Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hungry for More

That's right, I gave in.  I finally read The Hunger Games. I've resisted the book for so long, but gradually my interest peaked until I could no longer ignore the book (this process of slow-moving obsession to near constant trailer watching delights my boyfriend to no end).  Why would I not want to read it? (I can practically feel the ravening hordes of fans circling). I think Margaret Atwood first ruined dystopias for me; they're not exactly happy-fun times.  And even though I loved The Hunger Games, reading it in less than 48 hours, I still think dystopias suck.  That's when I pinpointed my problem: dystopias seem too probable and that scares the hell out of me. But enough about my deep seated psychological issues and whining, let me tell you how absolutely awesome The Hunger Games really was.

The Basics
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2009. Print.

Before she wrote epically awesome books, Collins wrote for children's television; she was partially responsible for Clarissa Explains It All for crying out loud! And before she moved on to Katniss, Collins authored the best-selling series The Underland Chronicles.

The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic North America, known as Panem.  Following a rebellion, the ruling body in the Capitol forces each of the twelve districts to participate in the titular Hunger Games.  Each district sends a male and female tribute between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in a televised (and glamorized) fight to the death.  For the Capitol this is great entertainment, while for most of the districts it's a death sentence.  The story follows the heroine, Katniss, during her fight for survival in the Games.

The Book
So, I realize that for a lot of people, my review is about like saying that the Harry Potter books are pretty good, but I also think there are plenty of people out there who still need to pick up these books.  This review is for them (my own brother had never heard of the books!).

(Crud, now I have to put this book into words).  Okay.  I can do this.  The best part of the book was Katniss, which is a pretty good thing since the whole novel is from her point of view.  I like the strength of her character, from her intellect and creativity to her will to survive.  Even when she's irritatingly oblivious (poor Peeta), I still like her.  Even in her flaws, Katniss is very much a product of her world and the situations into which she's thrust.  Why would she think about such frivolities as love and pretty clothing when she has larger concerns such as starvation and seemingly imminent death to dwell on? It helps that she's highly sympathetic, which makes it easy for readers to identify with and root for her. Her excellent narration pulls readers into her story; I found myself raging against the injustice of the Capitol right along with her.  I was glad to see the strength, intelligence and over-all quality of her character, given how many young girls adore her (better than some other books I can name...).

As always for me in the fantasy genre, the world-building aspect of the book holds a lot of appeal.  Collins does an excellent job creating Panem.  The harshness of the world is emphasized by the manner in which readers experience it.  We are instantly immersed in the world since we see everything through Katniss, whose place in life is already pretty well established.  Readers learn about Panem as they follow Katniss either through observation and context clues or through Katniss's musings.  Despite the harsh dystopic condition of the country, I couldn't help but be fascinated with its traditions, politics, and just general goings-on.

And then we have the Games themselves, which I found as fascinating as they were horribly barbaric.  Being something of myth buff, I could see the connection to the Theseus myth Collins claims as inspiration, but her story is so much more than that (and, you know, lacking in minotaurs). The trappings that surround the games, making them into a form of entertainment to the people of the Capitol are intriguing (and, well, entertaining) but at the same time draw attention to the stark contrast between spectator and competitor.  Collins does a great job crafting memorable characters to surround Katniss during her time in the Games from her support team to her often nameless enemies (quite a feat to have memorable nameless characters).  Collins also creates a realistic and immersive vision of the survivalist Games.  She doesn't ignore Katniss and the other tribute's need to provide themselves with food and water and the physical effects of failing to do so in favor of describing the action and gore of the Games.  Nor does she simply represent a glamorized, stylized form of violence; her representation is realistically gritty (and occasionally pus-filled).

It's this skillfully crafted combination of imagination and realism that will keep readers turning pages.  And really, if you haven't read The Hunger Games yet (or, heaven forfend, not heard of it) go pick up this book now! (Go on, shoo). I absolutely loved the novel and can't wait to read more. That being said, I had originally planned to read through the whole trilogy before writing this blog post.  Instead, I'm taking a break; Katniss's world is just too intense.  I get downright surly as I empathize with her plight. So, I think I'll take a break and escape into an old, light-hearted favorite, Anne of Green Gables; that's about as opposite as it gets right?

  • As always, I must point you to the author's website, where you'll find additional info on the author and her other series.
  • Scholastic, the publisher, has a fairly nifty site for the series, including some entertaining little The Hunger Games inspired games to play.
  • And, unless you live under a rock, you might have heard that there's a movie, whose trailer can be found at the official website, starring the superb Jennifer Lawrence.

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  1. Lovely! I'm glad you finally read it! Now WHICH brother had never heard of them?!?! And I'm going all fangirl excited about the movie. I can't wait! But yes, Katniss can be very frustrating at times, and let me warn you, it doesn't seem to get better through the series. As you said, though, I love that the author remembers the tributes' need for basic necessities. I am fairly enamored with the books, and and excited by the casting for the movie!

    1. That would be Robin. I'm super excited about the movie. It comes out the weekend of my birthday, so that's great. I stalk the interwebs for more info now, while P cackles at me. I can see Katniss's further irritation in the series, but I also think it fits bother her character and her experiences. So, while she irritates me a little, I don't really mind it.

  2. Yay! Another fan! I am reading this with my classes right now. The kids beg me to read more every day. Glad you drank the koolaid haha!

    1. Blegh, koolaid. I'm glad your classes like it that much. That is awesome.


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