I know this series gets both good and bad reviews, so I am prefacing my thoughts about this book with one request: Keep in mind that it is a YA novel. It is meant for a younger audience so we adult readers should give it a break, just like we did with Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, all of John Green’s novels, etc. I try to read all YA novels through the lens of my inner 14-year-old self. That helps me if things get too sappy or angsty–is that a word? I’m using it.
Personally, I think this is a great start to a dystopian series spotlighting a royal prince trying to choose his bride using a reality show setting. Prince Maxon is the future king of Ilia (sp?? I listened to audio), a small country set somewhere in post-World War Three America, an area now divided into small warring countries after an overthrow of the occupying government of China. Ilia is now divided by a caste system; the elite being Ones or Twos, moving down to the lowest caste of Eights, who are the poorest of the poor, where most of the criminal activities take place and people are starving.
America Singer, a Five, is the middle of five children and like all her siblings, she is also responsible to help provide for her family. All children must find their gifts and decide how they will find employment. America’s family is artistic (some are sculptors, some are musicians, America plays multiple instruments and sings). When her name comes up as being the right age to participate in the contest for the hand of Prince Maxon, she is totally against taking part. One reason is her presumption that Prince Maxon is a stuck-up wimp; but more importantly, she is already in love with her secret boyfriend of two years, Aspen Leger, a boy who is in a lower class than her family. Their secret trysts in her treehouse where they spend time kissing could lead to both of their deaths.
She finally agrees to take part after being guilted by her mother to help raise their family up to a higher level which would give them needed financial help. She also is encouraged by her beloved Aspen, who knows he could never give her what she deserves. When she reaches the castle she is unprepared for the back-stabbing and game-playing females all competing for Maxon, for the frequent rebel attacks on the castle which forces them to hide within the walls, and for her changing opinion of the Prince, who turns out to be a close friend and perhaps more.