Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hunger Games, it's delicious.

So if you're anything like me, you've picked this book up a million times since it started getting awards and endless praise, you've read the blurb on the jacket and thought "ummm 24 kids in an arena killing each other?". Then you put it back down and thought, "mmm, not in the mood right now, maybe next month I'll be on a blood bath kick".

But when I finally committed I was hooked! There are definitely some gory moments, and YES the kids do kill each other, (it is called the Hunger Games after all, not nearly avoided Hunger Games, or how i got out of going to the Hunger Games). And if I hadn't been prone on the couch with a cold for the three days I managed to spread the book out over (and it was hard to spread it out that much), I would have been guilty of the same thing Stephanie Meyer was, and snuck it with me to read under the table during dinner out.

The book starts with Katniss on the morning of reaping day, the day each of the 24 contestants are chosen from the 12 districts of Panem. We're given a quick synopsis of a day in the life, learning about the deep poverty of her district (the seam) and about how she's been the life line to survival for her mom and her younger sister. One thing leads to the other and pretty soon Katniss is in the Capitol preparing for the games, and this is the part I thought was really fun, because besides being the tool used to keep the districts in line, the Hunger Games are also a lot like our idea of "scripted reality". Katniss spends a considerable amount of the book in the Capitol doing the behind the scenes strategising, training, beautifying and all the other phony stuff that happens behind the scenes of our reality TV. The big difference being that her phony reality is controlled tightly by politics and gamemakers who are all trying to get her killed to make a point. But then again, maybe the same thing goes on during taping of survivor, what do I know?

Of course then you have the games, and the killing. And it turns out I WAS in the mood for a bloodbath!

This book is the first of a trilogy so the ending is a bit of a combination wrap up, and a hint of what's to come. Be warned though, she leaves you wanting more, I was jonesing for book two and it was a long 4 days before i got my hands on it

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Published by Scholastic Press October 1st 2008.

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March 28th 2012,
In two years this book has so often been out on loan that I have wanted to reread it but never gotten around to it until this past weekend.  After being bowled over by the movie adaption on friday I wanted to rush straight home and start Hunger Games, but I'm occasionally overcome by a responsible streak, and I felt like I should be reading one of my many review copies instead.  I held out until Sunday, when I realized I couldn't possibly enjoy my review book because all I really wanted to read was Hunger Games.

Since this and the Catching Fire reviews were my first two ever (put up on the same day), and they were equally poor, I figured it was time to come back to them and do them a little better justice.  They are some of my favourite books after all.

Despite not being new to these books I was struck by how stark they are.  Katniss is a survivor, single mindedly so.  Her first person narration is almost monotone at times from her lack of reaction to anything that doesn't qualify as survival.  Romance, politics, innuendo is all lost on her not so much because she's naive, but because it's beyond her focus.  She needs none of it to feed her family, to protect Prim.  This makes her one of the most unusual characters in YA that I've ever run across, and it's also part of why she's so appealing to me.  She's practical to a point where she can't even begin to unravel her feelings about things when it all starts to get away from her, when romance and politics become games she has to play to survive.

Collins ability to lay out the most emotionally arresting scenes in just a few simple lines is also what makes the starkness work so well.  It's a mere 20 pages in when Prim's name is called in the reaping.  And in two paragraphs, as the crowd in District 12 goes silent instead of applauding, and then they each touch the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and hold it  out to her, Collins manages to create one of the strongest, most heartbreaking moments I've ever read.  It's the start of many more to come, but it's quiet simplicity is so moving it sets the tone for the rest of this brutal adventure.

Obviously I have to mention the love story.  I'm not sure this book would have the heart it does without it honestly, because without a doubt Peeta is the heart of this series.  His goodness is the only hold out in the endless horrors.  Without getting into the Gale/Peeta debate (I don't understand how there's a debate, honestly people, have you caught even a tiny portion of how good Peeta is??!), I have to say I was always firmly team Katniss.  I love that there is sort of an anti-triangle to the stories.  The boys want her to choose but she's so hopeless at conceiving of a world where there's room for romance it's a virtual impossibility for her to have a real relationship.  The idea that they expect lethal, practical Katniss to be romantically swept away is laughable.  To her credit she is not so stony that although she's under the impression at times she's faking it, she fools no one, least of all herself.  But it's not important to her survival, or anyone else's and so it deserves no further introspection or thought.

With characters that I deeply cared about almost upon contact, scenes that made me cry, and a story that really meant something Hunger Games was one of the top ten books I've ever read.  If you've not read this series yet I would strongly recommend rectifying that oversight.  You will not regret it, though anyone listening to you cry your way through some of the scenes might.  Be warned, have kleenex on hand.

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