In this version of the far future, the United States is (surprise!) all busted up. Our heroine, sixteen-year-old America Singer (Yikes, right?), lives in the super-stratified kingdom of Illéa. She's a Five, a member the artist caste, only three rungs from the bottom. Luckily for her, she's both beautiful—even though she's one of those annoying beautiful people who's always moaning on about how she's not beautiful—and accomplished.
Unluckily for her, she's in lurrrve with her childhood friend, Aspen, who belongs to a lower caste. Until they're able to squirrel away enough money to get married, they're keeping the romance a secret. And though they're both eager for the sexy-times to start, they've held off, as in Illéa, pre-marital sex is illegal. Punishable by, at the very least, jail time.
So anyway, when The Selection is announced—a contest in which 35 girls compete for the Prince's hand in marriage—America has no intention of entering. But, due to pressure from her mother and from, of all people, Aspen—who's all "you have to do it because if you don't I won't be able to live with myself knowing that you GAVE UP THIS CHANCE OF A LIFETIME so you really have to enter even though you don't want to but OH WAIT, YOU MADE ME DINNER, NOW I'M GOING TO BE A COMPLETE JERK ABOUT IT AND BREAK UP WITH YOU"—so she caves and enters.
Obviously, she gets picked.
And it's all sketchy because the government people are all, YOU'RE A VIRGIN, RIGHT? and YES, YES, PRE-MARITAL SEX IS ILLEGAL UNLESS THE PRINCE WANTS SOME NOOKY and so on, but she's mad at Aspen so she signs on the dotted line so her family can get some money, and she's off to the royal palace!
Is it the best book I've ever read? Not remotely. America is infinitely slappable, as are BOTH love interests. (Duh. OF COURSE Maxon falls for her, so there's a love triangle!) The characters act more in keeping with what is convenient for the storyline—for instance, when America tries to warn Maxon about the super-duper bitchitude of one of the other contestants, he pulls the I'M ROYALTY AND YOU'RE NOT, THEREFORE YOU CAN'T TALK TO ME LIKE THAT routine, even though up until then, he'd sought out her opinion about stuff like that—than with their own personalities, and most of America's major decisions seem to be based more on who she's angry with at the time than in any sort of logic. The world-building is pretty sketchy, in terms of how the country was created, the things that the culture has forgotten (the fall of the United States is semi-common knowledge, but America doesn't know what Halloween is?), and what the deal is with the rebels. And the dialogue isn't particularly A) scintillating or B) realistic.
THAT SAID, I read the whole thing in one sitting. So none of those problems had me throwing the book across the room. And yes, I'm also planning on reading the sequel, if only because I'm hoping that she'll kick both guys to the curb and join the rebellion. (<--Supposedly, one of the rebel groups is super sketchy, but the other one sounds intriguing. And, geez, you can't blame the lower castes for being peeved at the power structure.)
Book source: ILL through my library.