Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Hunger Games

I finished a book today that I pretty much read in 24 hours. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is a young adult fiction novel about a futuristic society. From the website:

"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

"Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love."

I had this book recommended to me several times over the past year or so. A bookstore employee at I think Barnes and Noble said it was wonderful when I was looking for some other young adult fiction novels (most of which turned out to be sub-par), and then one of my lit teachers mentioned it in class this past semester. So I figured I'd give it a try. Here's what I thought, and, just in case... Spoiler Alert. :)

The book was intriguing and gripping without being overly gory, which I feared it would be. But for a book where the main premise was one sixteen year old killing twenty-three other 12-18 year olds, the gore was very much in check. What I appreciated was the ability to show realistic characters. The main character, Katniss, had the ability to survive in the "wild" because of her upbringing - after her father's death when she was 11, she hunted and gathered and learned about how to survive off the earth to feed her family, so it's entirely plausible that she could transfer these skills to the game.

It's also entirely plausible that she would both defy and not defy the game keepers (those who control the game) and the Capitol in the way that she did. As I began the book and saw the beginning of her relationship with Peeta (the other competitor from her district), I expected her to join forces with him before the game began - to make some sort of pact that they would not kill one another, but would work to let the others kill each other, and then refuse to kill one another to force them to end the game.

In a way, this is what happened, but more because the gamekeepers decide to change the rules and allow both contestants from one district to win if they're the last two alive. It allows Katniss and Peeta to join forces then. Seeing Katniss work within the rules of the game and not openly defy the confines within which she finds herself makes her more realistic. We all want a gang-banging protagonist who shoots the bad guys (the Capitol, in this case, not the other contestants) out of the park. But, really, how often does that actually happen? With this ending, Katniss is able to keep her humanity. She only directly kills two other contestants, one out of an immediate need for survival and revenge, and the other as an act of mercy when he is injured beyond repair. I am not generally a fan of external forces stepping in and making a proper ending possible for a protagonist, as opposed to the protagonist figuring out how to make it right, but in this case I think it worked. At the least, it provided a way for the author to continue the story into a trilogy. Which leads me to... my surprise when I finished it.

When I got to the end of the book, I was surprised to see "End of Book 1," and to not feel like it had been a sufficient conclusion. And, of course, a trip to the closest bookstore revealed that the book does not just have a sequel - it's a trilogy. And the third book isn't even out yet. Ugh. I have this thing about series books. I don't like them. Okay... that's not true. It's not that I don't like them, but I choose carefully when to read them. I didn't start Harry Potter until I was forced to, and even then did so begrudgingly because I knew there were 3 more books yet to come without even publicized release dates. I only agreed to read Twilight because the fourth book was to be released within the week. I read the Gemma Doyle trilogy before the third was published, and ended up buying the third, in hardback, when it came out (which meant I had to buy the first two in hardback... another story for another day). I went in to The Hunger Games not knowing it was a trilogy. Had I known, I probably would have waited until the third was out.

It was a good book. I was unsettled by the violence and the almost enslavement of the players - even the willing ones. I think it could have explored those ideas, and maybe it will in the future books, giving me more to think about in the process. I have hopes for the next one, Catching Fire, though I hope they continue to focus on the adventure and the result of the experience on this character, as opposed to the love triangle that was set up in this first installment. I know that will be a major part of it, but hopefully not overwhelmingly. I'm anxious to read Catching Fire, and the third book (Mockingjay, I believe) - I like to complete things. In fact... I'm going to go reserve it at the library right now!

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