America Singer is an average sixteen-year-old girl—or as average as you can be in the country of Illéa, which was formed out of the remnants of the United States following World War III.
Yep, you read that right: World War III. NBD.
Illéa has a numeric caste system that ranges from One to Eight: America and her family are Fives, which means that (a) they're pretty poor, and (b) they're required by law to be artists or musicians, even if they're no good at it or want to be something else. Unsurprisingly, not everyone loves this system, and there are several rebel groups trying to overthrow the government.
America has just received a letter inviting her to take part in the Selection, a reality show competition in which 35 young women are brought to the palace to fight for Illéa's prince's heart. America's mom really wants her to apply, but America refuses for some reason…some sweet, hunky, sensitive reason...
That reason? Aspen, America's secret boyfriend. This hormone-addled pair frequently meet in America's tree house at night, and things are so hot and heavy that they're even talking marriage. Cue swooning. There's just one problem, however: Aspen is a Six. If America marries him, she'll be even more broke than she is now. That's no good. Realizing this, Aspen asks America to apply to the Selection, assuming she won't be chosen.
He's wrong—America is totally Selected. Like any good teenage boyfriend, Aspen has an irrational and overly emotional response—despite the fact that it was his suggestion—and breaks things off with America. And with that, America is swept up into crazy world of Illéan royalty with her broken heart still stinging.
Although America gets along well with a few girls, she feels so trapped in the palace that she has a panic attack on her first night. She tries to run outside to get some air, but she's blocked—that's against the rules, kiddo.
To her surprise, Prince Maxon appears and lets her outside. To her even greater surprise, he's nothing like her assumptions: he's kind and compassionate toward her even after she yells at him. He's also pretty handsome, too—not that she noticed or anything.
They "officially" meet the next morning, and America tells Maxon about Aspen, though she doesn't name him. In yet another surprising move (dude's on a roll), Maxon tells America that he will keep her around as long as she wants to stay, saying that she will be his friend and advisor throughout the competition.
Over the next few weeks, Maxon and America start spending a lot of time together, even creating a secret signal (tugging an ear) and calling each other their closest friends. Because we totally make up cute, flirtatious hand gestures with our closest friends. All the time.
During a rebel attack on the palace, America learns there are two kinds of rebels attacking the monarchy: Northern and Southern. The Southern rebels kill people, and the Northern rebels don't, but nobody's really sure what they're after. Clearly there's something weird going on in Illéa.
One night, America talks to Maxon about the awful reality of being in the lower castes, and it moves him—so much so, in fact, that he decides to start a food assistance program based on their conversation. After this, America realizes that she has feelings for Maxon, and although she's still hesitant, she's finally open to his love.
Soon after, America is shocked when she sees a new guard arrive. It's Aspen—he has been drafted into the army and assigned to the palace. He and America have a brief, passionate encounter in America's bedroom, which leaves her more confused than ever regarding her feelings. During another rebel attack, however, America realizes that running back to Aspen is wrong.
So she tells him that. He left her, she says, so why does he expect her to jump back into his arms simply because he says so? She's not saying that she's choosing Maxon over Aspen; she's saying that she's choosing herself, whatever that actually means. Aspen is understandably upset, but he resolves to continue fighting.
And that's how we close things out. Abrupt, huh? Guess you're going to have to read The Elite to find out what happens next for America Singer and her two hunky baes.