It is 300 years in the future; World War IV has ended, and the United States is no more. It has been replaced by new countries, complete with a numbered caste system based on occupations. Everyone is limited on their life choices based on their ancestors’ ability to help the government. Thus, the rich and royalty are deemed as “1”, while the homeless, wandering, and poorest people are labeled as “8”.
Living in Illѐa, America Singer and her family are all classified as “5” because they are performers and artists. While they do well during the holiday seasons, they barely scrape by other times during the year. America’s boyfriend, Aspen Leger, is a “6” because he and his family are servants, trained for indoor work. America and Aspen have secret midnight meetings in the tree house in her backyard because it is forbidden for people of different classes to have relationships with each other. Despite this, they hope to marry sometime in the future.
Prince Maxon Schreave has come of age, and it is time for him to choose a wife. It is a tradition in Illѐa for male royalty to choose brides from its citizenry. A lottery is held, whereby thirty-five girls are chosen to compete for the honor of being the prince’s bride. Since America is determined to marry Aspen, she has no desire to enter into the lottery. However, her mother and Aspen have other ideas. Aspen urges her and America’s mother bribes her to enter the lottery, and, despite all odds, she is one of the thirty-five girls chosen to compete for the crown!
From this moment on, America is considered the property of Illѐa. She must leave home and move into the royal palace in order to compete. There are many restrictions placed upon her, and her every waking moment, as well as the other girls’, is televised all across Illѐa. Her status is immediately upgraded to that of a “3”, and for every week she stays in the competition, her family is handsomely compensated. Her life becomes one of luxury—beautiful clothes and jewelry, delicious food, three maids to take care of her, and a lovely palace to live in! But there is also danger, for rebel attacks often occur at the palace.
Although her first impression of Prince Maxon is that of a haughty, selfish individual, America soon changes her mind. She is actually falling for the Prince, until Aspen shows up at the palace. He has been drafted into the military and has been named to the Royal Guard. He is still in love with her and vows to win her back. It is now up to America to decide what course she wants her life to take—does she choose the life of luxury with the prince or does she choose her first true love?
What a wild ride this book is—this dystopian fairy tale! I love the descriptions of the gowns the girls wear, the palace food, the rooms in the palace—I feel I am actually a part of this magical story! The contrast between America’s life at home with her life in the palace is like night and day. She becomes an instant celebrity and heroine to everyone in her province when she is selected! Once she moves into the palace, she feels bad that her maids are waiting on her and taking care of her needs! America is such a likable, compassionate character, despite being outspoken and blunt! Many of the girls want to completely change how they look and act, but she has the self-esteem to stay true to herself!
Aspen aggravates me. He is portrayed as such a nice guy in the beginning of the book. However, he leaves America high and dry when, knowing he is hungry, she gives him food she has prepared. Then he begs her to take him back when he shows up at the palace! What a jerk! I really want to like him, but I just can’t! On the other hand, I did not originally like Maxon, but I could not resist his charm! He is so well-mannered, polite, and thoughtful--a real prince, through and through!
Some of the other girls in the competition are likable, while others are so catty and cutthroat. This is so similar to teenage girls in today’s world—what a contrast in personalities! And what about that love triangle!???!!!! Who will Maxon choose, and who will America choose? We will have to wait until the next book in the series to find out more!
I have read that the television rights to the book have been bought by the CW Network, and they are working on the pilot. I’m anxious to see how true they stay to the book!
I recommend this delightful book to middle school, high school, and public libraries!