The Selection (The Selection #1) by Kiera Cass (2012), narrated by Amy Rubinate
The Selection is like a kindler, gentler Hunger Games. A Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, if you will. Thirty-five young women were chosen to come to the palace and meet Prince Maxon, who is seeking a wife. As he gets to know the girls, their pool will slowly be whittled down until he chooses the lucky woman who will marry him. The stakes aren't as high as in the Hunger Games - nobody has to die - but winning does mean a great improvement in the life circumstances, especially those girls from the lower castes.
America goes into this thinking she's only there for the food, and the checks her family will receive while she's away, but it turns out there are more compelling reasons to stay after all. Prince Maxon, who she assumed was shallow for holding such a contest in the first place, actually turns out to be a pretty good guy and America finds herself striking up a friendship with him, despite her devotion to Aspen. Of course there is also a horrible girl who wants to sabotage everyone else's chances. Isn't there always? This one is named Celeste and I really wanted her to get what she deserved and be eliminated early on, but that's not how these things work. I'm sure she'll remain until the bitter end. Someone has to be the jerk, right?
The romance is full of swoon. America is torn between two potential love interests and I really do feel unsure of where this will go. Will something happen to Aspen to take him out of the picture? Will the whole system break down so America can be free to marry a Six? I just don't know. I do know, however, that as of now I'm rooting for her to be with Maxon. I kind of agree with the character (I can't remember who) who said that poverty is a huge strain on a relationship and that love fades, and over time she may not feel like a poor man is worth the sacrifice. Also, I think Aspen is kind of a jerk. He waffles, and I do not like a man who waffles. He goes between saying they can't be together to saying he wants them to be together forever. He also gets upset at the thought that he can't be a good provider and totally takes this out on America, and I have no patience for that kind of macho bullshit.
I found the world of Illea fascinating. From what I gather, the US, Canada, and Mexico became one huge kingdom ruled over by a monarchy. It was after the Fourth World War and China took over the US, but then Russia started being threatening and all the North American countries banded together and formed this new kingdom. Throughout the book are references to the war in New Asia, as well as rebel attacks upon the palace. These attacks added a great bit of excitement to America's time there, but I also think the political situation might become more prominent as the series goes on. There's a bit of mystery about what the rebels want, and I am extremely intrigued by this! I'm also curious about how little the girls know of the country's history. It sounds like the knowledge isn't forbidden exactly, but just that nobody bothers to teach it. It was kind of strange and I'm hoping we'll find out more about this as the series progresses.
The audio narration was not outstanding, but still good. Rubinate did an especially good job with the male voices, particularly Maxon's. There were some spots where the gears seemed to shift too quickly. I suspect there was a break in the text, but the narration just went from one sentence to another, confusing me a for a few seconds until I realized the story had shifted scenes.
It is entirely possible that a couple months from now I won't remember what was so great about this book, and that it won't have stuck with me. It isn't especially original or unpredictable so far, but it's incredibly satisfying and I had such fun listening to it! I actually listened for an hour or two at my desk at work, that was how desperate I was to keep going. (And I was doing work at the same time, for any of my coworkers who might be reading this.) Immediately upon finishing I downloaded the second book and have already begun listening. Stay tuned for my post about The Elite - I'm sure you won't have long to wait!