Can YA Fiction Predict the Future? Political Mimicry in Kiera Cass’s The Selection Series

Original illustration by author Kiera Cass of her characters America and Maxon from Happily Ever After: Companion to the Selection Series (2015)

Today we share the second of six pieces of public writing selected for publication from an assignment in ENGL 801 “Graduate Studies in English”: a piece of public scholarship (700-1,000 words) which tailors an academic paper and its scholarly intervention of 10-12 pages for a general-interest audience.

Read more about the assignment and the first publication, “Signs, Signs, Everywhere…The Hidden Depth of Japanese Signs in Spirited Away” by Ian Lutz (MA ’24), in last Thursday’s post. Now, on to “Can YA Fiction Predict the Future? Political Mimicry in Kiera Cass’s The Selection Series” by Delaney Sullivan (MA ’24)!

Karin Westman, Associate Professor and Department Head / Instructor for ENGL 801 ZA (Fall 2022)

Young adult fiction usually conjures images of wizards, children killing children in an arena, or vampires falling in love with high school girls. Now, while it’s reasonable to assume that these fantasy elements don’t exist in real life (where is my letter from Hogwarts? I haven’t been Reaped yet! Where is my sparkly vampire boyfriend?), it’s equally reasonable to assume that those fantastical aspects do mimic real life.

Mimesis, or art imitating life, is a phenomenon noted by philosophers like Aristotle: “art is always imitation’s attempt to represent something in a fictional form that exists in the real world” (McDonald 10). Aristotle claims that art is always an imitation of life. Mimesis makes sense, as we can frequently see how authors take inspiration from the world around them or aim to comment on some aspect of reality through fiction.

Thus we can interpret Kiera Cass’s The Selection (2012) as a comment on or interpretation of American politics, given that the novel features America Singer, a contestant in the lottery competition to select the next princess of Illéa, a monarchy ruling the former United States after China and Russia invaded and North America rose to defeat them. 

Worldbuilding for dystopian fiction is a tightrope between being realistic enough that audiences see a reflection of their world yet far-fetched enough that readers still feel a degree of separation from reality. The Selection was criticized upon its initial release for its unlikely worldbuilding. Completely impractical, reviewers called it. Kirkus Reviews claimed it has “Shabby worldbuilding [that] complements the formulaic plot” (“A probably harmless, entirely forgettable opener”). On Goodreads, a popular book-reviewing forum, a reviewer named Victoria gave it one star, calling the dystopian future “ridiculous and implausible based on the world we know today.” Interestingly, four years later, the same reviewer updated their original comment, claiming, “I owe Kiera Cass a TREMENDOUS apology,” deeming her an “ORACLE OF DELPHI.” Oh, how little we knew in 2012.

Now, I’m mostly sure that Cass is not omniscient, but there is an undeniable eeriness when examining the similarities between the dystopian future she imagined in 2012 and the reality we see today. It’s as if Cass is predicting the future.

Illéa’s social structure rests on a tightly controlled caste system, determined decades ago by the occupation of each household’s breadwinner, which often results in class inequality. The mobility between castes is limited, only accomplished through marriage (which is accompanied by taxing paperwork, unless of course, you are marrying the prince), saving for a lifetime and buying into a higher caste, conscription into military service, or being chosen, or “selected,” as they call it, for the Selection. The strict social system leaves the lower castes, those who are a Five and below (with Eight being the lowest and mostly comprised of homeless people and criminals), usually in poverty or on the brink of it. Lower caste families, America’s included, frequently have their power turned off, don’t have enough to eat, and shiver in the winter cold due to the scant employment opportunities and abysmal pay.

America’s economic situation means romance is the last thing on her mind when she asks Prince Maxon to stay at the palace and remain in the Selection. America’s “family needs [her] to be here” (Cass 129), so they will continue to receive the weekly stipend for competing in the Selection. Not to mention the strawberry tarts at the palace “[are] by far the best thing [she] had ever tasted” (135) and far superior to the meager helping of food she would receive at home.

Perhaps America’s experience rings some bells. This image isn’t foreign for those in a tight socioeconomic situation: Leaving home to work a job to provide for their families in a declining economy under a government failing to provide for their citizens’ needs.

While Cass was writing and publishing the series’ first installments in the early 2010s, the United States was still amid the effects of The Great Recession and the financial crash of 2008. As unemployment rates continued to rise and the economic decline hit the lower socioeconomic classes hardest, the recession “exacerbated inequalities and disparities in many dimensions of economic well-being” (Danziger 7). We can see this class discord in Cass’s novels as the those in the lower castes and rebels who reject the caste system begin to rebel against the monarchy and the subjugation and poverty they are forced into. They voice their grievances quite loudly, through their repeated attacks on the palace, their efforts to place a rebel sympathizer on the throne, and their eventual assassination of the King, the Queen, and several members of the Selection.

While we have not technically seen any political assassinations of our nation’s leader, the similarities are uncanny: social unrest, economic decline inciting a change in power. These are all phenomena inspired by the social upheaval and distrust in the United States government emblematic of the early 2010s.

But why does mimicry matter?

Mimesis connects to catharsis, another theory from Aristotle in which the tragedy that mimesis creates is a purge of emotions for the reader (McDonald 19) as the tragedy and poverty ring familiar. Suddenly, Cass’s young adult dystopian world that seemed to hold no resemblance to anything you knew now reminds you of the Christmas there were no presents under the tree or the winter in which the heat was off to save money. The deep connection that literature can make with readers is a powerful one.

Young adult dystopian series, like The Selection, map a current social and political climate onto its fictional political atmosphere to show us where our society is at, regardless of the seemingly ridiculous worldbuilding it may possess. While the princes and princesses may seem far removed from our reality, they show us a reflection we may need to see and may even predict the future. As politics continue to take an invasive and personal place in our lives, mimicry of our current political moment in a seemingly absurd and manipulated dystopia can hold a mirror up to us and show us how ludicrous we have become.

Works Cited

“A probably harmless, entirely forgettable opener.” Kirkus Reviews, 22 Feb 2012,

Cass, Kiera. The Selection. HarperTeen, 2012.

Danziger, Sheldon. “Evaluating the Effects of the Great Recession.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 650, no. 1, 2013, pp. 6–24,

McDonald, Brian. “‘The Final Word on Entertainment’: Mimetic and Monstrous Art in the Hunger Games.” The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason, edited by George A. Dunn and Nicolas Michaud, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2012, pp.8-25.

Victoria. Review of The Selection, by Kiera Cass. Goodreads, 6 May 2012.

Delaney Sullivan (MA ’24)

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