The Chat Room is a new Minerva series, where we have an in-depth discussion about something that has been on our minds. This week, we talked The Selection series by Kiera Cass, which we have some mixed feelings about. If you haven’t read the books, beware, there are spoilers.
Gabs Roman: I’ll start with how were we all first introduced to the series?
Erin E Rand: I first read The Selection… I don’t know, sometime in college. It was definitely a time in my life when I wasn’t doing a lot of reading for pleasure. I actually remember when Kiera Cass made YouTube videos about Twilight (oh god did I just admit that?) and that’s what I knew her from and why I bought her book.
Olivia Woods: And I jumped on the bandwagon after hearing Erin and Gabs discuss how horrible/wonderful the series was, and after hearing their discussions, coupled with seeing the covers and hearing a premise of the plot, I knew I had to read them.
Gabs Roman: I sometimes troll Goodreads looking for new books to read and The Selection seemed to inspire a bunch of squee and a bunch of disdain. I was super curious but didn’t want to spend the money on the first one in case I hated it. So when I joined the BPL and discovered I could check out ebooks, I decided to try out The Selection. I tore through the first three books in record time. It was sort of embarrassing.
Erin E Rand: Okay, so what are the general thoughts? I’m getting an “embarrassment” vibe from all of us.
Olivia Woods: Embarrassment is very accurate. But I’m also really glad I read it because it was mindless fun. I was at a good spot in my reading habits that I was in the mood for it when I read it (summer time, just graduated, looking for something frothy and silly) and sometimes hate reading something is refreshing. I’m also disappointing, because there are things I wanted the book to be, and it never even got close to my expectations. I think that if it just stuck to the bare minimum (girls competing bachelor style for a prince) that’d be enough. No one cares about political intrigue or secret plots that never develop.
Gabs Roman: Yeah, on one level I’m embarrassed and on another I’m willing to embrace the utter and complete ridiculousness. I mean, all five are sitting on my bookshelf at home.
But I agree. The political intrigue is laughably terrible and the rebel attacks are like the most contrived way to drum up drama. Also, think about the message of friendships between women this book could have promoted and instead America ignores 95% of the other girls.
Olivia Woods: Agreed! It takes until the very last book for there to be any friendship building between America and the other contestants (besides Marlee, whose punishment for having a relationship is an entirely different thing to discuss and that made me angry) and then, once American becomes friends with the others, the book is over? And also Celeste dies for no conceivable reason.
Erin E Rand: So Olivia you say that they do the bare minimum Bachelor competition, but I actually disagree. I think that was the big difference between the original three being sort of silly and fun, and the two “next generation” books being absolutely unbearable. In the original Selection, at least the girls are asked to take on some diplomatic responsibility. In Eadlyn’s (which is the definition of stupid YA name), the contestants are just THERE. But I might be getting ahead of myself.
Gabs Roman: Celeste is ultimately too good for the world of the Selection.
I don’t think the problem with the following two books are the guys. It’s just that Eadlyn and her brother are completely unbearable pieces of human garbage.
But yeah, in the originals there’s something there. And I’m not sure what it is. Maybe I’m actually invested in the America/Maxon relationship?
Erin E Rand: I was mostly invested in her not ending up with Aspen.
But I don’t really know what magic it had, because I definitely enjoyed reading the first three but at no point did I find America a compelling or sympathetic character.
Olivia Woods: That’s a good point, Erin! I guess by doing the bare minimum I really meant that they should have stripped the rebels and the steroid soldiers and King Clarkson’s anger issues out of it because those parts of the book weren’t fully developed. If those plot points had been fleshed out and given their own weight in the books, they would have been welcome additions to the book for me. I do agree with you that having the contestants learn and respond to political situations was a good thing.
Gabs Roman: Aspen is possibly my least favorite YA love interest of all time.
Olivia Woods: I am also invested in Aspen basically falling into a ditch and never leaving.
I also never found America a compelling character; half the time I thought her behavior was immature and her choices were self-sabotaging.
Gabs Roman: OH GOD. The sudden revelation of Clarkson’s abuse is so awful. And the Queen loves him despite his constant physical abuse of their son?
And America is the perfect example of why teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to decide who they’re going to marry.
Olivia Woods: And now that I’ve read the queen’s short story I can say that Cass doesn’t do herself any favors in trying to “showcase” the origins of Clarkson’s abusive behavior
Erin E Rand: I feel like both the Clarkson abuse storyline and the rebels storyline were just sort of forced in because either the publisher or Cass didn’t think that it could stand alone as fluff, but I think that was the wrong decision.
Olivia Woods: Agreed. I think the fluff is what made it fun, and the other components bogged it down with unnecessary drama.
Erin E Rand: That’s why the next gen series didn’t work for me. It was ALL just unnecessary (melo)drama.
Gabs Roman: I completely agree. And all the adults in the next gen series were giving the worst love advice in the world.
Olivia Woods: Oh my god, so true. And Eadlyn is actually (surprisingly?) even more unlikable than her mother.
Gabs Roman: Eadlyn is truly awful and Erik is too good for those books.
Olivia Woods: I was really disappointed that Adult!America was pretty much undeveloped as a character.
Erin E Rand: I thought I saw on Goodreads that you liked the last book, Olivia?
Olivia Woods: I did, surprisingly!
Erin E Rand: Tell me about that. I want to know why.
Gabs Roman: I thought the last book was the worst by far. So I’m also curious.
Olivia Woods: I think I liked the last two (maybe not the second one more than the first, but the last two books as a whole) because the plot was more streamlined. The subplots that were in the first books didn’t get tangled up in the Selection process, and even though Eadlyn is a HORRIBLE character, she learns, a teeeeenie, tiny bit, to be less horrible. And everyone else in the book calls her out on her behavior too, which is refreshing, because America got to pitch fits for all her books and no one really said she shouldn’t (except Maxon, who would get huffy and storm away). While the guys don’t really play a part like the women of the Selection did, I think I also liked that Cass took time to flesh them out, so we actually got the chance to know them. I feel like with America’s selection, we only really got to know Marlee, Celeste, Kriss, and a few others.
And maybe Erik and Eadlyn’s pairing as a couple is more believable? I’m still trying to work that one out…
Olivia Woods: To be honest I’m also still trying to work out if America and Maxon work as a couple, too.
Gabs Roman: I actually thought the Erik and Eadlyn relationship felt too much like instalove. I got where it came from but damn they went from zero to one hundred so freaking fast.
I think America and Maxon might be terrible for each other but their chemistry felt real to me.
Olivia Woods: That’s very true. I swear from the beginning I thought she was going to end up with Marlee’s son.
Gabs Roman: The breakups at the end were all just too easy. Kile didn’t feel for her either. Those other two guys were conveniently gay. Henri was too nice. It was so easy. And that made it boring for me.
Erin E Rand: It was really set up that she would go with Kile. And then she just threw Erik in for the sake of having a curveball/plot twist, but there was no real justification for it.
And agree about it being too easy. Though if Eadlyn’s story had actually been “streamlined” it would have only taken one book to tell it. Splitting it into two was an obvious money grab.
Olivia Woods: Oh totally. I hope if they ever do a reprint, they just shove The Heir and The Crown into one book.
Gabs Roman: The real thing that made that last book such a hot mess was the random political intrigue and then Eadlyn deciding to dismantle the monarchy on live TV. I seriously laughed out loud at that.
Erin E Rand: And Maxon deciding to step down and let his 19 year old run the nation because he’s kind of tired.
Olivia Woods: Oh yeah! I forgot all about that, actually.
Gabs Roman: Hahaha.
Olivia Woods: Clearly it was a plot point that left a lasting impression on me.
Erin E Rand: The whole idea that America (the nation) would regress to a monarchy at all is so laughable. The political stuff is so weak I can’t suspend my disbelief.
Gabs Roman: Maybe Ilea was the new name Donald Trump gave himself and we’re all doomed.
Olivia Woods: Agreed. That’s why it kind of felt like it was thrown in really slapdash. If it had been done in a well thought out and believable way, maybe it would have helped the book overall
Gabs Roman: But seriously, the political stuff is awful. And I actually like the castes but they are laughable when you actually try to figure them out.
Olivia Woods: Ilea really did sound like Trump in his diaries, though.
Also true! I get what she was trying to do with the castes, but they didn’t really make a lot of sense. And I could not get over the fact that people’s professions were also their last names.
Gabs Roman: I couldn’t get over anybody’s names.
Olivia Woods: Standard “YA special” names.
Gabs Roman: The nonsense spelling of regular names bothered me. I never recovered from Kile.
Erin E Rand: I actually know a Kile in real life.
Olivia Woods: Osten and however she spelled Aaron got to me. Was it like Ahren?
Gabs Roman: Yeah, Ahren. I take it all back. Her brothers had the worst names.
And Aspen. Because eff that guy.
Olivia Woods: I hate Aspen. I got to his short story in the collection and just stopped.
Erin E Rand: So is there anything we like about The Selection? Because this is becoming kind of a pile on.
Gabs Roman: I actually find them compulsively readable.
Erin E Rand: That’s sort of how I feel about Twilight, too. Like even if I knew it wasn’t very good I just kept reading.
Olivia Woods: That’s a good point! They’re like reality television; you don’t want to watch, but you HAVE to know what happens next.
Gabs Roman: Like I said, I think I’m actually invested in America and Maxon and I just want those stupid kids to figure it out.
Olivia Woods: And I really like the premise; it’s fluffy and frothy and mindlessly fun.
Erin E Rand: I was definitely sold on the “Hunger Games meets Bachelor” tag line. I heard that and I was like, “Deal me in.”
Olivia Woods: And it’s got that timeless, fairy tale feel, with the humble girl from the small town falling in love with the dashing prince.
Gabs Roman: Totally does. And the girl from humble beginnings teaches royalty to be less of a douche is always a fun thread.
Olivia Woods: Agreed!
Gabs Roman: Like a less sophisticated Ever After.
Olivia Woods: Ooh, yes.
Gabs Roman: And I actually like Maxon. I find him genuinely likable.
Olivia Woods: I was rooting for him.
Erin E Rand: Kind of agree? America had issues being straight up about her feelings, but he was pretty cagey too.
Olivia Woods: That’s true. This is why people (YA characters especially) need to be honest about their feelings.
Erin E Rand: That’s my least favorite type of conflict – when it could all be fixed if the characters were just honest about their feelings.
Olivia Woods: Agreed! They make me so frustrated and squeamish.
Gabs Roman: It’s the only reason book two stretches into book three as well, which is especially frustrating.
Olivia Woods: Yes.
Erin E Rand: Do we have any smart conclusions about The Selection books?
Olivia Woods: Hmm… I would say, if the premise intrigues you, if you’re looking for a good summer read, or the covers catch your eye, give the series a chance. You won’t be reading anything groundbreaking or mind-changing, but they’re fun.
And it’s pretty good escapism and fan service.
Gabs Roman: I say read them to spite all the intellectual jerk offs who claim YA is ruining intellectualism and then give the world a middle finger. Also, it’s okay to love/hate something you know is not meant for you. I think people should embrace the stuff they like and not care if they’re “too old” or “too smart” or whatever. Eff the people who try to make you feel bad for it.
Gabs Roman: Embrace the Selection and everything you hold dear in life despite it being problematic and fuck the haters.
Erin E Rand: The more I think about it the less charitable I feel about it, which actually encompasses my approach to the books. It’s a series that works if you don’t apply too much logic to it. It’s a fun romp, but not much more. Also there are pretty dresses.
Olivia Woods: They are very pretty!
Images via Goodreads.