She chose poorly

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Reading Challenge: “A Dystopian Novel”

This is the first book I’ve read for the reading challenge, as opposed to reading something I’ve been wanting to read and then finding the category it fit into. And here is why I selected (hurr hurr) The Selection. I had to read a dystopia. I don’t like dystopias. If you ask me, there’s enough that’s grim and disturbing about real life as it is. I’m already worried about climate change and the election and Russia and mass shootings and shit. I do not need to see the dire possibilities explored in fiction. So I thought, hmm, this book looks like it has the mildest dystopia I’ve ever seen. It’s not really my kind of book, but I’ll give it all the breaks. I will keep my expectations low. Besides, I like princess things and romance. I wrote my own princess contest story back when I was 17, and THAT turned out okay. In mine, the heroine didn’t want to win either, taught the other princesses how to play baseball and convinced them to follow their dreams instead of competing for the prince, and helped the prince run away with his true love, who was a guy. No, it was not great literature, but I had fun with it, so I know there are good things you can do with this concept. I will give this book a shot.

It was a bad idea.

If you don’t want to read me rambling on about how much I disliked this book, just know that it all adds up to this: I’m pretty sure the author read The Hunger Games and said “Good books – but what if it were The Bachelor instead of a fight to the death?” That’s it. That’s the book.

My first hint that this was going to be a lot worse than I anticipated was when I realized the castes of this dystopian society were named – are you ready? – One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight. Part of me was grateful I didn’t have to learn a bunch of names. Part of me was laughing at the absurd laziness of it.

Then the heroine just wouldn’t shut up about how she wasn’t pretty, you guys, can everyone stop telling me how beautiful I am? Followed, I might add, with her looking at a potential rival later and thinking “I suppose she’s pretty, but she doesn’t look like me at all.” I’ll just leave that there for you to ponder and draw your own conclusions.

I was feeling a little uncertain about the writing already. It wasn’t, like, E.L. James bad, but it was pretty bad. Then I got to this line (p. 17): “The gritty sound of his voice pushed out every other thought.” Maybe this is a regional thing, but I’ve never heard of a gritty voice before (let alone that it’s a sexy thing). What is a gritty voice? I pondered this with my husband, who suggested that maybe a gritty voice is that of a used car salesman who smokes too much. It’s as good a theory as any.

So, all of this having happened already, I knew I was probably in for a rough ride with this book, and boy, was I right. The heroine was a jerk with approximately zero insight into her own or anyone else’s feelings 90% of the time, her boy back home was a whiny asshole and the prince I’m pretty sure was a robot. Wait, let me correct: I was really, really hoping the prince was a robot. This would have been a much more interesting book if so.

The society pretty much existed to give us this story, with a few vague gestures at relevance filled in here or there. There are some mysterious rebels who for some reason hate these nice royal people who are at the top of a crazily divided society. But the two things that were utterly unaddressed but worried me the whole time were as follows: 1) Why is everyone in this dystopia white? Now, granted, there were characters who weren’t described and might conceivably have been people of color, but there was no variety in naming or physical description that suggested anyone wasn’t white. What terrifying, horrific tragedy wiped out all the non-white people in your world and why didn’t you mention it? 2) What happened during the fictional world wars and after to create a brand-new society where women are such second-class citizens? Really, the misogyny got me more than anything except the crappy writing (priorities). A woman’s sole power lay in her sexuality – premarital nookie is punishable by death, apparently, and the heroine pretty constantly rates everyone’s attractiveness. The evil girl wears too much makeup and is predatory and ambitious, to the point of psychosis. A man has to be the provider for the household and women become whatever caste the man they marry belongs to. Plus birth control is a privilege reserved for the upper classes.

My God. This is what we get if Ted Cruz wins in 2016. Kiera Cass is a prophet of doom. I didn’t realize.

Can we also stop with this trend of young adult novels where the heroine wins things more or less by accident? Give me more like The Assassin’s Curse or Leviathan where the heroine is confident and ambitious, please. Ambition is not a crime, although you’d never know it by how some of these books are.

There were things to not hate about this book. America (shudder, that name) had some pretty good relationships with women, trying to make friends in the contest rather than automatically hating them all. Some of the best dialogue, I thought, was between her and her friend Marlee. Particularly one conversation they had about the prince sounded to me like real teenage girls talking about a boy. The book moved quickly. It made enough of an impression on me that I went ahead and finished the damn thing, and also bothered to write this lengthy rant.

There were many, many problems with this book, but the last one I’ll mention is that it features a heroine entering a contest she doesn’t want to enter, a heroine with a little sister she adores. She gets a makeover from some guy who respects her choices and works with her personality. She loves the food at the contest because she’s gone hungry before. It’s a world that divides people with numbers, where the smaller numbers are the more privileged. There’s an MC personality, oh, and he’s wearing this interesting pin. Now, where have I heard that before?

So, yes, I picked up a book I thought I would probably not really enjoy, and turned out to be right beyond my wildest dreams. Partly, I asked for this, and maybe that made me a little hard on it. But Kiera Cass doesn’t need my approval: the series (yes, it’s a series) is wicked popular and I think just got made into a TV miniseries on the CW. Pretty good for a book that’s just The Hunger Games remade as “The Bachelor.”

Suggested pairing: for those of you who actually enjoyed the book, champagne. Crappy peach champagne, for you deserve no better.

For the rest of us, tequila shots.


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