Friday, March 9, 2012

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins
-The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book 1-
(New York: Scholastic Books, 2009)
eBook, 388 Pages, 482 KB, Fiction

Winning means fame and fortune. Losing means death. The Hunger Games have begun… In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.



Deep breath.

I’ve read these books finally. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, drunken the Kool Aid, and whatever other tired clichés you feel like trotting out.

This book has been on my Kindle for a very, very long time—practically since I got the darned thing two years ago—and I essentially forgot about it. I was peripherally aware of the books, but not enough to know what they were about or even about the hype surrounding them. Then I loaned a friend my copy of the eBook to her Kindle and when it came back, and I had finished Those Across the River, I decided what the hell. I might as well.

A day and a half later I was done with Book One and begging my wife to allow me to buy Books Two and Three for my Kindle so I could finish the goddamned series.

I don’t know what I was thinking I would find in Collins’ book. Another book trying to be Harry Potter. Another series trying to cash in on the Twilight phenomenon. Another crappy young adult series. What I didn’t expect was to be so drawn in to the series that I (A) couldn’t wait to read Books Two and Three and (B) that I was extremely glad I had a Kindle so that I could have them without any delay.

I’m not exactly sure what it was I enjoyed the most about the series. Was it the whole premise … sure there are similarities to Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, but there are plenty of other killer reality TV games-based plots that it would be unfair to Collins’ to belabor the similarities. (If that’s the case, then we might as well talk about Takami and the similarities to Stephen King’s novellas The Running Man and The Long Walk.) Anyway, Battle Royale aside, I love the way in which Collins’ handles the idea of the Hunger Games and creates the history of Panem. The sheer brutality of the world in which Katniss Everdeen lives is unbelievable, and yet … not really that unbelievable. The way in which politics and politicians have been dividing the country into various regions and working to deepening that divide is strangely similar to Panem’s Capitol’s work to keep the twelve Districts separate and unaware of each other.

I also really enjoyed the character of Katniss Everdeen. It was nice to encounter a strong and fairly independent female character in what is, essentially, a young adult novel after nearly a decade of having Bella Swan be the worst female role model for young pre-teen and teenage girls. This is not to say that Katniss doesn’t have her flaws … I am a little sick of the love triangles between a young woman and two young men, and while I understand that this kind of romance is more for the young adults in the target audience than for me, the 30-something, married adult male, but still … I don’t want to get caught up in arguments of Team Peeta vs. Team Gale anymore than I wanted to get caught up in arguments of Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. Why do young female characters need that? Why can’t Katniss succeed without a man in her life? I mean, she does for the most part, but the whole protector—or in Katniss’ case males: Peeta, Gale, Cinna, Haymitch—that need to watch out for the “girl” is a little disheartening. Luckily in this case, Katniss is, for the most part, a strong, independent and thinking young woman who takes her destiny into her own hands.

Then there is the sheer, unrelenting, exhausting experience of reading the actual action of the Hunger Games. When we finally enter the Arena with Katniss, what Collins has laid down on the pages of this book is a nonstop dash for the end. Once the Hunger Games started, I could not put the book down. The action is nonstop and the way in which Collins portrays the events in the Arena is so compelling that you almost feel as if you are there. In addition to the “feel” of the Arena, Collins has created some of the most inventive and disturbing traps, perils and hazards I have ever had the pleasure to read about in a “young adult” novel. From diabolical traps, to weather control, to dangerous wasps and genetically engineered monstrosities specifically designed to take away your reason and sanity … the Arena and its Gamemakers throw it all at the twenty-four Tributes. Oh, and there is blood. Copious amounts of it. Disturbing amounts, even.  More than one might expect in a young adult novel.

And yet, the violence and gore doesn’t seem excessive. I know that that might sound … odd, but it’s true. With the exception of the love triangle, everything that is in this book is there for a reason and advances the plot and deepens character development. I honestly can’t wait to dive into Catching Fire.

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