Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hunger Games

     I had planned to kick off this blog with announcing that my short story had gone live on Kindle. But the formatting is still in process, so, because I'm very excited about this blog and all book stuff right now, I thought I would write a book review.

     Right after The Hunger Games was released in 2008, I read the first chapter online, here. I remember that I enjoyed it, but it seemed like it was a book for an audience younger than I, so that was all I did for a long time. Then, on a visit to Barnes and Noble, the cover caught my eye and I sat down to read it for a few minutes. I stayed in that chair for three hours until the store closed, then I bought the book and did not go to sleep until I had finished it.

     I loved the story, the characters, and the themes, but we'll get to those; the first thing that instantly charmed me was the world the author has created. The story takes place in a land called Panem, which is divided into twelve districts and a capital city. Parts of this place are so saturated with wealth and advanced technology that they start to do very silly things with their excess, like genetically augmenting their appearance; tinting their skin green, engraving gold patterns into their faces, and so on. In other parts of Panem, people are starving, and some of them get by with what they can kill with bows and arrows. I love science fiction and fantasy, and The Hunger Games balances the two genres in one setting believably and seamlessly.

     But an engaging setting isn't much with no one in it. The protagonist of the books is a teenage girl named Katniss Everdeen, who does not change much until the very end of the third book, when she suddenly changes a lot. But she is a well-written character; there are things about her not to like, as there should be, but she has been through a lot in her short life, and her strengths are appropriate for her history and they make her an admirable heroine. Her relationships with her mother and her younger sister are portrayed in a way that were deeply affecting even when they weren't front and center. Some of supporting characters, have their own rich back stories, and several of them became very important to me by the end of the book, but none of them have the same depth or vibrance as Katniss. The reader is given a number of very intimate glimpses into Katniss's past and her inner monologue, but they do not overpower the narrative or hold back what is a fascinating story.

     I will try to be vague about the plot in case you haven't read it, but there might be a few spoilers here. The story follows Katniss as she participates unwilling in a gruesome annual tournament, sponsored by a totalitarian government, that pits two teenagers from every district against each other in a lengthy fight to the death. There are numerous graphically violent scenes, but barely a whisper of sex so I guess that's why it is marketed as a book for young adults. The books really grow up as Katniss's situation and the situation of Panem as a whole becomes increasingly dire. There is an element of political strategy, as well some very profound, mature themes about government control, massive social class gaps, and the detachment that comes from watching tragedies on a screen instead of facing them yourself. Romance has its place, balanced well with the action and the larger story, and a love triangle develops. I was a little bemused by how hastily it was wrapped up (and almost wish it was not wrapped up at all) but Katniss's decision does make sense.

     The ending of the final book, Mockingjay, had a deeper impact on me than almost anything I have ever read. For a few days after I read it, I was angry at the author, not because it was poorly written but because it was so wrenchingly tragic. This spurs the massive, sudden shift in Katniss's character, to a point that I understood but that I had a little trouble sympathizing with. Nevertheless, heartbreaking as it was, the series wraps up in a very satisfying way, at a good point, and it has earned a high place on my list of favorite literature.

     That said, I am pretty apprehensive about the movie. This guy looks pretty beefy for Peeta Mellark, who is 16 and spends a lot of time painting or making cakes.

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