This is the latest in my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my life as a fangirl. If you have a character you’d like to write a letter to, click here for details about The Fan Mail Project!
To the women of the Selection series:
You stand out. Young Adult fiction is an ever-expanding genre, and many series have been created over the last handful of years about a brave girl who fights a corrupt government—and has to choose between two very different but very attractive male suitors as she does so. Even in stories that are about things other than fallen societies and uprisings, there seems to be a trend in many Young Adult novels: The girl stands alone. Yes, there might be female family members who are important to the main heroine or one close female friend or mentor. However, the central female character is often a loner or a girl who’s much closer to the young men around her than other young women.
Thank you for being part of a different kind of story.
I spent the summer I turned 26 reading nothing but Young Adult books in an attempt to prove that this genre isn’t something to put down, but is instead filled with beautiful works of literature to be cherished by readers of all genders and generations. That’s when I discovered The Selection, The Elite, and The One. More than any other books I read that summer, those stayed with me, and it was because of you, the women of this world. Yes, this series had sweeping romance, action, and sociopolitical commentary. But it also had something I’d never seen before in a Young Adult series: a plethora of female characters who are incredibly different but come to support, forgive, protect, and genuinely love each other.
So often women are taught to compare themselves to other women and to see themselves as competition—especially competition for male attention and affection. And, at first, that’s the world many of you were thrust into—selected to compete for the hand and heart of Prince Maxon. You were expected to see each other as enemies, to immediately judge each other and judge yourselves in comparison to each other, and to put each other down in an attempt to build yourselves up. And some of you (I’m looking at you, Celeste.) did exactly that for far too long.
But some of you immediately chose to defy expectations and become friends. Thank you, America and Marlee, for showing everyone who picks up these books that—even when put in an environment that is created to pit women against each other—friendships can blossom. You never had ulterior motives with each other or gossiped behind each other’s backs. Instead, the two of you represent the best of what female friendship can be: warm, supportive, and life-changing. America, your desperate attempt to save Marlee from being beaten was one of the most moving moments in the entire series. It was a testament to the things women will do to help one another and protect one another. And it was beautiful to see in The Heir that yours became a lifelong friendship, the kind so many women find but so few pieces of media celebrate.
That theme—women protecting other women—is found throughout this series. And so much of that comes through you, America. Thank you for being the kind of female character who doesn’t try to stand apart from other women or look down on the women around her. “I’m not like other girls,” is said far too often in both the media and the real world, and I am so grateful that you weren’t written as character who didn’t need or want friends. At first, you didn’t have many friends because of your caste, but you had your sister, May. And that big-sister mentality was with you in every moment you spent in the palace. Thank you for being exactly the kind of woman I want to be: a woman who uses her big-sister instincts to care for the other women around her. Not only did you try to protect Marlee from her beating; you brought your maids to safety during the rebel attack, you offered encouragement to Celeste, and you gave Paige a place to live so she wouldn’t have to continue to sell her body on the streets.
America, out of every Young Adult heroine introduced in recent memory, you’re my favorite. Thank you for being so much more than just the center of a love triangle. And thank you for being so much more than a robotic female character who’s too “strong” to show vulnerability and want to connect with others. Thank you for having a panic attack your first night in the palace. Thank you for crying when you were scared or lonely or feeling lost. Thank you for needing and giving hugs. Thank you for being a female character who asks to wear jeans but also loves looking pretty in an evening gown. Thank you for being feminine and being a badass, and never acting like those two things have to be mutually exclusive. Finally, thank you for being the eyes through which we come to understand, appreciate, and respect all the women around you.
And those women around you are deserving of my thanks, too.
Thank you, Marlee, for immediately showing warmth and kindness toward America when the situation would have justified you keeping your distance. Thank you for following your heart and not letting expectations dictate how you were going to live or who you were going to love. Thank you for your bravery and dignity in the face of something as horrible as your caning. And thank you for teaching me what it means to be proud of the path you’ve chosen for yourself—even when others might not understand it or respect it—and what it means to never let bitterness take the place of kindness in your heart.
Thank you, Elise, for teaching me what it means to carry huge responsibilities with grace. Thank you, Kriss, for proving that even the most gentle souls can be fierce and passionate fighters for what they believe in. And thank you, Mary, Anne, and Lucy, for taking care of America not because you had to, but because that’s what someone does for someone they love. It takes great strength to be someone’s support system, and that’s what you were for America. You made her room a safe space for her to be herself with all her vulnerabilities. It’s a rare gift to find people who can see you at your worst and still believe in you at your best—and that’s a gift women often find with other women, as America found with you.
Finally, I can’t thank the women of the Selection without thanking you, Celeste. Thank you for being imperfect. Thank you for proving that women can grow and change and become better people through their relationships with other women—not just through their relationships with men. Thank you for showing the damage done to young women by a society that places too much value on our bodies and not enough value on the minds, hearts, and spirits contained in those bodies. And thank you for finally coming to believe you were more than just your looks and for learning that you don’t need a man to be powerful. Hopefully, your story will inspire other young women to see their own value beyond their looks and their relationship status.
My favorite book in this series is The One, and it’s actually not because of all the romance in that book. It’s because of the moments of love between all of you—opening your hearts to one another on America’s bed, trying on dresses and taking pictures together to celebrate your friendship, saving America after she was shot, and holding hands in solidarity when you needed a reminder that you weren’t alone.
You’re such different women, but you let a situation that should have kept you apart bring you together instead. Together, you became, as America said, “something really amazing.” You’re a reminder of the power of female friendship and the importance of seeing other women as people to connect with and not as competitors—no matter what society tries to tell us.
Katie–this is an amazing letter. One because mainly I love all your letters, but really I just finished this series that you introduced me to (thank you) and I didn’t know how much I needed it till I finished it. As much as I loved the romance what really struck me is that as much as women can tear themselves down they can build themselves and each other back up when they need it. I’ve spent most of my life having few female friends because quite honestly I found most women to be catty, and preferring to gossip about others when I really never had any interest in those things I’ve always had this innate pull to help others and frankly as good as you might feel in the moment in the long run there’s no way to make yourself feel better by tearing others especially our fellow ladies down. Being there for people especially when you never thought you’d get along in the first place is an experience I think we all need. This series reminded me that as hard as it can be to trust, its possible to find lasting and real friendships in the most difficult and albeit strangest of circumstances which often in our case as you so eloquently put is society. Bravo darling and here’s to our fellow ladies!!!!
Thanks, sweetie! I’m so happy this series resonated with you on the level it did. I’m such a believer in strong, supportive female friendships, and it makes me happy anytime someone tells me that a piece of media they consumed reminded them that relationships between women don’t have to be based in gossip or stereotypically catty behavior. I’ve seen some women engage in that kind of behavior, but I’ve seen far more examples in my life of women being the most incredible friends and biggest supporters of each other. And all I want is for women who’ve never experienced that to believe and know that it’s out there—that women don’t always have to tear each other down; they can (and often do) build each other up in really beautiful ways.
Beautiful letter, sweetie. I haven’t read Cass’s books, but I’m glad to know that they’re out there. We need to see supportive female relationships. We need to be supportive females.
I want to chime in on the perception of YA literature. YA is like any other genre: you have the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yes, there’s some horrifically trite stuff out there. However, there are also amazing pieces of literature that can touch our souls. I remember the articles bemoaning the fact that adults were reading YA and couldn’t adults read “adult” fiction and surely this was a sign of lack of responsibility in this generation and blah blah blah. I wondered if any of these people had read any good YA. I will put Madeleine L’Engle up against anyone. Her books challenged and touched me. I’m still amazed at some of the concepts and writers I discovered through her. Good books are good books.
Thank you so much! They’re really great books—unexpectedly so, if I do say so myself. I thought it would just be a fun summer read, but it ended up becoming a series I’ve already re-read twice in the span of 18 months.
I would just like to co-sign everything you said about YA literature. I think a good portion of the best books I’ve read in the last 5 or so years have been YA books. As you so perfectly said, “Good books are good books.” There’s no need to try to devalue good literature just because it’s marketed toward teenage girls. (Then again, I’m always filled with rage at how anything teenage girls like is always devalued because society needs to make those girls feel even worse about themselves.)
“We need to see supportive female relationships. We need to be supportive females.” – AMEN.
This is a gorgeous letter, babe. It made me laugh and cry and feel everything about the series all over again. I’m so glad you recommended it to me because I would have skipped it otherwise.
I don’t even know what to say that I haven’t already said to you about this series but that’s never stopped me from trying 😉
This series is so special. I love America and everything she is as an individual and how that impacts her relationships with the people in her life. America feels and loves so deeply, which made her a terrible fit for the palace in King Clarkson’s opinion, but made her a wonderful friend and queen.
Her friendship with Marlee is still one of my favorite parts of the series because it feels so real. They were two people who feel like they were always meant to meet and they did so at exactly the right time. They should have been competitors but they’ve never wanted anything but the best for each other, whatever that may have been. While it wasn’t what played out, I have to believe that even if both of them had loved Maxon, the one who wasn’t chosen would have as thrilled for the other as she would have been for herself. They remind us that lifelong friendships can start in the most unlikely of places and I love that the friendship remains as true in The Heir as it was in the original series. And your thank you to Marlee for reminding you to be proud of the path you’ve chosen even when others don’t understand made me cry. I’m so glad she exists to remind you of that ❤
Everything you said about Celeste made me want to cheer. She is such a complicated character who ended up getting way more depth than I expected. Though she had advantages and opportunities that many of the other girls didn't pre-Selection, she was equally as limited by her caste. She was told she was only valuable for her looks and she internalized that message and it made her lash out and see the other girls as competitors because they were. Not for Maxon but for the life she wanted to keep. When she finally opened up to America, she began to have hope that she could be something more than a pretty face and body. She found strength and friendship in the other girls and I wish she had gone on to have a long and happy life of her own. Eadlyn could have learned a lot from her Aunt Celeste and I'm forever sad she didn't get a chance to know her.
So what you said about Eadlyn and her Aunt Celeste made me cry because those two would have been such a perfect match—their love of fashion, their independent streak, their flair for the dramatic, their selfish tendencies, their desire for power more than love…Celeste could have taught Eadlyn so much and helped her grow, and it breaks my heart every time I think about it that Eadlyn never got to know her.
I also adored what you said about Marlee and America. They’re proof that incredible, lasting friendships can begin under the most unlikely circumstances. And I totally agree with you about what would have happened if both of them had fallen for Maxon—I definitely think they would have been so happy for whoever he chose. I just love Marlee so much, and it didn’t really hit me why that was until I read Happily Ever After. It struck me then how brave Marlee was to never once be ashamed of the choices she made. She knew she followed her heart, and that was all she needed to know to be proud of her path. That’s such a powerful lesson, and she’s such a beautiful character to bring that lesson to life.
I love this letter Katie! The ladies in this series were truly wonderful, and I love that we got so many different personalities from them. The series ultimately had two love stories, one of the romance between America and Maxon, and one of the amazing friendships that grew between all the women. I may have to try to sneak in a reread before I start The Heir because you’ve reminded me how much I enjoyed those books!
Thanks, Leah! I love that you described it as a series with two love stories, because it’s so true. That’s what I always tell people when recommending it. And I’ve found this is a perfect series to re-read, so I hope you have time to fit in a re-read! 🙂