America is on a date with Prince Maxon looking at stars in the garden. He tells her he has never looked at the stars for fun, only for astronomy lessons. He doesn’t normally have time for anything but lessons and meetings. When he says he is bad at war strategies, America asks for other flaws to make him seem more normal. He makes note of his weakness for her and she asks for more time. A guard comes out to let them know it is getting too late for them to be outside. They kiss and America goes back to her room. Aspen is guarding her door and is jealous he can’t spend time with her to try to win her back. They miss each other, but America knows she can’t do anything about it without risking their lives. Her choice seems clear when she is alone with either man, but she can’t decide.
Queen Amberly talks with the six remaining girls about their hopes for their wedding. When it is America’s turn, she talks about having her dad give her away because he approves of who she marries. Celeste makes fun of her. After the queen leaves them in the Women’s room, America spends the day with Marlee. On her way to the bathroom, she runs into a guard named Woodwork. She apologizes and goes about her business and then returns to the Women’s room to sit with Marlee.
While studying a report all of the girls will be quizzed on, Maxon stops by America’s room. She is excited to see him and asks if they can go outside for a few minutes. As they walk, he asks about the callouses on America’s fingers. She explains it is from playing the violin. He says he has seen the world and knows things, but he loves her hands because of the music they produce. He wants to share something with her and tells her to ask him about anything. She challenges him to answer a question about Halloween. He takes her through the house, running as quickly as he can with her following. He shows her a secret chamber behind a painting. It is full of books. He uses a computer (America has never seen one before) to find which book will answer her question. Two of the three books he pulls give the answer. The last is one of Gregory Illea’s diaries. It has a picture of three children dressed in costumes standing behind him and his wife. Gregory wrote the festival they threw was frivolous. Maxon offers to let America take the book back to her room. America accepts and promises she will hide it well and keep his trust.
America has been attempting to give Marlee piano lessons, but after a week, Marlee seems to have gotten worse. They give up and start talking about Maxon. Marlee admits he is not the one for her and he is in love with someone else. America is jealous until she realizes Marlee means her. They promise to be each other’s maids of honor no matter what. Marlee asks why America hasn’t ended the competition yet. America says she just isn’t sure. That night at dinner, America tugs on her ear, but Maxon has to work. She returns to her room to find Aspen guarding her door. He brushes her arm and she rushes inside to get away from the feelings overwhelming her. Her maids instantly swarm her to help her get ready for bed. America knows she has to make a choice.
The next Friday night on the Report, the girls debate. Celeste wants to increase the number of men drafted in order to end the war in New Asia. America disagrees. She suggests they allow volunteers. Afterwards, while Anne, Mary, and Lucy are pulling pins out of America’s hair, Maxon comes to see her. He suggests they throw a Halloween celebration and invite the Elites’ families. America is excited. She admits to Maxon she stays in the Selection because she doesn’t want to leave him. They sit for a while, but then Maxon leaves to prepare for the families to arrive.
While maids start working on designs and costumes, photographers float around taking pictures. Maxon comes and has his picture taken with America. She is surprised when he says he came from talking with Celeste. He leaves shortly after to visit the other girls. He spends more time with the others throughout the week. When the Report is over the next Friday, America waits for Maxon as usual. He doesn’t show up. They have dance lessons through the week and Aspen is one of the guards that volunteers to help. America isn’t a great dancer and he helps her. He has noticed how sad she has been. When she says it isn’t about him, Aspen realizes it is about Maxon. He tells her she is incredible and he will be there for her.
All of the girls are excited when their families arrive. America ends up in a pile on the floor with her parents and May. Maxon comes by to get them. After he moves on, America tells them about their earlier encounters. Her mother is horrified. May asks to stay with America during their visit, and she agrees to it. America takes a walk with her dad and she tells him what she has learned about the country’s history. She carefully tells him about the hidden room full of books. She tells him Maxon let her borrow one and he points out how much the prince trusts her. America goes back to her room so she and May can get ready for tea with the queen. She overhears Lucy telling May about love before she enters to find May braiding her hair. The maids get them ready and they go to tea. May pulls America out of a conversation to show her (through the window) their dad is in the garden talking passionately with Maxon. Afterwards, they shake hands and he puts his arm around the prince. They wait at the window, but Maxon doesn’t take any other fathers to the garden to talk.
America goes to the Halloween party dressed as a butterfly and May as a bride. She notices Maxon dancing with the other girls and waits her turn. When Maxon starts having second dances with them, America is even more discouraged. She dances with the guard named Woodwork. Later, Aspen asks her to dance and she scolds him for flirting with Celeste. She tells him Maxon has been avoiding her and he tries to comfort her. He asks if she will wait for him, but she changes dance partners before she can answer. America notices her dad has been missing most of the night. She sits to rest and Maxon asks her to dance. He asks about making Halloween an annual event and she is shocked to learn she isn’t going home. He wanted to make sure America was real and none of the other girls were a possibility. He asked her father about proposing and wants to slowly get America adjusted to being the princess. He will finish out the Selection process and then propose to her. Maxon takes all the Elites outside for a champagne toast and winks at America to celebrate their secret engagement.
The next morning, Anne, Mary, and Lucy wake up May and America. May is sent to her parents while they get America ready and dressed in a simple black dress. No one will tell her what is going on. When all the girls are gathered, guards start leading them. America notices Marlee is missing. They are seated outside and Marlee is brought out in chains with the guard, Carter Woodwork. They were caught together and Maxon has sentenced them to fifteen lashes and being demoted to Eights. They are tied up and Carter tries to talk Marlee through the lashings. America is held back as she tries to go to Maxon to beg him to stop. When she tries to get to Marlee, she is dragged inside.
America is taken back to her room and she screams for everyone to get out, including her maids. She spends all day crying and doesn’t bother to answer the door when someone knocks. Maxon lets himself in and explains the cameras caught Marlee and Carter. He did what he could to save them from death. America says she knows she cannot be a princess. She will never be able to stand by calmly while people are hurt. Maxon reminds her she promised not to leave him. She nods her agreement to stay. That night, she allows her maids to help her get ready for bed. Aspen comes in to make sure she is alright. She wonders how she could have had any delusions she didn’t belong with him.
The next day, America gets a letter from her dad. He is proud of her for trying to help Marlee. She goes to the Women’s room for a distraction. Queen Amberly calls her over to tell her she shouldn’t have reacted the way she did, but she is glad she did. America is dismissed and goes to sit with Natalie and Kriss. They start debating the ethics of Marlee and Carter’s treatment. Celeste says Marlee deserves what she got because she is a whore. America tackles her and slaps her several times. Celeste manages to smash a teacup against her head before they are pulled apart by the guards. Queen Amberly sends them both to the hospital wing. A nurse comes to tell America she is a hero among them for attacking Celeste. She treated Anna (the girl that slapped Celeste early on) before leaving and Celeste’s maids come in for ice sometimes. America starts to ask about Marlee, but Maxon comes to see them. He visits Celeste first. When he comes to see America, she tells him she can’t do the job and wants to go home. HE asks her to give him time to show her what the job will really be like and she agrees.
America is released from the hospital wing and sees Aspen on her way back to her room. He tells her to look in her jar, and she finds a note from him containing detailed instructions on where to meet. She finds herself in a dark room that night. Aspen comforts her, but also points out Maxon is a skilled actor. He is sorry the prince hurt her, but he is glad he may get his second chance. He sends her back before they are caught. The next day, Celeste gives America a magazine opened up to an article. It talks about the first Selection, Queen Amberly’s refinement, and then goes into the current candidates. America’s recent actions have made her unpopular and Celeste and Kriss are favored. The author doesn’t think having anyone from a lower caste is fair to the prince, especially after Marlee and America’s behavior.
America leaves the room and goes to her own room. She starts playing the piano as a distraction and then shuffles through the music in the bench seat until she finds Gregory Illea’s diary. She reads a bit and finds the man was inspired to make the country better just like Maxon. Aspen comes in that night to check on America. She asks if she would make a good princess even if it didn’t involve marrying Maxon. Aspen says she isn’t calculating enough to hurt people for the greater good. Aspen tells her he is happy living at the palace hasn’t changed her. She tells him she doesn’t know what to do, and she hasn’t forgotten him. Aspen says it is enough for him.
America watches Maxon and plays with the button Aspen gave her on a string around her wrist. That Friday before the Report, the girls are invited to tea with King Clarkson so he can get to know them better. America is nervous and ends up being late. Maxon stares at her as she walks in. She ends up talking with Kriss and Elyse joins them after she is done talking with the king. When it is time to leave for the Report, America never got her turn. She makes it through the show and sends her maids away before she starts crying. She wonders if she was left out on purpose. Maxon doesn’t show up.
America has her maids dress her up for Saturday in the Women’s Room. She notices they seem upset, but decides to not intrude on their privacy. She meets with the other girls and then Sylvia and Queen Amberly come to assign them a project. The German Federation and Italy are having guests tour the country and will be at the palace Wednesday and Thursday respectively. The girls are split into teams to prepare for the event. Celeste, Elise, and Natalie are assigned Germany and America and Kriss get Italy. America suggests they hide their things for the event in their rooms. Kriss makes a comment about America being smart was what Maxon had liked about her. She decides to ignore the comment. That night a siren goes off. Aspen rushes into the room swearing to get America to the safe room. Elise comes in a few minutes later. Maxon sends them further in and goes to find Kriss. Sylvia points out the cots for the girls and says she expects them to sleep to complete their projects. Maxon comes in carrying Kriss, who says she tripped and sprained her ankle. America wakes up in the night to see Maxon talking to Kriss with his arm around her. When she is woken up in the morning, Maxon and Kriss are gone.
The next day, everyone is working outside while the palace is being cleaned up. Maxon, being excluded in his father’s meeting, waves and before America can wave back, Kris does. When the prince makes his way to the refreshment table, Kriss and Celeste both join him. Suddenly, a guard runs out to tell them there is a rebel attack. Maxon puts Kriss in Aspen’s arms and has him carry her to the safe room after the queen. America is frozen. She suddenly realizes the pooping around her is gunfire and takes off running. When she looks back, she sees King Clarkson pulling Maxon away while the prince tries to go after America. She realizes she ran the wrong way and continues to runs into the woods. She finds a tree thick enough to hide behind and then starts climbing. A few minutes later, a boy and a girl appear, saying they shouldn’t have come during the day when people would be outside. Her back of books rips and the pair scramble to gather them. America can tell there is affection between them. They hear a whistle and the boy leaves to check on someone they call Jeremy. The girl looks up and sees America. She laughs, gives a curtsey, and then takes off. America waits an hour before trying to find her way back, but she is lost.
America leans up against a tree and ends up falling asleep. When she wakes up, she hears guards calling for her. She doesn’t believe she is safe until she sees Aspen. She runs into his arms. The other guards gather around her and she tells them the rebels never caught up. As Aspen carries her back to the palace, she tells him what really happened. He takes her to the hospital wing and she is checked out by the doctor. She falls asleep and when she wakes up at two in the morning, Maxon is there. He is glad she is alright. She tells him she has seen how much he cares for the girls and knows he would’ve helped Marlee if possible. He tells her their team presentations will send another girl home from the losing team. He tells America he can’t lose her or Kriss. Her heart breaks. He says he has never been as grateful for anything as when she was found alive.
After spending all day with Kriss working on their project, America stews over all her contradicting emotions. She decides she isn’t completely ready to give up on Maxon. She takes out Gregory Illea’s diary from the piano bench. He says he used his money and position to become favorable to the people, but he will play by the rules to become their leader. America decides to write to her dad.
America and Kriss agree to be on their best behavior when the German’s arrive for the first reception. Sylvia takes notes through the entire day as several small things go wrong. Elise seems to be the only Elite staying calm. The next morning, America and Kriss get ready together and get down to the room early to make sure everything is perfect. They go up to Queen Amberly and Sylvia and give them each a necklace that matches their own to mark them as hosts. Sylvia is touched to be so recognized. When the other girls arrive, they tell them to spread out so the Italians can meet them all. America is relieved to find the Italians are beautiful, jovial people. Their monarchy is still young and this is their first time reaching out to Illea. America meets with their princess’ cousins, Orabella and Noemi, who encourage her to drink and gossip. They love America, but she has to excuse herself. Kriss toasts Queen Amberly and Sylvia and then America toasts their guests. America plays her violin some and then goes to mingle more. Princess Nicoletta asks to speak to America privately. She explains the reason Italy hasn’t reached out previously is because the people of Illea seem distraught and it is probably due to the caste system. She tells America she will do anything she can to help her get the crown after seeing her reaction to Marlee’s treatment. She stuffs a piece of paper into America’s hand and walks off. Elise compliments the work they did and America offers to tell Maxon how hard Elise worked. Elise says she is competing and wouldn’t do the same even though she likes America. After the party, America goes to her room and receives a response from her dad. He tells her he will support her no matter what she chooses, but he thinks she will make a great princess once she is int he position. He points out Maxon seemed sure about her and the reluctance was from her. She pulls out the paper from Nicoletta and sees it is the princess’ phone number. She wonders if she really could be the next princess.
The next day, Queen Amberly doesn’t show up in the Women’s Room. the girls are trying to guess why when a note show sup for America. Maxon asks to speak with her for a moment. She leaves the room to find Maxon in the hallway. He rushes her down the hall saying they only have fifteen minutes. They arrive at the princess suite. Maxon explains the room is undecorated so the princess can decide what to do with it. A secret door opens to reveal Marlee. They fall into each other’s arms and Maxon gives them some time alone. Marlee explains Maxon has been hiding her and Carter in the kitchen and not even the king knows. Maxon arranged their wedding for the day the German Federation visited and gave her away. They now live in a tiny apartment and have changed their names. America tells her all about her situation with Maxon. She has to leave quickly and hopes to be able to visit America more. America finds Maxon outside the room reading. She thanks him. He asks her if she still wants to be there. She considers and says yes. When she returns to the Women’s Room obvious she had been crying and refusing to say what Maxon wanted, the other girls are hopeful it will be America going home.
While spending Saturday in the Women’s Room, Queen Amberly and Sylvia come to report on each group’s reception. They note both groups did very well even though one was more fun to them than the other. Maxon and King Clarkson enter the room with the queen’s permission and announce they are going to New Asia to try to smooth out the war. Maxon makes his way down the line to say goodbye to the girls. America can tell there is something between him and Kriss and wonders when it started. His goodbye to America is cut short by the king. He notices her bracelet when he kisses her hand. The queen retires to her room after they leave. After Celeste leaves, America decides she will as well. While her maids are getting her ready for bed, they say they found Aspen in his street clothes searching her room. He said it was for security and they point out how he is always a very observant guard. When they leave, America finds a note from Aspen in the jar saying things are different with Maxon gone.
When it is time for dinner, America follows Aspen’s instructions to go into a room across the hall that had belonged to one of the girls that had been sent home. He makes them a fort under a table and they eat the dinner he brought. She asks if he likes being a guard even though he doesn’t like the king, the prince, or their politics. Aspen explains the job gives him a sense of purpose protecting his country. He has hope it will get better. He feels like he is in his own form of the Selection waiting for her to choose him or Maxon. America goes to sleep that night contemplating her choices and knowing she will have to live with her decisions.
Everyone is quiet at breakfast and the queen keeps to herself. Kriss tells America that Elise called her family to greet the king and prince, but they never showed up, which contradicts the call the queen received from them saying they arrived. She asks America to talk in the garden after they eat. They walk out together and Kriss admits she wants to talk about Maxon. When everything happened with Marlee, Kris sent Maxon a card to cheer him up. They started spending all their free time together. America suddenly realizes she doesn’t want to hear it or share her private moments. Kriss asks for warning if America hears Maxon is sending her home and America agrees. They make a pact to be fair about their competition for him. ON her way back to her room, America finds a note on the floor. There was a rebel attack in Paloma (300 dead, 100 injured) demanding the end of the Selection and the royal line. America puts it back on the floor knowing she wasn’t supposed to see it.
America has trouble sleeping that night and opens up the journal. She reads about Gregory’s plan to continue to win the people’s hearts by just being there while the president flounders. He has a plan to make his daughter useful as well. America becomes frustrated and stops reading. She goes out to the balcony and sees Maxon with his camera. She catches his attention and pulls her ear to signal him. He signals back and they both go inside. It takes him longer to get to her room than expected. He explains he had to go to his room first and pulls out a blue beaded bracelet he got for her while he was gone. He asks her not to tell the other girls and she agrees. He puts it on the wrist that doesn’t have Aspen’s button. She starts crying and tells him she is confused over him. He promises to tell her anything she wants to know, but she admits she sin’t ready to know. He says they will talk when she is ready and leaves her.
Wanting to distract herself, America asks Sylvia for extra lessons everyday. She pours herself into her assignments and tunes out the other girls. When they all have classes together again, Sylvia gives them their next project. They have to come up with a proposition for a philanthropic activity. America though she would have the advantage, but has trouble coming up with an idea. That Friday night during the Report, Maxon tugs on his ear. America returns the signal and he comes to her room after the show. She tells him she knows there are many people needing help, but she is frustrated because she doesn’t know how to help them. Maxon changes the subject and tells America her time to make a decision is running out. He doesn’t want to send home a girl that wants to be there just to have America chicken out in the end. When she still can’t answer, he goes to see Kriss.
America goes to breakfast late and runs into Aspen along the way. She asks to talk to him and he tells her to meet him at two. When the time comes, America leaves the Women’s Room and goes to the place he designated. She tells him about the project and he suggests a caste exchange program. America notices he seems to be a little bitter even though he is now a Two and some of his new friends started out that way. She is angry he is focused on hate rather than how to help the lower castes. After trying to distract herself, she pulls out Gregory Illea’s diary and reads how he sold his daughter into a marriage just to help him become a king. America realizes the reason history isn’t written is because Gregory Illea wasn’t a hero, just a conquerer. He rewrote history to make himself look better and the further removed people are from it, the more likely they are to believe his lies. America decides she has to know if this is what Maxon is really like. She makes her way up to his room, but is stopped by the guards. On her way back to her room, a maid tells her to check the first floor. She searches until she finds Maxon with Celeste and her dress straps falling down while they make-out. Maxon open his eyes to see America, and she takes off. He finds her in her room and she tells him she has made her decision. She wants to go home, but he says he will not let her go even after she explains she can’t be with him after what she just saw. He leaves the room at her request. She decides she will go out with a bang.
In preparation for the presentation of her project on the Report, America asks her maids to make her a dress that will make her look angelic. The night of, she secretly gives a note to Lucy to pass onto Aspen to say goodbye. Once the girls are all seated, Sylvia tells them what order they will present in. Natalie’s project is to get rid of all the rebels. Elise suggests a pen-pal system with New Asia to improve relations. Kriss has ideas to revamp education. Celeste has a plan to crate certifications for the lower caste systems they can achieve through classes with Threes in order to receive a minimum wage. Finally, America presents why the caste system should be eliminated. She sites several sources and even uses Gregory Illea’s diary. The king is furious and demands to know how she got the book. Maxon admits he let her borrow it. King Clarkson starts yelling at Maxon and demands America is sent home. Maxon refuses ands says it is his decision to make. He agrees to talk with his father in private. Before the two men leave, King Clarkson tells Natalie her sister was killed and they found the remains. America is shocked and stays in her seat while Queen Amberly tries to comfort Natalie. The other girls leave one by one. America apologizes to Natalie and then the queen before leaving.
When America gets back to her room, her maids are impressed with her presentation. She needs to think, so she leaves them to go out to the garden. On the way, she runs into Maxon coming out of the hospital wing with a metal box. Suddenly the alarms start to sound and a guard is shot. Maxon tells a guard he won’t make it to the large safe room and pulls America into a small one hidden in the wall for servants. He explains there are three ways out: use a key from the inside, key from the outside, or wait for it to unlock automatically after two days. He asks her to help him with his jacket and shirt and tells her not to tell anyone. She sees the fresh canning marks the king gave him over the previously healed ones. He has kept it hidden from everyone except his doctor, who has never said anything. America cleans the wounds and bandages them using supplies from the metal box She washes the bloody shirt as best she can. He asks if she wants to know about Kriss and Celeste.
America tells him Kriss already gave her side of the story. Maxon explains she is always stable and he needs that in his crazy life. He admits he knows Celeste is using him, so he doesn’t feel too bad about using her to feel normal sometimes. Natalie and Elise are his father’s choices, but he doesn’t want either. King Clarkson was originally okay with America because she didn’t cause trouble. Maxon knows his father will continue to pull the strings even after he is supposed to retire when Maxon is ready to rule. America realizes she’s been foolish and they start kissing. Their is a fire between them she knows she’ll never feel with anyone else. Suddenly she realizes the Northern rebels are looking for Gregory Illea’s diaries, which is why they had so many books when America saw them in the woods. Maxon tells her the broadcast was shut off before she got that far. He pulls her bracelet form his pocket and puts it on her wrist over Aspen’s button.
The guards find Maxon and America on their second sweep of the palace. The guard Maxon sent to tell the queen they were safe never made it. Another guard, Markson, tells Maxon the attack on Natalie’s sister was a deliberate attempt to end the Selection, and they have send guards to the remaining families’ houses. America tells the guards to let her family know she is coming home and Maxon confirms. They say their goodbyes and part. America finds all of her maids and Aspen in her room. The girls leave to make preparations to send her home. Aspen assumes they are automatically back together, but she tells him she has to heal and recover. Then she wants to choose who to be with rather than being forced into her seemingly sole option. He tells her to write when she is ready. She tells him to be careful before he leaves her alone in her room.
America (dressed in a brand new dress) says her goodbyes to her maids. She makes her way to the front door and is stopped just before she is about to leave. Maxon tells her he lied to his father and said America saved him during the rebel attack. He tells her King Clarkson has agreed to let her stay if she can remain quiet and behave. He also explains he can’t trust her completely yet because of her actions. Kriss comes along to ask if America is really leaving. America says she is staying. Maxon confirms his plans with Kriss for that night and she takes off. America says she won’t let him down. On her way back to her room, America runs into the king. He takes the opportunity to insult her and praise the other girls. He says if she stays, she will have to hold her tongue as she has already tried to undo decades of work. America says she understands, but is actually furious. She composes herself before going to tell her maids she is staying