Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
384 pages
First off, I need to admit that the only reason that I actually read this book was in anticipation of the movie.  I wish I could tell you that I had heard fantastic things about the series from friends and fellow readers, but to be completely honest, I did not pay it much attention until I realized how exciting the movie looked.  And I generally try to read the actual book before going to see its film adaption.

Now that all that is off of my chest, I want to impress upon you all that this is possibly the best young adult series since Harry Potter.  The writing isn't particularly complex or elevated (hello, it is young adult fiction), but the ideas that Suzanne Collins raises are what make this series a must read.  The novel, for those of you who don't know, follows a teenage girl named Katniss through her life in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem.  When her younger sister is picked to fight other children to the death in the nation's annual, televised contest, Katniss volunteers in her stead.  She is taken from her impoverished home of District Twelve and thrust into the extravagant and highly political life of the Capitol, where she fights for her life as a contestant in the Hunger Games.  Throw in a couple of sweet-hearted and yet realistic love interests, and you have a book that readers of all ages will not be able to put down.

The characters Collins has created are phenomenal and just so real.  A lot of young adult fiction is full of fairly static characters (cough cough Bella Swan) that quickly become annoying and repetitive.  The characters of The Hunger Games, however, are as dynamic as we could hope for.  Most of the character's motivations are a bit ambiguous, and consequently we are continually discovering new sides of their personalities.  As far as young female heroines go, Katniss Everdeen is probably the best there is.  She is not yet another teenage girl swooning in the arms of the two boys that are vying for her attention, but probably the strongest of them all.  For the younger generations of readers, Katniss is a good example of taking the crap that life has thrown at you and making the best of it.  And although a good chunk of the first book is dedicated to Katniss' developing relationship with her fellow competitor Peeta Meelark, Collins makes it clear that Katniss has better things to be do than obsess over her boy problems.

However, it is the overall plot that really grabbed my attention when I first picked up the book.  At first glance, the idea of kids killing kids for the entertainment of an entire nation seems horribly grotesque.  I know that my first reaction was "Why would anyone write about this for kids?"  After reading it, however, I now think "Why not?"  It is especially necessary in today's society, where children are inundated with violent movies, video games, and news headlines, to have an open discussion about what violence is doing to our younger generations.  Are we desensitizing them?  Are we giving them the impression that violence is okay?  What Suzanne Collins has done is to create a platform where society can ask, "Is it wrong to expose children to the level of violence they are exposed to today?"  Although we are not forcing children to fight each other to the death, what is this constant contact with violence really doing to them?


For a quick blurb about the movie, I would recommend that you go see it, especially if you've read the book.  I was highly impressed; the filmmakers managed to cover the vast majority of the novel.  They kept in all of the major characters and plot points, only leaving out some of the more complex details for time's sake.  It was well cast, well acted, and the location scouts and stunt coordinators deserve gold medals.  Keep in mind that it is a long movie (2.5 hours), but I would say take your friends and take your kids if you're a parent.  Maybe talk about the violence on the way home, and what your children thought of it.  Utilize the platform that Suzanne Collins is giving you!

I plan on devouring, erm, reading Book 2: Catching Fire this weekend, so look for another review soon!

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