Thoughts on… The Selection & The Elite by Kiera Cass

DISCLAIMER: Spoilers to follow.

To begin with, let me clarify my intention in sharing my thoughts about these novels: I don’t wish to review them so much as to somehow resolve the conflicting thoughts and feelings that I have toward them. Of all the many books I have had the pleasure or displeasure of reading, I cannot recall reading any that have left me quite so emotionally confused. My hope is that once I have written out my thoughts (and hopefully elicited some response from people who have also read these books or can relate to what I say in some way) that I can learn some lessons in story writing and feel less unsettled.

One review I read on Goodreads about The Selection made an excellent analogy: it is like a literary equivalent of Nutella. Nutella is nutritionally empty but easy on the taste buds, likewise The Selection is intellectually vacant but a guilty pleasure to devour (but I would argue it’s more like ‘Everyday Value’ chocolate spread than the branded expensive stuff).

With each plot “twist” I already knew what was coming, with each not-so-subtle “detail” I guessed it’s future relevance and eventual consequences… and sad to say, I was right every single time. Cliché followed cliché followed cliché.

The inclusion of the “rebels” seemed contrived, the dystopian government and caste system was flimsy, the characterisation was underdeveloped and verging on caricatured, the reappearance of Aspen was disappointing, leading to the beginning of a will-they-won’t-they plot-line that was exploited to within an inch of its life.

And yet, either as a result of her writing or my brazen sentimentality, Cass was able to draw me in so that I started to actually care just enough about the unfolding of America Singer (queue dry hurl) and Maxon Schreave’s romance to keep reading. Every time I hoped he would appear on the scene, he did, and inevitably said or did the things I hoped he would. Cass hooked me in so that I was spurred on to keep reading until the wee hours of the morning… and then borrow the sequel The Elite from the library and read it within 24 hours. Why?

Why?

Admittedly, I was far more infuriated with the sequel. The whole will-they-won’t-they “drama” became increasingly stale, the indecisiveness of the protagonist and the prince showed up their inherent fickleness, fully exposing the thinly veiled shallowness of the romance, consequently I couldn’t help but discard the rest of the story that hinged on it. Seen as the dystopian element was so poorly developed, I had no reason to borrow the third book in the trilogy, The One, so I happily settled for reading the full summary on theselection.wikia.com (wishing I’d done the same thing for The Elite)

To my disappointment, the author totally copped out of giving the trilogy a realistic conclusion (why hadn’t I seen that coming?) Rather than taking the opportunity to make a point, leave it on a cliff-hanger or at least surprise the reader in some way, we are left with everybody having a happily ever after and TWO epilogues! Y’know, just so all your questions about what happened next are answered. I’d never heard of a bonus epilogue until now. Mind you, all the prequels and sequels and mini-series should have been the giveaway that this author and her agent were prepared to milk the franchise until it dried up.

To Cass’ credit, not killing off either of the love interests (Maxon and Aspen) did surprise me as, after all that backwards and forward, it seemed the only way for the author to have the protagonist make a decision – having it made for her!

Perhaps I misunderstood the age group this was aimed at… when I saw it was a YA dystopia I thought it would be written with readers of Divergent at best or The Hunger Games at worst in mind, when actually it is probably written for readers of Princess Tiara magazine or whatever.

I feel like it’s a shame because there are ideas in the book that I think have potential, and clearly the author can write well enough to produce a first novel that many people find readable (whether begrudgingly or not). I think it is the latter point that has left me most flummoxed, because I have been tentatively working on a dystopian sci-fi story and I really felt like the synopsis had legs… but now I am doubting my judgement when it comes to what is good reading and good writing. I don’t want my story to be the corny chocolate spread tsunami that this series is, but I want it to have that engrossing quality that keeps the reader hooked.

And for that reason, dear reader, I ask for your thoughts and your experiences on this matter – especially if you have read The Selection or another book that has left you with that reality TV guilty-pleasure feeling. Why do you think stories like this can keep you hooked? And how do you know if what you’re writing is going to appeal to other people? Are there even concrete answers to these questions?

I look forward to hearing whatever you have to say. And, of course, I apologise if I have offended you with my opinions! Ultimately, I probably should have gone with my gut instinct and not read them – the front cover repelled me for a good year or so, but then I ran out of books to borrow on the eLibrary I use and I caved. Paradoxically, it’s not that there’s so much I disliked that surprised me, it’s that I felt compelled to read the book to the end.

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