Look y’all, I like YA literature. I also have a soft spot for dystopian themes. One of my favorite adolescent books is The Giver. The Giver was somewhat innovative back in 1993 (over 20 years ago) when Lois Lowry published it. It was one of the first modern dystopian books targeted towards children and probably helped pave the way for books like The Hunger Games. The biggest challenge The Selection series faces is that YA dystopian is extremely overdone these days. What with Divergent, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and a slew of others—the genre is over saturated and no longer considered creative.
To it’s credit, the concept for the Selection series is intriguing. It’s a blend of dystopian, reality TV, and fairy tale. What girl doesn’t love a good fairytale? It’s like Cinderella meets the Bachelor in Panem. It was fun to read and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Still, it feels like a guilty pleasure. There is so much to critique. The writing, while not distractingly bad, is nothing special. The plot is extremely predictable. The characters feel a bit simplistic. A feminist critique would probably tear this book to shreds. The main character (America Singer) is arguably a strong female lead (in a predictable she challenges the prince and doesn’t change who she is sort of way) but at the end of the day this a Princess book that probably makes young girls dream about wearing tiaras and fancy dresses more than leading a country. It also has quite a bit of blatant social commentary. I feel like the best social commentary or critique is the one that remains ambiguous. When you just come right out and say it the story starts to feel like the author’s personal soap box, a tool to get their opinion heard, rather than a nuanced story that raises questions about the world we live in. To make matters worse, the authors acknowledgements at the end of the book sound as if they were written by a middle school girl. Perhaps a middle school girl with a gift for writing, but writing that is only considered good because she is 13.
I know that children and adolescent literature can be done well even when it’s genre specific. Harry Potter is possibly the best example of a long fantasy series that is well-written, supremely plotted, and accessible to both girls and boys, adults and children, highly educated and average readers. From an purely objective position this series just isn’t going to go down in history as one of the best. I predict this book will be optioned for a really terrible movie franchise (following in the footsteps of Beautiful Creatures, I am Number Four, Vampire Academy, and all the other horrid YA adaptions trying to hitch a ride on the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games) that won’t make it past the first movie—but we’ll see.
Is it possible to recognize that a book is not very good and still like it? Apparently so because despite all the obvious reasons to hate this book—I rather enjoyed it and plan to read the other installments.