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.