Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Elite

I am almost embarrassed to say that I read The Elite, a young adult novel by Kiera Cass, in two days. It's the second installment of a series that began with The Selection, which I read and reviewed here. As you'll notice after reading that review and then this one, some of my impressions remain the same, though my overall impression seems to be improved. (I confess, re-reading that review, I seem to be a little harsher on the book than it deserves.)

But why embarrassed, exactly? The Elite has aptly been compared to reality TV. It's about young women vying for the attention of a prince as they compete toward the end goal of becoming his wife and, eventually, the queen of his country. It's like a beauty pageant meets Cinderella. And while this premise calls out to the little romantic girl in each of us (girls), it's a rather silly and shallow idea.

Granted, Cass adds depth to the story through the politics of the world she has created. Her heroine, named America (perhaps this is a callback to the freedoms of life as we know them here in the United States; the story takes place in a future world where the United States no longer exists), comes from a mid-level caste in a society where your caste is your world. America has been fortunate enough to change her caste simply by being selected for the opportunity to win the prince's hand, but questions are raised about those who are not so fortunate and what opportunities for change arise when one is in power, if one dares to take them. So, the story is not quite as much of a guilty pleasure as it initially appears on the surface.

I like the characters. They are developed and alive, even minor ones, and the major ones have concerns I can identify with. Perhaps I like the characters too much because, like America, I can't decide which boy she should end up with. And here's where the story gets annoying. Love triangles are entirely too common in young adult fiction. Maybe that's on purpose, to reflect the choices real teenagers are faced with. But in this case, the exciting possibilities of falling in love with a prince are overshadowed by America's lingering feelings regarding her former love, a guard who works at the palace. Both are great choices, even though one is poor. I like that the author makes it clear that one is just as good as the other as far as love goes, that being rich doesn't make one a better choice than the other. But the fact that there is a choice at all when America has willingly submitted to this process of trying to get the prince to love her, saps some of the excitement. It's dangerous, not fun, and though the book acknowledges this, I just couldn't shake the feeling of wrongness about it.

I'd hate to SPOIL anything, and I won't, but if you are at all worried, don't read the following line. America's dilemma ends up better than I expected it to at the end of this book. I'm not 100 percent happy with it, but I'm still interested in the story and anticipating Book 3. With my feelings on this book pulled every which way, it averages out to an enjoyable three-star read.

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