Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press September 2008
384 pages
From the library
So, being the last person in the known universe to read these books, I shall not pontificate for long. I imagine you know all the things to be known. In short, Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her sister’s place to participate in the brutal Hunger Games, a sort of postmodern take on Roman arena fighting a la gladiator. The ‘gladiators’ are kids between 12 and 18 who are randomly selected from their 12 districts to fight to the death. Only one will survive the games. Katniss does not have the strength of training of some of her competitors, but she does have the experience of years of hunting with a bow and arrow. She also has an alliance with the boy chosen from her district, Peeta…or does she?

So you might know by now that I have an aversion to things that are well-loved by the masses. Harry Potter? Read them just last year. Twilight? Just no. The first was dreadful and I shall not subject myself to the stuff that passes for writing in those books. So when I decided to take a gander at The Hunger Games, I was wary. I am pleased to announce that it was an excellent choice. So excellent that I finished the first and immediately got in the computer queue for the second one.

This is YA literature I can handle. The characters are believable and don’t make me want to rip my eyes out with a fork. While there was not a ton of world building in the first book, I think Suzanne Collins will take care of this in the later books, which will perhaps take place somewhere other than the games and District 12? (I don’t know.) The story is really compelling. I holed up in my comfy chair and polished this off in a day. My only qualm is that I wish that Scholastic had given it one more read-through or maybe one more editor. There were several instances where I stopped in my tracks because a word was used incorrectly or there was a moment that did not fit with the character.

While this story could be called a love triangle at its core, that is an oversimplification. This is a situational love story. Katniss and her best friend Gale never pursue romance in their hometown, because they are too busy making sure that their families survive. When the games are over (SPOILER), and Katniss and Peeta are on their way home, Katniss is struck with the sudden realization that she isn’t sure how she feels about her fellow competitor in light of their acting like young lovers throughout the game. I liked that she genuinely does not know. That struck me as very realistic – in the face of the horrors the pair have just faced, they still don’t know how to interact with members of the opposite sex.

I read one review where a woman decried parents and librarians for letting kids read such a violent book. I have to admit that I didn’t really think about it while I read it. It’s certainly appropriate for me - I am an old lady in my mid-twenties. But I will say that there is no sex in the book, and violence is something that permeates our culture. If you child regularly watches the evening news with you, they will probably see some similar things (although not in an arena). I’m all for parents knowing what their kid are reading, so if my little guy wants to read this in a decade, he can…and then we can discuss the violence and the fact that in this novel, society lets it happen.Then there are big questions of government control, where faceless officials can force you to offer up your children as tributes. Then the entire country will watch their inevitable death on TV, with no seeming protest to be found. This is what we call talking about issues with your kids, people! 

So in conclusion, The Hunger Games is awesome. I’m off to read the second book. Who wants to go see the movie with me? 

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