I have to admit being skeptical about this book, even as I was drawn to the cover, and took my time about putting it to the top of my library TBR pile. But it came up, and I started it, and was hooked. A simple story of a future, not too far removed from ours in terms of technology and clothing, etc., which was my one sticking point. For all that happened politically, wars, rebuilding society, etc., it must have happened in a short time, since nothing else really changed. But it is a YA book, and as such, can be forgiven for glossing over some technical details. That said, it is a charming tale, the first of a series, about a society, in a future America that is now a Kingdom. The Ruler is just, but vast social and financial inequities exist. At the start of the kingdom several generations ago, it was determined that whatever skills you had were the “caste” into which you and subsequent family members were born, and they would retain the same trade or skill set in succeeding ones. The lowest the caste, an 8, was reserved for the poor, the outcasts, and others who ignored the rules set down. You could marry between castes, although it was not encouraged. America Singer belongs to a family of artisans, level 4, which enables them to live in a decent house, and usually have enough on the table but not for treats and luxuries. She is a singer, her brother is an artist, etc. They work by commissions from wealthier families to perform at events, etc.
The king’s daughters, and for the generations before, are usually married off to neighboring kingdoms for alliances and strategic purposes, but for the prince, Maxon, he must, as princes before him, select a girl from his own country in a process known as The Selection. Each girl over the age of 18 and still of marriageable age, is invited to fill out an application, be interviewed, and from that, 36 are chosen to represent the best contenders from various provinces. After that, they are whisked of the the palace to begin a “Bachelor” style series of dates with the prince, being suitably coiffed and dressed, and appearing in TV segments with interviews, and glimpses into their lives. They are filmed whenever they are out and about inside the castle. They can not leave, unless the Prince asks them to. They develop a fan base on the outside, and the opinions of the people are kept in consideration. Meanwhile, the families of those selected, usually from level 5 and up, are compensated, and America knows her family needs the money. In addition, after a contender is rejected she becomes a 3, a high level of caste, since she will have become accustomed to the style of living in the palace. If she is chosen by the Prince, she is automatically in the royal family and a one. But the catch is that America has already fallen in love with a six, a day laborer, who often does odd jobs around their house, and for others. They have been meeting secretly, since such meetings after curfew, and unsupervised, are forbidden, and are harshly punished. He feels guilty about her higher status and what she would give to be his wife, and encourages her to apply. Things get out of hand, and he breaks it off. Heartbroken, she goes through the selection process and becomes one of the 36. But she is outspoken, and honest, and lets the Prince know right off the bat that her heart is given to another, but hopes that he will allow her to stay for the sake of her family. They become friends, and his interest in her grows. Will he keep her? Will she renounce him for her love back home? Not all is revealed by the end of the book, as more is to come. A fun, easy to read, light-hearted book that is charming and enjoyable.