Sum It Up One Sentence: America Singer is a part of a lower caste in an alternate future before she is chosen to be one of many girls who will vie to marry the prince in front of the whole country.
I had heard relatively good things about this book. Of course, it is the first in a trilogy, which was finished up last month. The author is now publishing more novellas about minor characters. I had placed it on my “want to read” list, but forgot all about it until I spotted it while browsing the library’s digital catalog. I enjoy what some people might call “escapist” fiction, so romance mixed with a little dystopia is right up my alley.
Illéa is an alternate United States, though the author does a poor job of world-building. All areas are renamed, so it is impossible to imagine how the country is now set up. This new country has a caste system, with the royal family being One and the homeless Eight. America is a Five, the caste devoted to the arts. Her specialty is… wait for it… singing. Bet you would never have guess that by her name. America is in love with Aspen, a Six, though due to his lower standing, they have to hide. By entering the selection to compete for the crown, her family would be generously compensated and her status automatically elevated to a Three. Not to mention, if she wins, she would be a princess. Aspen’s guilt over not being able to provide forces him to push America away and get her to enter the selection. It wouldn’t be much of a book if she wasn’t one of the thirty-five women chosen. Prince Maxon is not quite what America expected, and she really likes the free food, so she does her best to stay in the competition. Unfortunately, the palace is also under constant attack by rebels, and who else would be drafted into the palace guard but Aspen. Cue love triangle.
The plot really is an interesting idea. You have a book that has a little bit of everything: love, royalty, reality television, competition, catty women, and action. Some bits are a little better executed than others. The competition and catty women aspects seem cliche. There are the typical nice, sweet girl and the overtly evil ones. Even the one girl who could seem complex, Marlee, comes off more droll since we don’t get much information about them. The competition is not the main focus, so we don’t hear details about the dates the other girls have, or even sometimes the reasons they are eliminated. And the rebel attacks, which seem like they will become a main focus, are almost confusing and silly in their explanation, even when Maxon gives America details. Some of these issues can be caused by having your main character tell the story, but I can think of several of these novels that do it better (Hunger Games comes to mind). It’s not that the book is too short to tell the gritty details, it’s that it doesn’t use those pages wisely.
I am not sure if I really like America Singer. It feels like another one of those “too perfect” fantasy girls that some people must wish they were (except they don’t exist). She is crying and hyperventalating the first time she meets Prince Maxon. She screams at him and basically calls him a loser, yet, it makes him really like her. And instead of kicking her out of the competition, they promise to become best buddies and create a signal to know that the other wants to talk. She can sing beautifully, play multiple instruments, speak three languages, and is beautiful to the point that she wears no makeup and still stuns everyone in the room. Her only fault is that she is boy crazy. She is too wrapped up in her boy issues to even bother caring about what the other girls are doing.
Prince Maxon is the dream man. Gorgeous, philanthropic (he makes a soup kitchen based on a simple story told by America), awkwardly charming, and in love with her from the get go. Clearly, since our POV character doesn’t know his story, it is hard to get to know him outside this context. Not to mention, why is there a monarchy in an alternate future?
Oh, Aspen. He needs to “be a man” and provide for America, but since he can’t, he pushes her into entering the contest. Then he breaks up with her and is seen with another women when America leaves for the castle. Yet, when he shows up as a guard, we are supposed to buy his story and forgive him. Apparently, there is a lot of hate online for Aspen, and I can see why. I realize he is her first love, but the machismo thing never worked for me. Plus, if the author has to explain in a blog post about how Aspen really loves America by flat out saying, “It’s unfortunate that you can’t see what I can,” there is a problem. It means the character is not well written.
Speaking of writing… the naming conventions are atrocious. America Singer? Or how about the lovely first names of Kamberly, Tiny, Tuesday, or Kota? There are some other bad offenders, but I didn’t have the stomach to flip through the Kindle looking for them again. While other YA novels have taken liberties to making up random, weird names, this is the first time if felt truly lazy to me. The same goes for the world-building and history behind this new country. I hope it is delved into in the next novel, because it is hard to imagine yourself in a fantasy world if it isn’t aptly described.
I just looked over my notes and realized I wrote some pretty bad things about this book. While the writing could be more polished and the characters better developed, overall, it was not terrible. It was an easy read with a lot of fun elements going for it. I did not enjoy that there was no ending, which is another issue with trilogies. While this isn’t on the edge of what’s new and fresh in YA, it is different enough to make it worth a quick read. I have yet to decide if I enjoyed it enough to actually finish the next two books.
4 out of 10
Author: Kiera Cass
Category(s): Romance, Young Adult, Dystopia
Pages: 339 (print)