Fiction: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Okay, I’ve had this entry window up and blank for about half an hour now. As I was reading this, I didn’t have the wherewithal to actually mark quotes like I usually do, and also, I don’t want to give away any major plot points. Hm. So really, I don’t know how to talk about this.

How about this: Is the movie out yet? How about now? What about now? Is it now yet?

All seriousness: this series is marketed in the Young Adult section, but (as my roommate and I were saying last night), it ain’t our Young Adult series. The YA stuff we had to choose from when we were kids? Goosebumps by R.L. Stine and Nancy Drew. The ‘chapter book’ that would push us up to adult books, because adult books had more interesting things, like sex and violence. (Look, I have distinct memories of me, taking the eighth grade Maine Educational Assessment tests, finishing the section before the end of the period, and taking out my dad’s old Agatha Christie compendium and finishing reading “And Then There Were None,” and in the next period, when I again finished that section of testing early, taking out The Pelican Brief and beginning to read that. I was fourteen. I also aced the reading comprehension section.)

This YA series takes place in an indeterminate time after society as we know it has collapsed. What was (slightly) interesting to me was that my NaNoWriMo project this year [16,000 words and counting!] also involved society as we know it collapsing, but not to the degree experienced by the narrator, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is seventeen and the one responsible for her family: her widowed mother, and her younger sister, Prim. Katniss lives in District 12 of Panem, which is the new North America. Panem is divided into 12 Districts, and all are ruled by the Capitol, who strictly regulates what everyone is allowed to do. Not quite Big Brother, but scary nonetheless.

Because what the Capitol does to keep all the districts in line is The Hunger Games, where each District sends two tributes — a boy and a girl, aged between 12 and 18, determined by a hellish lottery — to fight to Last Man Standing in an arena. The Games are also broadcast to all the districts in the highest-rated reality show ever, so the Districts get to see in all the gory, glorious detail how their children die. In this year (the 74th Hunger Games), Prim’s name is drawn to represent District 12. Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place, keeping her sister at home with her mother. So Katniss travels to the Capitol with her other tribute, Peeta Mellark, and together they enter the Games.

The good news for Katniss is that she is an exceptional archer, so with a bow and arrow in her hands, she is able to survive. Of course, getting the bow and arrow is something else.

The Hunger Games is also a love story, of sorts. I say “of sorts” because Peeta appears to be in love with Katniss, but as she’s our narrator and she’s extremely cynical, she believes it to be a ruse in order to help Peeta garner sympathy from the audience and potential sponsors. It’s weird that, two days before beginning to read Hunger Games, I rewatched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and while Holly Golightly wouldn’t last past the training portion of the Games, she’d give Katniss a run for her money in the Women Oblivious to the Men Who Loves Them category.

As much I talked about trying to remain unspoiled as much as possible back when I reviewed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I will admit that while I didn’t read ahead, I did seek out the resolution of the first book on Wikipedia. Look, I honestly wasn’t sure if The Hunger Games contained the whole Games, or if the deadly arena fight-to-the-death continued through the other two books. And more importantly, I liked Peeta! I wanted to make sure he lived, too!

[SPOILER ALERT: The Hunger Games covers the Games to the end, and also, Peeta lives! Yay!]

To get back to the “Young Adult” series thing: Yes, I tagged this as “genre: young adult,” but that’s only because I couldn’t think of any other genre to put it in — it’s too rich, almost, for what I consider to be YA. But then I think, just because my YA series growing up wasn’t like this, doesn’t mean it should be denegrated to the genre and then dismissed.

Okay, actually, I could go in a dozen different tangents here, but rather than talk about the whole YA publishing category and the crap I’ve seen going on behind the scenes with that (if you’re curious, here’s a great article from New York Magazine, published in the wake of a big frouferah about the YA genre being evil, as seen in the Wall Street Journal). So instead, I’m going to say this, as a reader, and as a promoter of reading: don’t limit yourself to genres. Not picking up a book because it’s in the “Young Adult” section is just stupid. Twilight aside, there are some awesome books being put out under that genre, and while I haven’t read a lot of them, some of the titles continue to grab my attention as a scroll past in the monthly Goodreads newsletter.

And so, I’ll leave you with the words of my father, spoken to me sometime in my high school years:
“Alaina, you’ve got to broaden your horizons. You can’t keep reading the same books over and over. Here, read this.”

The Hobbit? Dad, I’m not sure this is in English.”

See? Precocious.

Grade for The Hunger Games: 3.5 stars

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