farmers; “5”s are artists ; “6”s are domestics, “7”s are manual laborers and “8”s are “Untouchables.” Socializing out of one’s caste is frowned upon; if intermarriage takes place, the man’s status determines the couple’s caste. If a child shows a predisposition for another trade – if a child is born into a family of Artists but really has more of a scientific mind, for example – they are not allowed to pursue the profession of their choice. Where you’re born is where you stay. Also, premarital sex (for women) is punishable by imprisonment.
The protagonist is America Singer, a “5.” She, as her name suggests, sings. She and her neighbor, Aspen – a “6”- are secretly in love and have been planning their future together. At the beginning of “The Selection,” he dumps her, saying that she deserves better. He can’t stand for her to have to give up singing, something she loves, to take on the grueling work of a domestic. He wants her to be her best self and he thinks he’ll only bring her down. It’s an act of sacrifice and unselfishness. She’s rip-shit, of course, because even in this horrific, patriarchal, misogynist society, she’s managed to cultivate a sense of independence and believes herself capable of making her own decisions.
She’s distracted from her grief when she wins a surprise ticket into an illustrious competition – that for Prince Maxon’s heart. Whenever a Prince of Ilea comes of age and is eligible for the throne, 35 girls — from any caste! — are selected to vie for his love. Whoever wins the competition will marry him, become the Queen, and be elevated to a “1;” all who compete will be granted the status of a “3,” with the accompanying material comforts. No matter a girl’s previous caste, she & her family will never want or be hungry again. America is the poorest girl in the competition. 5’s do not live well. In a land of haves and have-nots, they are definitely the latter (though not the lowest of the latter). They don’t always have enough to give them full-bellies or full-hearts. Often they’re exhausted. Growing children – like America’s youngest brother – go to bed hungry, not getting all they need to grow up big & strong. When she wins that ticket, she sees an opportunity to provide for her loved ones and she takes it. Though America believes she’ll never be able to love again, she enters for their sake.
After she meets Maxon, she starts to reconsider her position. Maybe she could, one day, love him. “The Selection” is about America getting over Aspen and allowing herself to get to know Maxon. Then Aspen re-enters the picture.
The whole of “The Elite” is dedicated to the question: “Who will America choose? Aspen or Maxon?” And, to a question once thought to be settled: “Who will Maxon choose?” The stakes are even higher in the second book because there are only six girls left. “In the immortal words of The Doors, ‘The time to hesitate is through.'”
My thoughts on “The Elite” and on the series in general can be summed up in one very simple, very visual equation:
That’s the Pooka version. For you normal non-fey, the equation probably looks a little more like this:
“The Elite” is a confectionary treat. Its main ingredients are butter and powdered sugar. Though Cass does attempt to delve into politics – gender & class struggles, mainly – that’s not the real reason to read this book.
You read “The Selection” series if you want an ushy, gushy, boys-would-never-read-this, so-sweet-it’ll-give-you-a-toothache teen romance. Unlike the “Harry Potter” club, “The Selection”‘s club is Girls-Only. And that’s exactly what I wanted. Because while “Harry Potter” is a lot of things, it’s not a whirlwind romance. Harry’s crush on Cho isn’t nearly enough to make your heart flutter in your chest or to make butterflies do the same in your stomach. My cheeks were never crimson, my pulse was never racing. Maybe as Hermoine & Ron’s relationship progresses I’ll start to feel a bit of that. Their fight after the Yule Ball shows their relationship as a fiery spark waiting to ignite. But it’s early yet and it wasn’t enough. And, above all else, HP is a children’s series so it will never – and should never – go beyond a certain point (that’s what fanfic’s for). The relationships in “The Elite” are far more satisfying. There’s serious chemistry between the characters, and even a bit of physics when a hot & heavy make-out sesh leads to America & her beau getting horizontal. Still, there’s no actual sex and the tension abounds.
In comparison with the first book of the series, “The Elite” is the weaker novel. It’s really just America going back and forth between who she’ll end up with. Whenever you think she’s made her decision, something will happen to sway her to the other side. This could get annoying: “Oh no, poor America. Two gorgeous, kind-hearted men love her. Whatever will she do?” But to the author’s credit, it doesn’t. And what’s particularly astounding is Cass’ ability to make the reader feel exactly as America does – indecisive. In most YA books featuring romantic triangles (about 99.9% of all YA), it’s easy for fans to pick a clear winner. Are you “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob?” Not so with “The Selection.” I could never decide who I wanted her to be with. I never wanted her to hurt either one of them.
Here’s what I decided about two-thirds of the way through “The Elite”: I need to let Aspen go. No matter how much Cass tries to make the two men seem like they’re neck & neck, there’s no way that America can end up with Aspen. Because she has to become Queen. She’s the country’s only hope. She’s Katniss. She’s Mia Thermopolis. There has to be that fresh, smart, fiesty girl who brings reform to a sick nation – and none of the other contestants are up to the challenge. America’s not selfish enough to choose Aspen. She has to let him go for the same reason he tried to let her go – but not for one person’s sake, for an entire country’s sake. I both hope and dread the possibility of him finding someone else. Unless it’s me. I could comfort him in his time of need.
If you can get past all of the characters’ dumb names, and if you’re comfortable being in the “No-Boys-Allowed” club, you should read Kiera Cass’ “Selection” series. Just don’t expect brilliance. Expect cake. (In fact, when a pregnant friend asked me for a light read, that’s exactly how I convinced her to pick up the first book. I told her it was cake. I’m not afraid to play to a person’s weaknesses. I just want people to read books I know they’ll love. As far as manipulations go, that’s a pretty innocent one). As we come upon the summer season, add these to your list of “Beach Reads.” It’s a way to have your cake and eat it, too – without getting sand all stuck to the frosting.
Pooka Rating: 3.75 out of 5 Nibbles
(Pooka Rating for “The Selection” series: 4 out of 5 Nibbles).