Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CBR III Review #4 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“Here’s some advice. Stay alive.”

By now, I’m sure most of the world knows the plot of these books and has a general idea of what they are about.  Hell, I’m sure a lot of you have already read them.  But for the sake of those just catching onto this craze, like I was but a week ago, I’ll throw some summary in anyway.

The Hunger Games trilogy (including Catching Fire and Mockingjay, both of which I’ll be reviewing later) is the story of a post apocalyptic society called Panem.  Essentially, we fucked up the earth and it all fell apart.  The people who survived gathered together near Appalachia and formed Panem, a country made of The Capitol and Districts 1-13.  There was a rebellion against the Capitol at one point, which leads to the destruction of District 13 and an oppressive regime controlling the other 12.  Each district is responsible for producing something important to the country’s survival; ie coal in 12, electronics in 3, crops in 11, etc.  Most importantly, the country has a yearly event called The Hunger Games to remind everyone what happens when you rebel, and to keep everyone in line.

Essentially, the games work like this.  There are two “tributes” selected from each District, one boy and one girl, each between the ages of 12 and 18.  The theory is that it is random, but it’s not.  The poor are able to sign up for things called tesserae, which grant their family more food and grain, but for each of those you sign up for, your name goes in another time.  Also, your name is entered the number of times you’ve been eligible – so if you are 15, even without the tesserae, your name is in the bowl 4 times. The tributes are then shipped off to The Capitol to be trained, interviewed, primped and paraded about for entertainment (and to gain sponsorship from those who can send things into the arena to help them).  When the games begin, the 24 teens enter a battle royale – last one alive is the winner.

Katniss Everdeen is our protagonist in these books.  A young woman from District 12, she is the head of her family since the death of her father in a mining accident.  She hunts and trades illegally with her friend, Gale, and basically keeps her family functioning.  When her sister, Prim, is selected for the Games, she steps up to take her place.  She and the boy tribute, Peeta, are then sent on their way. 
I’m going to stop my summary here, because I really feel like anything else I might say enters spoiler territory and this book should NOT be spoiled for you.  It’s worth it.

My best friend got me into these books, as she is a librarian in an elementary school, so children and YA lit is her milieu.  She raved about these books, and for good reason.  While there is a slow start, the book picks up pacing from the moment they step on the train to the Capitol straight through to the end.  It suffers the same problems of the first installment of any series.  Since they are establishing a world and characters you need to know well to enjoy the rest of the series, it’s bogged down in a lot of exposition to start.  My easiest comparison is Harry Potter.  Sorcerer’s Stone didn’t really get compelling until after Harry’s arrival at Hogwart’s – the same can be said here with Katniss and Peeta heading to The Games.

I want to stress something very important – these books are NOT for young children.  What happens during the Games is dark and graphic, and at times disturbing for an adult mind, let alone a young one.  I appreciate Suzanne’s unwillingness to compromise on this, since to do so would miss the point.  But I wouldn’t expose anyone under maybe 13 to this writing.  Hell, maybe older than that.

The characters of Peeta and Katniss make wonderful foils to one another.  Peeta is full of charm and light and Katniss is so lost and negative.  I think my two favorite characters in this volume are Haymitch, the mentor (aka previous Hunger Games victor), and Cinna, Katniss’s stylist.  They are developed in such lovely ways, and add so much dimensionality to the story.

I’m still finishing up Mockingjay, but I can already strongly recommend the entire series to anyone who thinks they can handle the kid-on-kid violence.  It’s a real page turner that I had trouble putting down (so I finished it in about a day) and I’m going to miss these characters when I finish the final volume.

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