I finally took the plunge and read The Selection. I was resigned to the fact that I would probably have the urge to inflict pain upon myself while reading this book. Fortunately, I was plagued by fits of hysterical laughter instead.
Forget the bad dialogue, lack of characterization, corny character names, and the super lame love-triangle with the know-it-all heroine who embodies perfection but doesn't believe she is pretty. Other reviewers have done a great job discussing these issues and I don't feel the need to address them in more detail.
The major issue I had is with the book's designation as a dystopian story. What a joke. America Singer and her family live in the nation of Illea. This country was founded with a caste system ranging from Ones (the monarchy) to Eights (people who are worse than dirt poor and starving). So far, this is pretty simplistic and within the realm of believability. The rich are on top and the poor are on the bottom. It's virtually impossible to improve one's social position unless he or she marries into a family belonging to a higher caste. This is nothing new.
The one noticeable difference from a typical class system is that everyone is identified by their caste number, which is registered with the government. America is a Five, which means she is "very poor." She's not the most perceptive fish in the sea because her family seems to have regular meals with meat, bread, fruit, and tea. Plus, America's family is comprised of trained musicians who own expensive instruments. She and her siblings are home-schooled and have been taught to speak French and Spanish fluently since these languages are regularly spoken throughout the country. Yep, her family is so poor and underprivileged.
Oh, hear me out. It gets so much better!
Apparently, the former United States amassed a high amount of debt and was unable to pay China the money it was owed. What does China do? Invade and conquer, of course! A war lasts an unspecified number of years and then the American States of China (ASC) is born. Europe decides it wants a piece of the pie too, so it bands together a few years later and Russia makes a failed attempt to invade and occupy the ASC. After this 2nd invasion, the ASC decides to change its name in honor of its military leader and king, Illea.
**begins another bout of uncontrollable laughter**
First of all, how does the formation of a monarchy make sense to Americans or the Chinese? Why the regression? Even the current British monarchy is purely ceremonial and holds little, if any, political power. Also, why on earth does the existence of a monarchy with a caste system in which social mobility is extremely limited and women are oppressed different from any form of government that has existed for the past two millennium? This is not a dystopian tale that critically examines social issues that exist in real life. It's a poor regurgitation of a romanticized fairy tale that is not even remotely romantic.
If you're going to write a dystopian story, there needs to be some form of truth within the world you are creating. Call me an arrogant American, but this futuristic version of the U.S. would never happen in a million years. The American government spends an insane amount of money on defense - everything from guns, bombs, nukes, air force, navy, military, etc. Sure, a nation or citizen could attempt an act of terrorism (which history shows is plausible) and maybe someone is crazy enough to attempt an invasion. The idea that the Chinese could successfully occupy a massive country whose citizens possess an unhealthy attachment to their guns is ridiculous. Nuclear war would happen first. We'd all be doomed.
On a side note, is it just me or are all of these characters a bunch of white, blond bimbos? Just to add more evidence to the nonsensical, Illea was occupied by the Chinese but there isn't a single person of color in this book. None of the citizens speak Chinese, but America and her siblings speak Spanish and French. Too bad there aren't any Hispanic characters in this book either.