This month the Selective Collective book read “The Winner’s Curse” by Marie Rutkoski together. For me, it was an unputdownable novel with an original storyline and a unique central romance. Diana had a harder time getting into it at first, but eventually she got immersed in the sociopolitical drama. We asked our friends what they thought about various aspects of the book, and here’s what they had to say about everything from gender issues to best friends who are nothing alike. Thanks to Macmillan Teen for sending us all a copy!
As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.
One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.
But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.
1. What did you think about the unconventional slave/slave-owner dynamic between Arin and Kestrel? Why were (or weren’t) you able to fall for the romance despite their impossible seeming situation?
I had a hard time believing in the romance because it didn’t feel like they so much had chemistry as that they were thrown together and it was a matter of convenience. I think that maybe Kestrel was attracted to Arin because he was new, shiny, and different than what she had become used to, but I found myself not trusting Arin’s attraction because the whole time he is using her. I think his attraction to her was mostly guilt at the situation. –Daphne, Gone Pecan
2. One of the themes in “The Winner’s Curse” is duty versus desire. Arin and Kestrel both wrestle with what they want to do versus what they are expected to do. What are times in your life when you had to deal with what was expected of you versus what you really wanted to do? How did you handle/resolve that inner conflict?
I’ve always had a self-imposed sense of duty to my family. In fact, just a couple weeks ago I canceled plans with friends that I had been planning for weeks because my family asked me to do something last minute. Generally I feel horrible for standing up whoever I make plans with but to me it has always been family first. I guess right now I’m ok with this since my niece is so small because I won’t get that time back. It was the same with my grandparents who aren’t with us anymore. I also put retrictions on myself for travel because I’m single. I’ve never forced myself to go places I want to just because I would be alone there. I’m still working on this one and hopefully regardless of my status I will be able to enjoy the things I want to do and places I want to go. 🙂 –Kristina, Gone Pecan
Duty vs desire is something I’ve struggled with for YEARS, especially now that I’m older. I feel like I’ve “lost my window” to do the things I desire and am duty bound to get a steady job with steady pay, be an adult and do adult things, find a husband, start a family, stay close to my existing family, be a dutiful daughter, etc. While no one has actually said these are the things I have to do, I somehow feel that these are the things I’m meant to do, despite my desires to do other things. And while this sounds incredibly lame, I think I have to do what is expect rather than what I desire because of my situation in life – unmarried adult female. I no longer have the financial support of my parents and I have yet to have the financial support of a spouse, so therefore quitting my job on a Tuesday and hopping on a plane on Wednesday to spend a month in Ireland is out of the question. I’m duty bound to work to pay my bills to live my life. As far as resolving it… I’ve yet to figure this out. However, I think I handle it okay. It’s a matter of finding what is important to me. For example: I desire to have my own house. Therefore, in order to have this, I have to work. I think it’s about finding a balance between duty and desire; often they tend to go hand in hand. –Candice, The Grown-Up YA
3. Music played an important role in Kestrel’s life. She returns to specific piano pieces that help her process her emotions. What are some specific pieces of music or songs that have gotten you through tough times?
I’ve always connected to a few bands/artists because their songs had been so poigniant at that time in my life. Jimmy Eat World’s album Futures will always be a big part of my life because it just so succinctly summed up exactly how I felt when I first listened to it. I loved Sara Barielles’ first two albums but I really connected with Kaleidoscope Heart. I also listened to a lot of Motion City Soundtrack in college! Music used to be a REALLY big part of my life and there are so many songs that have such an emotional connection to me so I also really loved seeing that musical aspect in The Winner’s Curse! –Brittany
Music used to be HUGE in my life. Not so much anymore, but there are still those songs that I use to help get me through tough times. The most recent (and don’t laugh) is “Let It Go” from Frozen. It helped me while I was so miserable at my last job and has made even more of an impact on me now that I’ve left it. Most of the songs I use are kinda sappy… “Half Life” by Duncan Sheik, “In the Sun” by Joseph Arthur, “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hay, “Your Winter” and “Champagne High” by Sister Hazel. But they tend to do the trick when I need a little perspective or just need to wallow in whatever emotion I’m feeling. When my grandfather died “A Long December” by Counting Crows was my go-to song when I needed to remember him (he died right before Christmas). “What Ever Happened?” by the Strokes got me through a breakup. (I want to be forgotten and I don’t want to be reminded… best lyrics ever) Maybe one day I’ll bring my go-to songs up to date, but these are great go-tos for right now! –Candice
Music–though I am not in any way musically gifted–is a huge part of my life. I’m that person who only turns on the TV to play Pandora. I always have something playing in the background. My husband and I often listen to music on our iPods and share ear buds and he likes to play certain songs for me, saying they remind him of us. Not long ago we were talking about how “If I Had a Gun” (a beautiful love song despite the title) would have been our first dance if we were getting married now. With my children, I always play them the Adele version of “Make You Feel My Love” and tell them it’s my song for them. They refer to it as “The Mama Song” and my oldest sang it at her Jr. High talent show (and made me cry when she told the audience it was because of me. Sob!). But we also like to be silly. The song our family loves to sing, outside of any number of Disney or Les Miz songs (sob again!) would be “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets. In fact, I actually wrote the chorus on a wall in our house because we deemed it “Our Song.” –Tammy, YA Crush
4. In “The Winner’s Curse,” Kestrel was faced with choosing to either get married or join the military, but she really just wanted to be an independent woman. How does Marie Rutkoski explore gender issues/ roles of women in society via Kestrel’s story?
I think the gender issues in “The Winner’s Curse” we both progressive and stagnating. I loved that Kestrel being a girl had no bearing on if she could/would join the military and her strategic talents were held in high regard as an important characteristics of a good soldier. But if Kestrel didn’t want to be in the military, she had to be married, which could oppress her in a different way. I understand and appreciate the Valorian society’s requirement that all citizens (even the aristocracy) participate in some meaningful way, but I didn’t like that she had to decide her entire life at such a young age. Then again, she was much more mature than your typical contemporary teenager. –Daphne
First off, I loved the fact that she didn’t want either, she just wanted the option to be herself. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when people (and I do stress people, not just men) automatically put women in subservient roles, thinking that we can’t or won’t make decisions, that we aren’t capable of handling stressful situations, etc. I personally think Ms Rutkoski did a great job with Kestrel becuase I really got the sense that she tried her best in a difficult situation to gain as much freedom as she could and showed that she can be patient if it means getting what she wants in the end. –Kristina
5. Kestrel and Jess are best friends despite being very different from each other. What are some other YA books do a good job depicting friendships between very dissimilar girls? Do you have a friend in your own life that you seemingly have nothing in common with, but you know you can always count on?
My best friend is both completely like me and completely unlike me. She is outgoing and loves entertaining. She is one of the “cool kids” who has tons of really good friends. I am very introverted and I dislike leaving my house. I have a small collection of people I’m close with. I am a complete geek/nerd and have never been accused of being cool. But we have a lot of similar experiences and issues. We also agree on a lot of social issues and our political beliefs have grown and changed together. She is one of the most loyal people I know and I can count on her for ANYTHING, including telling me the truth when I don’t want to hear it or pushing me to do things that I really don’t want to because I’d rather veg out on the couch. I don’t know what I would do without her and I hope I never have to find out. –Daphne
One of my dearest friends and I have known each other since we were 12 and 13. We met through our church’s youth group and became best friends, despite the fact that she as home-schooled, and I went to public school. The connection remained, even though I went off to an East Coast liberal arts’ college, and she went to a conservative Baptist college in the South. Fast forward 25 years, and we are still incredibly close, even though we don’t see eye to eye on politics or denominations. It doesn’t matter to me that we don’t vote for the same Presidential candidates, or that she’s Evangelical, and I’m a progressive Protestant. Our years of friendship are built on trust and unconditional love, and we love being the “friend across the aisle” as Congressman would say. As for other books with great female friendships among dissimilar girls, I LOVE Karou and Zusana’s relationship in the “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series; Tris and Christina in “Divergent,” and Taylor and Raffy in “Jellicoe Road.” –Sandie