Young Adult Book Thoughts: The Selection, Hereafter

Training for a half-marathon, I find that sometimes it’s nice to take a break from playlists of familiar songs and use the time on long runs to catch up on my reading via audio books.

Sometimes for this task, I pick the audio readings of classic Doctor Who stories.  At others, I choose books that will be entertaining but won’t necessarily require as much attention to detail as others so I can pay attention to other things going on around me.  For example, young adult fiction.  I’ve admitted before that I have a weak spot for angsty teen books and when they’re done right, they can be a not-so-guilty pleasure.

But if you’d been driving by or passed me out on one of my long runs the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed me wincing a lot or rolling my eyes.  And it’s not due to any physical discomfort but instead some discomfort put in place by some of my recent audio book choices.

I recently endured young adult Twilight clone novels that had me wanting to throw my iPod off in disgust not only with them but also myself for being so weak in a)choosing them to begin with and b)not strong enough to walk away and not want to at least know how terrible things could get before the novel reached its final pages (or in this case bytes).

The novel in question were The Selection and Hereafter.

Of the two, The Selection was the novel I enjoyed more, but that’s just because there were moments in the novel I didn’t want to reach and slap every single character in the story.  That’s not the case with Hereafter.

Borrowing a page or two from The Hunger Games, The Selection centers around a dystopian future prince’s decision to take a bride.   In the dystopian future setting of the story, there are rigid caste lines based on a family’s profession.   The only chance to to cross from one social strata to another is via marriage.  This mostly extends to women making a move up by marrying into a social group higher than yours.

Enter America Singer, whose musically talented family is a fifth level.  America is in love with a young man below her social station named Aspen (he’s a six).  Due to rigidly enforced rules, their romance is relatively chaste, though America is ready to throw caution to the wind and marry Aspen.  She assumes he’s getting his ducks in a row to ask for her hand in marriage when the royal selection is announced.  Seems that the prince needs a wife and the way it’s done is similar to what you see on The Bachelorette — gather together a group of women to compete for his hand and see if sparks fly.

Given the lack of success that reality show has in in creating long-term couples, there are some interesting ideas lurking under the surface there.  Unfortunately, they’re not ever really deal with during the course of the novel.   America reluctantly enters the pool of applicants and is chosen by Prince Maxon to be one of the thirty-five women who could be his wife.  This is largely due to her having a glow of love on her from news that Aspen is getting ready to propose — or so she thinks.  Aspen dumps her, she heads to the palace, gaining social status for her family and soon she’s meeting the prince and not falling for him so much as becoming his best friend on the inside.

America and the prince have a different connection and she manages to survive cut after cut, despite telling the guy he has virtually no shot with her.   Well, maybe a little until Aspen shows up as a palace guard and we’ve got — you guessed it! — a love triangle.

At times, The Selection appears to have some interesting ideas and things it could say, but it frustratingly never explores them enough for the novel to be satisfying.   America’s pining and then dwelling on the Aspen situation gets old really fast but this may have more to do with the audio book than the novel itself.  In the print version I could skim those segments instead of having to listen to the angst in my earbuds.

And I’ll give the story credit that it at least establishes a connection between America and Aspen so it’s not like they meet and instantly fall in love….

Which is one of the huge issues I had with the other novel Hereafter.

Amelia is a ghost with no recollection of her past life.  She aimlessly wanders through the afterlife with the occasional nightmare about the circumstances of her death.  That is, until one day she is standing by the river and rescues Josh.

Seems that Josh crashed his car off a bridge and Amelia is able to hear his heart beat and save him from drowning!  And since he was near death, now he can see her and before you know it the two are instantly in love.   Suddenly Amelia’s aimless existence is giving meaning because of Josh.

Now if the novel actually worked to give us some reason for why Josh’s being able to see Amelia gives her afterlife meaning, I could almost forgive it.  The problem is the novel never gives us any reason for it, other than Josh is totally cute and Amelia is the hottest ghost around.  This is apparently enough for Josh, who is willing to overlook that no one else can see Amelia and jump into a relationship with her.

The idea that a teenage boy is going to have a romantic relationship with a ghost that he can’t touch just defies my willing suspension of disbelief.  How quickly and how willingly Josh does this is another huge hurdle the novel can’t really overcome.   It almost seems to say that if you want you some true love, just add water (no pun intended, but it certainly works).   It also doesn’t help that Amelia has math powers that save Josh’s bacon and there’s an ill-conceived cheerleader subplot that adds nothing to the book.     And again, there is Josh’s willingness to go along with all of this.  I can only imagine the looks he gets when he sits at a table eating dinner, carrying on a whole conversation apparently by himself because — don’t forget — no one else can see Amelia!

Oh dear heavens, I thought Twilight was bad.

It’s not helped by the novel completely fumbles the potentially interesting plotlines that it does introduce.  One is a mysterious ghost who teases Amelia that he knows details about her life and death and why she’s stuck in ghost form.  The other is that Josh’s grandmother doesn’t like ghosts and wants to cast Amelia out.

It’s not helped that Hereafter requires its villain (the ghost with answers) acts like a complete imbecile, making threats that he doesn’t follow through on — despite having Amelia in his power.   Maybe at this point my eyes were rolling too much because the reasons for this are never fully or completely given.  Instead, it’s lots of how great Josh is and so totally understanding.  There are possible hints that maybe said bad guy was the one who distracted Josh, leading to his car crash but the novel never bothers to delve into them or follow-up on them.   (Or this could be me trying to give the novel a LOT more credit than it deserves.  I can’t really be sure).

Interestingly, both books are the start of a series.    And while I won’t be revisiting Amelia and Josh any time soon, I still came away from The Selection intrigued enough by some of the elements that I may give the second and third novel a look at some point.  Or more likely I’ll see if someone saves me the time and offers summaries on Wikipedia so I can see if some of my guesses for how the story will end are true without having to necessarily read the next two installments.

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