Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Review of Books: The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in the upcoming "The Hunger Games" movie

After months (years?) of hearing about this book, and the trilogy that it launches, I finally succumbed and read The Hunger Games.

Why had I resisted for so long?  Well, I'm kind of ambivalent about dystopian fiction.  Some of it I'm perfectly fine with, intrigued and captivated even.  But some of it I find just too bleak and depressing.

I'm one who often uses fiction as an escape from reality.  Our own world is awful enough--why escape into a world that's even worse?

But after several friends and loved ones told me that, basically, the story trumps the bleakness in The Hunger Games, I downloaded it on my Kindle, and on a day or two with plenty of time on my hands, I dove in.

My verdict?

I really liked it.

I was hooked from the beginning, when we first meet Katniss Everdeen, a young girl doing her best to help her family survive in a world where food is hard to come by and death by starvation is an everyday affair.

Katniss is a real heroine--brave, intelligent, spirited, and skilled as a huntress.  You like her immediately and are rooting for her right off the bat.

And that's a good thing, because she's about to be plunged into the worst ordeal that could befall a young person in her world.

The Story

The Hunger Games are the ultimate reality show.  Two young people, a boy and girl, from each of 12 Districts in this post-apocalyptic America (now called Panem), will be dropped into an "arena" where they must not only survive, but fight to the death.  The last one standing is the victor.

(The "arena" varies from year to year, from desolate and barren landscapes to those filled with trees and bodies of water.  Basically, whatever the "Gamekeepers" think will make the most entertaining show for the audience.)

As it turns out, the boy from Katniss' district that accompanies her to the Hunger Games is Peeta Mellark, a baker's son who years ago literally saved her and her family from starvation by a single kind act.

The two are mentored by Haymitch, a past Hunger Games victor who is drunk more often than not.  They come up with a strategy to please the "Gamekeepers" and the audience of this intricate reality show.  They'll pretend that Peeta is madly in love with Katniss, and that the two are star-crossed lovers.

But only one can emerge the victor, right?  So not only must Katniss guard herself from actually feeling affection for Peeta, she must remember that ultimately, one or both of them is going to die.

What I Thought

Well, the story did trump the bleakness.

Suzanne Collins is definitely a great storyteller.  Her background in television writing is obvious, as the book practically translates itself into a movie as you're reading it (and of course, it will be a movie, coming out in March.)

While she's a good writer, she's no better than a host of other writers.  For instance, while reading this, I thought of  Lisa T. Bergren's River of Time series, which also features a brave, spirited, skilled young woman.  Instead of a dystopian setting, Bergren's heroines (Gabriela and her sister) go back in time to medieval Italy, a place teeming with just about as much danger and violence as any postapocalyptic world.

Bergren is every bit as good a writer as Collins.  Collins just came up with this incredible story and she tells it beautifully.

The Hunger Games is an automatic page-turner, because the reader is so invested in Katniss and whether or not she'll survive, you simply can't wait to find out what happens.  Every page is another adventure.

My Thoughts: The Spiritual?

One thing I couldn't help but notice was the complete lack of spirituality in the book.  It makes sense, of course, because obviously this is a world where the idea of God and/or religion has been completely done away with.

For example, there are frequent mentions of special days like one's birthday and New Year's Day, but no mention of Christmas.

Katniss never once calls upon or reaches toward anything higher than herself.  As a Christian, that struck me.  I can't imagine being in extreme peril and not being able to cry out to God.

The world in which Katniss lives is clearly Godless.  And it has reached a point where life has obviously so little value that the society can eagerly and happily be entertained by a lavish production that ends in the deaths of 23 young people.

In this way, the book reminds me of the Roman Empire at the height of its excess and bloodthirstiness.  Just as the Romans eagerly watched Christians being eaten by lions, the society Katniss inhabits takes avid pleasure in watching the gory deaths of the young people.

(The comparison to Roman times is actually fairly clear in the book--even with many of the residents of "the Capitol" having Roman names like Octavia, Flavius, etc., and people like the Gamekeepers sitting at perpetual banquets where they gorge themselves on food and wine.)

You can't help but look at our own society and wonder just how much (or how little) it would take to get us to that point.

Bottom Line...

The bottom line is that The Hunger Games fills all my requirements for a great read:  compelling, intriguing story that keeps me turning pages; characters I care about and become fully invested in, and good writing to make the story come to life.

Do I think it's any better than a host of other books I've read?  No...obviously, like the Twilight series and others, it has just had the fortune to appear at the right time to appeal to a huge audience--and to young people who may just now be realizing how awesome a good book can be.

I will definitely read the other two books in the trilogy.

I'm linking up today with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books--click the icon for more info!



Sherry said...

It is good, and the two other books in the series are good, too. But be warned that, though the ending is hopeful, the third book in particular is very, very dark.

Ashley said...

So many of my friends are talking about this series, and I only just heard of it recently when they started posting on FB about having finished such a great series. I'll be getting it from the library before long. I'm glad to know it's a story with a big hook! I wonder if my pre-teen son would enjoy it...?

Becky said...

I read The Hunger Games before it became THE HUNGER GAMES!!! And I liked it, I did. I just don't see it as being the most wonderful absolute best book ever, ever written. :) I would love to reread this one since it's been a few years, but this one seems to have a never-ending wait list at the library.

Corey P. said...

Glad you finally read it! The series is fabulous, with number three being my favorite. It's dark, gritty, and very violent - but it's easily the most profound and emotionally powerful book in the trilogy.

I don't think they're the "best books ever written" either - but I do think they're some of the best YA fiction I've ever read (Twilight doesn't even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with it, imo). It proves that sappy teen romance and corny adventure stories don't have a monopoly on the YA genre - it can produce good literature.

Lisa Tawn Bergren said...

I loved the whole Hunger Games trilogy. Powerful messages about our thirst for entertainment at any cost, the value of life, what truly matters...and I understood why Collins finished book 3 the way she did. But was left with this huge hollow in my chest, a serious ache--the void left by a total absence of God. It made me want to write a dystopian...and that proposal is currently being considered by several pubs! Thanks for the plug...and welcome to THG frenzy...

Anonymous said...

Great review, Cindy! I agree - the story, and the characters, trump the darkness.

hopeinbrazil said...

I've heard a lot about these books and I'm glad to hear your perspective on them.

Beth said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts. As many positive reviews I've read haven't been enough to entice me read them. They sound too dark for me! I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.

Vale ♥ said...

I liked the post, great review =)

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