Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Hunger Games

“Only I keep wishing I could think of a show the capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than a piece in their games.”

Hunger. Violence. Struggle. Survival. Imagine living in a place where these were your day to day life was filled with nothing but this. Where your one goal was to put food on the table and protect your loved ones. This is the world of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. It is dark, violent, ravished, and controlled. But perhaps the most terrifying thing about this world is that in many ways it is eerily similar to our own.

The Plot:

After an unnamed apocalyptic event, the remnants of North America have come together to create the nation of Panem. Formed by 12 districts and ruled with an iron fist by the Capitol, Panem is not a fun place to be. Everyone's lives are dictated by the decrees of the Capitol, poverty is very high, and starvation is the norm. But 16 year old Katniss Everdeen is determined that her family will not meet that fate. After her father's death, she focuses solely on putting food on the table. She and her best friend Gale spend most of their days in the forest hunting, trapping, and honing their survival skills. Though life is hard, Katniss feels that the odds of survival are in her favor. Until the day of the Reaping.

As punishment for a rebellion earlier in Panem's history, the Capitol randomly selects two "tributes" from each district to compete in the annual Hunger Games. The tributes are placed in an arena where they must battle hunger, nature, and each other to survive - all on live television. Only one person come out alive. When her young sister is chosen as a tribute, Katniss does not think twice before volunteering to take her place. Now she and Peeta, a boy from her past, must make the journey to the Capitol where they will be prepped, presented, and sent to the arena to kill or be killed.

My Review: (Caution-Spoilers):

This was my first step into the world of YA literature. I didn't really think all the hype surrounding these books could be true. But when multiple friends suggested them to me, I figured I should at least give it a try. Boy, was I sucked in to this series! It's been a long time since I finished a book in one day. I just had to know how it was all going to turn out.

In an interview, Suzanne Collins lists books like The Lord of the Flies, 1984, A Wrinkle in Time, and Ray Bradbury works as being some of the most influential books in her life. That is pretty obvious in this novel and gives you an idea of the tone of the story. Most of the choices that Katniss and the other characters are forced to make are not black and white. In order to feed her family, Katniss must ignore Panem laws which forbid hunting and leaving the district. Each of the tributes must garner the admiration and love of the citizens of the Capitol (who put them in this position in the first place) in order to better their odds in the arena. And both Katniss and Peeta, in order to insure their own survival, must take the lives of other young people whose only crime was to be selected as a tribute. At the same time, there is a slow transformation in the story, mainly in Katniss. It is a slow shift from Katniss simply trying to survive, to trying to live. Both Peeta and Katniss eventually promise themselves that though they have been placed in this brutal situation by the Capitol, they won't let it strip them of who they are. They will remember love, trust, loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice...all the things that make them human.

Another influence on the story came late in the night. According to Collins, she was flipping through the TV channels one night, and she bounced back and forth between a reality show and coverage of the Iraq war. For the citizens of the Capitol, the Hunger Games is just another round of entertainment. They have their favorite "characters" who they root for. They love personal interviews, stories about the tributes' lives back home, and "romance" between two certain tributes. But for the tributes, this isn't about simply getting voted off the island; this is a matter of life and death. It is a fight not just to survive, but to help their families have a better life. It begs the question if this is not what our own society has become. If for us, the events happening around the world are no more than a less entertaining version of a reality show. That somehow the violence, the starvation, the death, and the pain all goes away whenever we turn off our televisions. If nothing else, Collins serves us a reminder that for those who are put in harm's way by one means or another, there's is also a matter of life and death.

I may be coming a little late to this party, but I am definitely a fan. In retrospect, The Hunger Games strikes me as the weakest of the three books. Katniss is a rather immature and moody teenager throughout, and the supporting characters come across as somewhat thin. However, the story is gripping, the structure of the Games and Panem are interesting, and you simply will not be able to put it down until you figure out how Katniss will win. (like she'd die in the first book). So I'm adding my voices to the millions of others when I say that this is an absolute must read. Get it now!!

Note: Due to the dark subject matter and the heavy violence in this story, I would definitely use some discretion before recommending it to anyone under the age of 14 or so.

The Movie:

The film version of this story is due to come out in March of this year. It will star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, and Liam Hemsworth as Gale.

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