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The Elite by Kiera Cass
The Elite begins with America and Maxon on a date. They are spending an evening gazing at the stars. She really wants to love him but just needs more time. When she gets back to her room, Aspen is on guard. He wants his chance to win her back, so he asks for more time, too. If only she had more time for everyone. In the Women's Room later, Queen Amberly is chatting with the six remaining girls, America, Marlee, Kriss, Celeste, Natalie and Elise, about their dream weddings, but then she has to go and get work done. The girls spend time together, playing games and watching TV, but it's different now that nearly everyone has left the competition. America and Marlee are closer than before and as Marlee sits, daydreaming by the window, America wants to ask her what she's thinking about, but lets her go on dreaming. Back in her room, America studies reports to prepare for tests she'll have to face later on. Maxon comes to get her and they joke back and forth about Maxon having the answer to everything. America asks him what Halloween is and when he doesn't know, he ushers her to a secret library containing Gregory Illéa's handwritten journals. One of them has a picture of his children dressed in Halloween costumes shortly before the start of World War 4, and he complains about Halloween being frivolous and wasteful, which is probably why they don't celebrate it anymore. Maxon lets America take this journal back to her room to read more.
America and Marlee are becoming best friends even though Marlee's horrible piano playing is atrocious. You'd think with a talented musician like America teaching you you'd be better but yikes. When it's clear that the piano is dying, the girls collapse into giggles and start talking about Maxon. Marlee kind of tricks America into revealing how she feels about Maxon and says it's clear he loves her so she should just end it. But she's torn of course between Maxon and Aspen. She tries to ear-tug Maxon at dinner, but he mouths that he's got to work, so she goes back to her room. Aspen is lurking *cough* guarding her door and she slips inside past him, only getting a brush of his fingertips on her arm. She's still got time to decide between them, but it's running out.
At the Report, the Elite now take part in debates. During this Report, they are discussing the draft. Celeste suggests increasing the number of men drafted but America, really just because she hates Celeste's guts, suggests that the draft be voluntary instead of mandatory and Marlee, Kriss and Elise agree. Celeste and Natalie laugh at the idea, especially when Kriss suggests women be allowed to fight too. It's really not such a bad idea though. Back in her room, her maids agree that the draft should be voluntary, but then Maxon comes in and they all get flustered and leave. Maxon suggests to America that they have a Halloween ball at the palace and invite the families of the Elites. She is so excited and allllllmmmmoooooossssst tells him that she loves him, but doesn't. At least she tells him that she wants them to be an "us," so she's getting closer. As they prepare for the ball, the girls have dance lessons and menu tastings and costume planning sessions. Maxon says his father wants him to narrow the group so he'll probably do it after the Halloween ball, but then he goes off with all the other girls except America, making her increasingly jealous. Aspen notices and says that if Maxon can't see how great she is then he's stupid, which is nice, but also kind of gross. She's still struggling between the two of them.
The families arrive for Halloween and all the girls are so excited to see them. America's mother, father and sister, May, have come to visit her. America tells her dad about the secret library with Gregory Illéa's handwritten books, but he's not a rebel, so surely it's fine that she told him. Plus, who's he going to tell? No one. While the ladies are having tea with the Queen, May looks out the window and sees their father talking to Maxon. It looks like an important conversation. A conversation that Maxon didn't have with anyone else's father. At the party, it seems Maxon is again spending time with everyone but America, which has also been happening more and more lately, but when they finally do dance, he reveals that he's just been trying to put on a show with everyone else, but he really only has feelings for her. He wants to marry her, but he also wants to give her the time she needs to settle into her new role. The conversation he had with her father in the garden was him asking for her hand, although I'm pretty sure we all knew that already. The Halloween party evening ends with the Elite and Maxon celebrating outside watching fireworks and drinking champagne.
The next day is not nearly as great. America is woken by somber maids, her sister is sent back to her parents' room, and she is made to dress in black. Everyone is led outside where an odd platform is set up. Marlee and a guard, Office Woodwork, are strapped onto whipping posts. They were discovered by a camera crew mid undress after the party and are being publicly caned for their crimes. The punishment for this crime is death, but Maxon spared their lives, though they are now both Eights, the lowest caste. America pleads for Maxon to stop their caning, but he doesn't. She even tries to stop it herself, but again, the whipping continues. Marlee is lashed across the hands, Officer Woodwork across the back. Again and again they are lashed, Woodwork telling Marlee he loves her the entire time. America gets so worked up she has to be removed by guards. Back in her room, she yells for everyone to leave and cries on her bed, finally realizing that Marlee and this guy have been sneaking around together for awhile. She also realizes that that could have easily been her and Aspen. Maxon comes by to check on her and apologizes, telling her he had to do it and she'll have to one day too. But, does he really expect her to become his princess after that (uh... yeah?). He begs her not to give up, not to leave him alone after this and she reluctantly agrees. Aspen comes in later to check on her and apologize, and this makes America fall back in love with him because he'll always be there.
In the Women's Room the next day, Queen Amberly tells America that she's glad she tried to stop the caning but that what she did was not ladylike, so not exactly chastising her, which is good. Then the five remaining girls get into a heated discussion over what happened to Marlee and if it was justified. America seems to think death would have been a better punishment and that no one knows about being poor like she does, that they'd all rather be dead too. Celeste mumbles that Marlee got what she deserved because she's a whore, and then America flies across the room at her and they have a vicious catfight. Celeste says she's going to tell Maxon but Queen Amberly sends them to the hospital wing instead. There, a nurse tells America she's a hero because everyone hates Celeste. She insulted a girl's parents who then slapped her and got sent home, she put glass in someone else's shoes, and she hits her maids. Maxon comes to talk to them and of course America is not being sent home. Maxon asks her to give him some time to teach her that not everything will always be so terrible. She says fine.
When she's released from the hospital wing, America encounters Aspen who has left her a note in the penny jar she brought with her from home. It tells her to meet him in a secret location which of course she does. He tells her that he loves her and is proud of her and isn't she glad she knows Maxon is a terrible guy now? She believes she'll never be worthy of being a princess but that's okay, Aspen will take care of her. In the Women's Room the next day, Celeste shows America a gossip column article about how Marlee was terrible and that America is too. She's the last person anyone wants to become queen. She goes back to her room, feeling sorry for herself, and decides to play the piano, but even that isn't good enough. She needs something to distract her and finds Gregory Illéa's diary. Gregory thought that the American people had become lazy so of course it was easy for China to take over. He had given money to the war effort, but he thought he was better than that, could plan better, so he wanted to do something more to stop the war. Aspen comes in later and talks about how there's unrest in the southern provinces and that the king sent over 300 letters to citizens there, knocking them down a caste for aiding rebels. America asks if Maxon knows about that and Aspen assumes he does. Then he gives America a button from his jacket since he has no more pennies for her. This means more to her than anything Maxon could ever do.
The next day, King Clarkson asks the girls to join him and the Queen for tea. He wants to chat with them. And he does. With all of them. Except America. She goes back to her room and cries some more. At least Maxon told her she was pretty. The next day the girls get an assignment from the Queen. They are to plan receptions for incoming guests from Germany and Italy. Kriss and America are assigned Italy and Celeste, Natalie and Elise get Germany. They have a lot of planning to do and only a few days to do it, but then overnight, there's another rebel attack. Aspen ushers America from her room but not before kissing her. She goes down to the safe room. Everyone gets there safely except for Kriss who hurts her ankle and spends most of the night with Maxon, making America and Celeste jealous. Natalie and Elise are asleep.
When she's awoken, America walks back to her room and sees a ton of destruction in the palace. Painted all along the walls are threats that the rebels are coming soon, so the girls take their work outside. They've still got to plan for the dignitaries' arrival. Maxon and the king and queen are outside as well, but everything soon goes crazy because the rebels are back and they've brought guns. Everyone scatters. America ends up running into the forest surrounding the palace. She climbs up a tree to hide but is spotted by a rebel girl in a denim jacket carrying a huge bag of books. The girl curtsies to America, laughs, and leaves her alone. America hides in the tree for a while longer until she's sure the rebels are gone. What is going on that there were two rebel attacks back to back? The one last night was obviously the violent Southerners, but the girl stealing books had to be a Northerner. Guards come into the woods shouting for America and when she sees Aspen, she runs to his arms. He carries her back to the palace where absolutely no one is waiting for her. She wakes up later in the hospital wing. Maxon is at her bedside. He was so worried that she was gone forever, killed by the rebels. But she's still here, and he's still not letting her go, even though it's obvious that he's got serious feelings for Kriss, too. She can't worry about that right now though because she's still got to plan for the visiting Italians. She is struggling with wanting to be with Maxon and becoming a princess and thinks that reading Gregory Illéa's diary might help. It doesn't. He talks about being a billionaire and using what he has to succeed. Since he wasn't helpful, she writes to her father.
The receptions happen and the German one led by Elise, Celeste and Natalie was boring and uneventful. Kriss and America's Italian one was festive and loud and fun. The Italian princess tells America that if she can help her take the crown, she will, and gives her her phone number. Everyone at this reception loves America. When the reception is over and she's back in her room, America reads the letter she got back from her father which tells her that she's great and if she wants to marry Maxon and be princess she could do it. But he'd still love her if she didn't. America is summoned by Maxon the next day from the Women's Room and everyone thinks she's being sent home, but instead, Maxon shows her the princess suite and a hidden passageway. Behind it is Marlee who Maxon was supposed to have sent away to become an Eight, but instead she now works in the kitchens and her husband, former Officer Woodwork, will work in the stables when he's healed. Maxon has kept them safe, so he really is a good guy and America struggles more with if she could be a princess. She still wants to stay though, so maybe she's feeling more princessy.
Maxon and the king have to go to New Asia because things are bad with the war and they have to smooth things over. Maxon says goodbye to each girl individually and his goodbye to Kriss is particularly romantic. America's is whatever, but he notices her Aspen bracelet. Speaking of, Aspen was in her room that day and the maids noticed and told her, so she knows he left a note. It was about Maxon being gone with secret instructions to find him. He's hiding in the room of one of the girls who was sent home already. It's exactly the same as every other time America is with Aspen. She struggles with whether she should be with him or with Maxon and everything is very repetitive.
Kriss asks America to join her outside to talk about where they are with Maxon. Kriss says that Elise says they never made it to New Asia, but they called and told the Queen they were there. That's odd. Kriss says she loves Maxon. America is cagey. On her way back to her room, she finds a note on the floor about more rebel attacks and how they want to end The Selection and the royal line. That's different at least. She goes to her room and hears the maids arguing about something about Lucy who ran out crying. She dismisses Anne and Mary for the evening and reads Illéa's diary, which is gross. He's just using his money to become leader and is going to force his daughter to do something. America sees Maxon outside after reading the diary and he comes up to her room and gives her a bracelet that he bought in New Asia. They really did go there apparently, to a rural area though. Maxon thinks the king is just testing him. Once again, America gets confused about her feelings, but more importantly, she doesn't talk to Maxon about the diary, which is really why she wanted him to come up anyway.
America decides she wants to learn things, which is good. It might make her a better princess if she finally decides she wants to be a princess. She's still debating on that though, surprise surprise. She asks Sylvia for extra lessons which makes her super happy. Then she finds out that each girl has to come up with a philanthropy project to share on the next Capital Report and she struggles with it. She asks Aspen for help but he just wants to get even with everyone and suggests making the castes trade places. Maxon ear-tugs her later and she agrees even though she's stressed out about coming up with something for her project. Maxon pretty much gives her an ultimatum and she still doesn't decide anything.
She reads Gregory Illéa's diary some more and he's even more despicable than she thought. He's a fake, doing whatever he can to gain power. He sold his daughter and forced her to marry someone she hated so he could become royalty. He made the castes to put people he hated into poverty and elevate the people he liked. America goes to talk to Maxon about this and a helpful maid tells her where to find him because the maids all like her and want her to win. She finds him locked in a sultry embrace with Celeste of all people. He spots her mid-makeout and comes to her room later. She yells at him, throws the bracelet he bought her at him, tells him she wants to go home, that she's done, but he won't let her leave. She's furious and decides if Maxon won't send her home she'll do something terrible on the Report so she'll definitely get sent home.
Oh if only. America suggests in her presentation that they abolish the castes. The other girls want to do things like make schools better or create a minimum wage or get rid of the rebels or be freaking pen pals, but America, adamant on going out with a bang, makes the king so angry he shuts down the Report and demands she be sent home. Maxon stands up to his father and says no. The king sees that she has Gregory Illéa's diary and Maxon takes responsibility for it. It seems that Maxon has not read the diaries and knows nothing about Illéa. The king threateningly sends Maxon to his office then tells Natalie that her sister was taken by rebels and is dead, then walks out. This guy is awful. America tries to comfort Natalie and apologize to the Queen, but she's done enough for the night so goes back to her room.
And all the maids cheer! They're so happy that she would stand up for them. She wants to go down to the gardens to think but runs into Maxon when she passes the hospital wing. He's moving as if he's hurt but he looks fine. As they're about to go their separate ways, a guard shouts that there are rebels and then gets shot. Another guard pushes Maxon and he cringes, so America thinks he stabbed Maxon, but he didn't. Maxon isn't well enough to make it to the royal safe room so he and America go to one for the servants instead. While locked up together, just the two of them, Maxon reveals that his father canes him. America cleans his wounds and they sit to have a conversation about what is going on with Kriss and Celeste.
He tells her that he's using Celeste because she's using him. He will end up marrying Kriss because his father wants Natalie to win and Elise has no spine. He wanted America, even got permission to propose, but she's so goddamned stubborn and awful and selfish and pathetic... Wait. No. He didn't say that. We did. She started making mistakes and the king wanted her gone, and they started getting further and further apart. He asks if she ever loved him and she doesn't say that she did but she implies it at least. She realizes he'd do anything for her, literally take a beating, and she threw it all away over a stupid book. Then she realizes that the northern rebels are after Illéa's diaries, but they let that conversation drop and then they make out and talk about nothing all night. When they're finally released from the safe room, everyone is so happy that they're still alive. The rebels have started attacking the families of the Elite, like Natalie's sister, to get the Selection to end, so the king declares that no one is going home. America says she is though and goes to her room to gather her things. It's a mess. Her maids and Aspen are happy that she's still alive. Aspen sends her maids off so they can talk privately and he says they'll be married as soon as possible, but she says she just wants space. He gets mad of course but agrees.
As she's about to leave the palace, Maxon stops her. He tells her he convinced his father that she saved his life during the rebel attack and that he put her in her place. The king reluctantly agreed to let her stay and to send Natalie home instead, what with her sister being murdered and all. Maxon tells her that she's going to have to trust him and be honest with him and, in not so many words, to stop being a petty brat. He also tells her that the king is going to be tough on her. She agrees and decides she will fight for him. On her way back to her room, she's met by the King who tells her she's ugly and pathetic and useless and worthless and garbage and we agree but we shouldn't because the king is a monster and a tyrant. But she's still here, so she'd better start acting less pathetic. He gets in her face and is despicable, but she's still here and she's not leaving until Maxon sends her away. In her room, her maids are ecstatic that she's still here and they're determined to help her win.