April 26, 2013

The Elite by Kiera Cass

A tiny beat of my heart whispered, What about Aspen? But I was so taken in by Maxon that I barely even heard it.
-from The Elite by Kiera Cass
{okay, okay: 3.5 stars}

Please note that this review may contains spoilers for The Selection. Buy it here to read it first.

Let me defend my three star review by acknowledging how much I love this series, these characters, and the realistic portrayal of a seventeen year old girl faced with so much on her shoulders. I adore America, Maxon and Aspen and I admire the love triangle Kiera Cass has constructed that leaves me flabbergasted over who America should end up with as much as the next reader. But this installment (while I read it all within a six hour period), fell a little flat, giving me little to defend in terms of an overall good story and made me feel a little guilty for loving the series so much at all. 

If you're familiar with The Selection then you know that America Singer is competing to marry Prince Maxon in a publicized Bacheloresque competition that she originally wanted nothing to do with. She's already in love with Aspen, but Prince Maxon has proven to be worthy of her love as well. In The Elite, The Selection process is down to six girls, including America. America is the underdog to the public, coming from the most lowly caste, but to Prince Maxon she just has to tell him she wants to spend the rest of her life with him and she's the winner. But America struggles with her love for Maxon, her love for Aspen (now a castle guard), and ultimately the responsibility of being a princess.

I really want to give this book 4 stars, but more than the first half is almost nothing but America whining about how much she loves Maxon and then she doesn't, so she loves Aspen because he's dependable, but then she's so jealous of Maxon's relationship with the other girls that she loves him again and the cycle repeats. I thought the wishy washy love triangle was okay for the first book when the reader was being wooed by both Maxon and Aspen right alongside America; but in the second book I hoped for something more. I understand that a certain level of back and forth is relevant for America to come to a decision, but most of the book feels just like repetition from The Selection. I can't say I didn't enjoy it and it did have its redeeming qualities; America's distrust of Maxon makes her so unstable in their relationship that it turns her into someone she is not, namely the girl with whom Maxon fell in love. When Maxon begins to spend more time with other girls, I can't say I blame him and this adds a new dynamic to their love story. 

By the last third of the book, the story does pick up, so don't give up hope completely. I was especially eager to learn more about the attacks on the castle and the war with New Asia (although I was really expecting more).  Despite spending so much time on the love triangle, Cass proves herself an excellent storyteller in many details, my favorite being Aspen's acknowledgement that he and Maxon are competing in their own version of The Selection for America. I also like the way Cass shifts the reader's perspective of characters through plot points, like my opinion of Maxon and Marlee (I would say more, but I don't want to spoil anything for you!).

While I was disappointed with the substance of The Elite, I can't say I didn't love it. America's struggle with her identity is made even more difficult by the love triangle in which she has entrenched herself; she gauges her strengths and weaknesses against each of her suitors, but it isn't until she examines herself without the backdrop of a man that she realizes her strengths and redeems herself as a strong female protagonist. And for the record, I don't think readers give these dystopian heroines (America, Katniss, Tris...) enough credit for all they have to go through as teenage girls! For that and many other reasons, I highly recommend this series overall but am less enthused about this content of this book.

Bottom Line: A must read if you loved The Selection, but if you didn't love the first book you probably won't be as forgiving about this one as I was. 3.5/5 Stars

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