America Singer is a Five. That means she’s right about in the middle of the caste system for her homeland of Ile’a. Living as a member of the artist caste, she sings to earn money for her family to be able to live. Her greatest hope is to marry a four and move up one caste. Fives never marry up more than that. She understands that and she’s content with the man she loves, Aspen. Unfortunately, he’s a six. So if America were to marry him, she would be marrying down – which does happen, but it’s rare. Aspen understands that America is wonderful and, in his eyes, perfect and that in order to marry him, she’d be working her way down. He also knows that it’s unlikely he’d be able to afford to support any sort of family being a servant.
And then there’s The Selection. This is a contest that is watched by the whole country as women from any caste compete to marry the Prince of Ile’a. (Princesses just get married off to princes from other countries in order to strengthen ties for the Kingdom. The Prince does this in order to connect with his country and have a good woman by his side to eventually help him run the country.)
America does not want to participate, but when everyone around her pushes her to submit an application (including Aspen) she decides that it’s easier to go ahead. Once they get it out of their system and she’s not chosen, she’ll be able to fully settle into her relationship with Aspen. However, America winds up in the palace competing with thirty-five other girls for the prince’s affections. And really, that’s only the beginning.
This book was a fast read. It was engaging and interesting and it didn’t take long for me to get into the story. Almost immediately both my daughter (who is reading it now) and I saw the parallels to the story of Esther. Though we don’t believe that America is destined to save her entire race from death, it’s hard not to see the similarities. A young girl with no aspirations to be royalty is suddenly plucked from her home and sent to a palace to compete for the affections of the future king. She’s draped in beautiful gowns and given expensive gifts and fabulous food and the only reason she stays is because she knows that her family will benefit while she’s there.
I came to really enjoy the story. America’s character is realistic and easy to understand. As the reader, we can all see things happening around her and often, she’s the last to realize. That seems to be the case more often than not in real life though.
For me, it’s helped open up some interesting lines of communication between my daughter and I. I appreciate that we’ve found something outside of television or movies that we are both enjoying. She’s never been a big reader, so when something catches her attention like this she dives in. I’ve found her reading late at night and she’s taking the book everywhere with her so she can read it in her free time. This excites me and it’s made me enjoy the book more for that dynamic.
Parents, be aware that in one or two areas in the beginning of the book, there’s some frank discussion about sex. Though they don’t have sex and Cass is careful to skirt around the edges of the issue, we do know that in Ile’an society, sex outside of marriage is illegal. Being arrested and put into jail is a pretty good reason to not have sex. We also know that if this weren’t the case, America and Aspen would probably have already had sex – convinced that they were going to be together for the rest of their lives. There’s not a lot of time spent on it and it doesn’t take away from the story at all, it’s just something parents might want to be aware of if their daughter is reading the book.
I also find it fascinating (and awesome) that this book has already been optioned into a television series for the CW Network. As of right now, it’s slated to come out mid season and might coincide with the release of the next book (in early 2013).
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing what happens with America, Maxon and Aspen in the next adventure!
Rated PG13: It’s light, but there is some frank discussion of sex, virginity and some more mature topics of conversation.
Book provided by the publisher. Thank you!