This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Seventeen-year-old America Singer lives in the futuristic kingdom of Illéa, where the society is divided into eight castes. One, the highest caste, is made up of royalty, while Eight includes the poorest people. Fives, like America and her family, are poorly-paid artists. When the kingdom holds a televised competition, called The Selection, to marry off prince Maxon Schreave, America is invited to participate. Everyone is ecstatic about the opportunity except America, who is secretly in love with a Six named Aspen. Feeling guilty he cannot provide for her, Aspen breaks up with America. Heartbroken, she goes to the palace to participate in The Selection.
America eventually falls in love with Maxon but feels conflicted when Aspen arrives after joining the palace guard. America decides to stay in The Selection until she can sort out her feelings. Most of the other girls are dismissed as Maxon narrows down the list of candidates to the top six, the Elite.
America is clearly Maxon’s favorite. He shows her a secret library and a diary penned by the country’s first king, Gregory Illéa. The diary mentions a long-forgotten holiday called Halloween, and Maxon delights America by throwing a costume party for the Elites and their families. At the party, she sees Maxon and her father talking in the gardens. She goes to bed happy, believing she belongs with Maxon.
She’s awakened abruptly in the middle of the night by her maids, who dress her in black and rush her outside the palace. There, the Elite and their families gather. America’s Elite friend, Marlee, and a guard, who were caught in an intimate moment, are about to be executed. Maxon pleads with the king for leniency, and the two are sentenced to caning.
America tries to stop the brutality, and guards take her back to her room. When Maxon visits America later, she is furious with him for not preventing the beating. She tells him she doesn’t see how she can become the princess knowing the cruelty that would be required of her. He apologizes, convincing her to stay and give him and The Selection another chance.
After the incident, Maxon and America’s relationship becomes strained. America notices that Maxon and another Elite, Kriss, seem to be growing closer. Aspen, ever present and hoping to win back America’s heart, encourages her to sneak away and secretly spend time with him. America begins to feel that Aspen is the only person she can trust, and her feelings for him are rekindled.
A few days later, Maxon arranges for America to meet with Marlee in secret. Marlee tells America how Maxon has improved the situation for her and her lover without the king’s knowledge. America realizes that Maxon really does care for the girls.
When rebels attack the palace, America escapes to the royal family’s safe room. She’s hurt to see Maxon and Kriss whispering and laughing. The next day, northern rebels attack the palace, and America flees into the woods. Hiding in a tree, she sees a teenage girl and boy leaving the palace carrying bags of stolen books. The girl smiles at America, curtsies and runs away. Aspen finds America and takes her back to the palace. America realizes that the northern rebels are after Illéa’s diary.
The Elite are tasked with championing a cause to be presented to the nation during a live television program. America has a difficult time deciding on what cause she cares about. She turns to Gregory Illéa’s diary for inspiration, but instead, discovers that he invented the caste system for power. Illéa assigned his friends and contributors to high castes, while placing his enemies in lower castes. Illéa seized power from the young country’s president, changed the democratic government into a monarchy, declared himself king and forced his young daughter, Katherine, to marry an elderly king from another country.
Horrified by what she’s learned, America decides to find Maxon and tell him about Illéa. She’s furious to find Maxon and Celeste kissing passionately. America demands to leave The Selection, but Maxon tells her he will not send her away. America is convinced Maxon is just like Gregory Illéa, a ruler who convinces his people that he is wonderful, while keeping them trapped in their low situations.
She decides that while she is done with Maxon and the competition, she will go out with a bang in her final presentation. In a live TV broadcast, America shares the information from the diary and pleads for the elimination of the caste system. King Clarkson furiously challenges her argument and tells the production crew to cut the feed. The king demands to know where America got the diary. Maxon saves America by telling the king that he gave it to her. Clarkson demands America be sent home, but Maxon refuses. The king and Maxon leave for a private discussion.
America later encounters Maxon in the hall, just as rebels attack the palace again. The two hide out alone, and America sees Maxon’s father has caned him. Maxon admits he’s been receiving similar bloody lashes for years. He admits to spending time with Kriss and Celeste because he was afraid America was pushing him away. America realizes she has used Aspen in a similar way. America and Maxon spend the next few hours getting closer than ever, but America knows the king will eliminate her from The Selection.
As she packs to leave, Aspen comes to make plans for their future. He is crushed when she ends their relationship by saying she needs time and space to sort out her feelings. Maxon arrives and tells her he convinced his father to allow her to stay, provided that she can be on her best behavior. He tells her that, while he loves her, she has not earned his trust. He needs Kriss in case America lets him down.
King Clarkson confronts America, telling her she’s nothing special and lacks obedience. Fearing for her safety, America promises to change. Back in her room, she and her maids make plans for winning The Selection.
After one of the rebel attacks, America says she prayed that Aspen was safe.
Other Belief Systems
Language and name calling used includes d--n, jerk, h---, whore and pig. God’s name is taken in vain.
Two sets of rebels attack the palace: rebels from the north who break into the palace and rummage through rooms, searching for Gregory Illéa’s diaries, and rebels from the south, who steal, kill and destroy. When southern rebels break into the palace, they leave messages scrawled in blood on the walls saying they will be back. Guards and staff are killed during rebel attacks, and blood is mentioned.
Palace guard Carter and one of the Elite, Marlee, are caned for having an illicit affair. Marlee and Carter were found in what is described as an intimate moment, which under The Selection law, is punishable by death. During the punishment, Carter’s pants are pulled down, and he is beaten on his bare backside. Marlee is beaten on her hands. Blood is mentioned.
Nurses in the palace’s hospital wing confide in America that Celeste said something vulgar about another girl’s parents, prompting the girl to slap Celeste and get thrown out of The Selection. They tell America that Celeste also slaps her maids regularly.
Natalie, one of the Elite, is told that rebels kidnapped and murdered her sister, in protest of The Selection.
America kisses both Maxon and Aspen at different times, and her feelings for each man fluctuate.
America knows that Marlee is hiding a secret from her, but it’s not until after the costume party that everyone finds out that Marlee has been having a secret relationship with Carter for months. After Marlee and Carter are married, America asks her what sex is like. Marlee tells her that it hurt the first time but was enjoyable after that.
Kriss tells America that she is in love with Maxon, but they don’t kiss. Kriss tells her that in her family, couples do not kiss until they are engaged.
America sees Celeste smiling seductively at the king and wonders if the other girl has any boundaries. She goes looking for Maxon one night and sees him and Celeste kissing passionately. Later, Maxon explains to her that he knows Celeste uses him, and so he uses her to feel normal. He tells America that he respects Kriss’ boundaries, and he would rather have been in America’s arms, but he turned to Celeste to pretend someone loved him.
At the end of the novel, America realizes that she is in love with Maxon and decides to work to win his trust. She ends her relationship with Aspen, who vows to continue to fight for her.
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Halloween - Maxon takes America to a secret library to look up the meaning of Halloween. One book says Halloween began as a Celtic festival that marked the end of summer, but evolved into a secular holiday, mainly for children. Another book defines it as something similar, but mentions pumpkins and Christianity.
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