27 March 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When I first heard of the reality show The Bachelor, I reacted (unsurprisingly) with disgust. We're basically making a spectacle out of fornication, marriage (something I consider sacred), and probably divorce (let's not kid ourselves). "Reality shows have become so awful," I opined to (someone...potentially myself), "pretty soon we are going to put people on an island and make them all kill each other, and we can vote to keep certain ones alive." Sometime thereafter this movie came out, and now we have The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I'm pretty sure SOMEONE owes me something. Incidentally, I experienced the same feeling when the Baha Men came out with this song years after I, in the San Diego zoo, in the restroom (much to my mother's chagrin) made up (and sang rather loudly) a rather clever song called "Who Let the Monkeys Out." The tune was suspiciously similar to the later hit song by the junkanoo band.

Aside from it being my idea first; however, I thought Collins did a pretty good job. The story takes place in the dystopian future of North America. The twelve (formerly thirteen) districts of North America are under the totalitarian control of The Capitol. Before the story begins we learn that there has already been a revolt, which led to the destruction of district 13 and the beginning of the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is basically a reality TV show where two children (one boy and one girl, aged between 12 and 18) from each of the twelve districts, engage in a large gladiatorial match. A lottery is taken in each district to determine who goes into the games. Viewers of the show can participate by sponsoring who they think will win and paying to have certain supplies delivered to the child they are sponsoring. The last participant standing (yes, alive) wins and brings "honor and fame" and more importantly food to his/her district.

The protagonist is Katniss Everdeen who is taking care of her family single-handedly after the death of her father. Her mother went through a long bout of depression (and is just coming out of it) when the story begins, leaving Katniss to step up as provider for herself, her mother, and Primrose (Katniss's little sister). The Everdeen family lives in one of the poorest of the districts (twelve) and relies mainly on hunting (illegally) and foraging with her friend and hunting partner Gale. Surprisingly when the lottery takes place, Katniss's sister was chosen to go into the games, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. District twelve players we are told are always eliminated right away. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark who long ago at a very crucial time in Katniss's life lent her a helping hand. They are taken to The Capitol for some training, and then the games begin.

If I tell you any more, I will spoil it. Now it's time for caveats. I don't feel like I need to point out that this is a frightening story. I feel like children in gladiatorial matches should really do it for you. The youngest person I think should be allowed to read this book is maybe sixteen, and even then I would gauge how well your sixteen year old handles harder things. Anyway, not being a mother, this wasn't my first thought, but if you are a mother you should be aware. Also, the Gale ->Katniss ->Peeta love triangle was there. I'm never ever ever going to like teenage romance. Ever. Ever. Have I emphasized that enough? There is quite a bit of kissing, but that is as far as it goes, which quite honestly is more than I can say for most of the young adult literature that is being cranked out. It's too much for me, and I really wish Collins could have done without it, but it's not as bad as it could be.

I think I'm going to risk it all and say I really liked it. It's hard saying you like a dystopian novel where children kill each other, but I did. There are a variety of reasons and for clarity (and because I'm running out of time) I'm going to bullet point them.

  • Katniss sacrifices herself for her sister. The reader gets the impression that Katniss knew she was giving her life. In years no one from District twelve had lasted in the games. To volunteer in district twelve did not mean you were volunteering for the false promise from the capitol of glory and fame. It meant you were volunteering to die. (John 15:13)
  • The relationship between Katniss and her mother was redeeming. Even though the mother abandoned the family emotionally after the death of her husband there is little to no hatred from daughter to mother. When Katniss fears for her life, she thinks mainly of who will support her mother and sister. I'm tired of Young Adult fiction with wretched parent-child interactions and this was a nice change.
  • The unfaltering nobility of Peeta. Throughout the games (even when he knew that there could only be one person left) he works to protect Katniss. She continually doubts and distrusts that nobility, but he remains steadfast throughout the entire tale.
  • No sex between the teenagers. I mentioned this already, and I hate that this has to be pointed to as a good thing, but it is.
  • Yes, the children were fighting to the death, but it was oddly not as violent as one would think. It's not as if Ms. Collins was unrealistic, but she was as tasteful as she could be under the circumstances. It also wasn't warm and fuzzy. I don't want to give that impression at all. I was just expecting a blood bath, and I anticipated skipping a lot, but I didn't actually need to.
  • I liked some of the clever things in the book. One example is the presence in the capitol of "traitors to the state" who could no longer speak. They were called the Avox. Get it? A (no) vox (voice). I like it when I can exchange a knowing wink with an author and say, "hah! I see what you did there."
  • My brother was reading it. This was probably the strongest reason I was inclined to like it. My youngest brother wanted me to read it, and I don't have much of a grasp on what he reads. So, it was nice to be able to connect with him that way.

As an aside: Someone's brother who might actually read this blog has expressed annoyance over the fact that Ms. Collins has "borrowed" a lot of her ideas from other places. This might be true. Other than the obvious gladiator theme, I didn't really recognize the ideas from anywhere else. So, I guess I'll leave it up to others to make that call. I personally found the story entertaining, for the above listed reasons.


Carrie said...

I tried to read this one but couldn't finish it because I found it too disturbing and, basically, I wasn't in the mood to be THAT disturbed.

I also, contrary to what many commenters thought I was saying, think that this is actually an excellent book for discussing worldview. I agree with you wholeheartedly that you should probably be 16-ish before you read this and good and ready to discuss it in great detail. I'm anti giving this book to young readers and pushing it as entertainment. But I do think the book can be a very useful tool in the hands of a thinking reader. Just not a brainless one.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Thank you! You've helped me clarify something that has been bothering me for a while. I was initially turned off just based on the popularity. I don't want to believe I'm the type of person who will dislike something just because "it's too mainstream."

But I think what worried me is its popularity among younger/less analytical people. Too many people are reading it either for the romance or the visceral repulsion (I hope I never meet that person) or the shock or any other poor reason. I think if you are prepared to discuss it "in great detail" as you say, it's a good one for discussion.

Yes. Exactly. *is pleased to have a mental breakthrough* I must have missed when you reviewed it...must go find that.

CrossEm said...

I too must now search for Carrie's review!
I appreciate your ability to put into words many of my reactions to this book as well, Heather. Someone's brother who may or may not read and/or reply to this blog post will, I think, remain unconvinced, but I am with you on this one. As for liking the mainstream, I remember both Harry Potter and Twilight, one of which I loved and one I hated, and think I can trust my instincts with this one also.

BerlinerinPoet said...

@CrossEm: When you find it, you MUST read the comments. They are fab!

I figured certain brotherly figures might not be convinced, but that's ok. hahaha! I wasn't convincing anyone, just saying what I felt. I trust your instincts too, as long as you feel it in your soul! Thanks for reading.

hopeinbrazil said...

I just read and reviewed this book and enjoyed your take on it. I was pleased to find your post via Carrie's blog.

Blessings, Hope

BerlinerinPoet said...

Thanks for leaving a comment @Hope! I'll find your review. Glad to have you chime in.