Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Look at THE HUNGER GAMES Trilogy

from Jen AlLee

Even though young adult fiction (more commonly known as YA) is shelved in the bookstores right next to the picture books and early readers, it's not just for kids. A few YA series have crossed over into the general population, becoming must-have titles on lists for all ages. Science fiction and fantasy seem particularly suited for this kind of widespread appeal. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Jacques' Redwall series, Rowling's Harry Potter books, Meyer's Twilight saga... they've all garnered rabid fans from high schools to senior centers. And now, a new series has joined the list: The Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins.

I knew the book was popular with adults, but I hadn't quite realized how much until I took it with me to a doctor's appointment on Thursday. My doctor walked in, stopped when he saw it sitting on the chair beside me, and broke into a grin. We spent the first five minutes talking about the series and who would be right to play the main character when the inevitable movie is made. But then, he said something interesting. Something that had bounced around the corners of my mind, as well. "My wife and I were talking about it," he said, "and she wondered if it's wrong for us to be enjoying such violent books."

Here is the basic premise of The Hunger Games, book one, taken directly from Suzanne Collins' website:
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.
The games are part reality show, part propaganda, and part political tool. Collins has created a fascinating dystopian world. Certain aspects of Panem are technically advanced while others are simplistically non-automated. The story is fast-paced and the use of first-person present tense point-of-view puts you right inside Katniss's head. As I read, I couldn't help comparing her televised games to our own present-day reality shows. We already have programs in which people believe someone can find true love from a group of suitors while the world watches. How far might we go one day? Hopefully, not as far as the Hunger Games.
Make no mistake, these books contain some pretty violent subject matter (although we are more told about the violence rather than experiencing it in graphic detail, for which I'm thankful). The games are by definition kill or be killed. Only one victor can remain standing. But at its core, The Hunger Games is about basic human emotions: survival, love, empathy, greed, and how far one will go to keep themselves and those they love alive. It also has a strong anti-war sentiment and asks some questions we should probably all ask from time to time.
So in answer to my doctor's question, no, I don't think we're wrong to enjoy the books. Because we're not enjoying the violence, we're pulling for the people to survive it. To rise above it. We're rooting for Katniss, a teenage girl who has to make choices that no adult should. And sometimes, she makes the wrong choices. It's another thing that makes these books so engrossing. Katniss is flawed. Sometimes she's selfish. Sometimes she's petty. But she also has moments of brilliance, of pure love, and of understanding that, underneath our differences, we're all human beings, all trying to get to the end of the game.
I've read the entire trilogy, but to tell you anything about Catching Fire or Mockingjay would be to share major spoilers about book one, so I won't. This is a series you have to read from the beginning. And if you're anything like me, when you start, you won't want to stop.
Have you read any of The Hunger Games books? What's your impression?


  1. My son watches some reality show that seems like a fake version of this. So maybe you're not so far off. Its called "The Colony."

    Sounds interesting. Thanks, Jen for the review.

  2. Hey Dina! I've heard of The Colony, but never watched it (we only have basic basic cable... 15 whole channels) While I'm a person who loves pop culture, I have to confess I find it distressing how the entertainment industry seems to have become the controlling factor in our country. I've seen some political ads that don't say much about the candidates, but they tweak your emotions with the music they use and the way they're filmed. Sad thing is, they work.

  3. Hi Jen and Dina!

    I knew nothing about these stories and, with so many fiction books to read (in my genre), I don't know if I'll be reading them because it's far from the normal book I'd be looking for. But something in your review, Jen, reminds me of Watership Down and how it stayed with me for so long after I'd read it.
    So... I'll keep this series in mind. Thanks for the review!

  4. Deb, yes, it definitely has elements in common with Watership Down (one of my favorite books in high school).

    From a writing standpoint, one of the things Collins does really well (which I meant to put in the review but forgot) is chapter hooks. Almost every chapter has such a strong ending that you really have no choice but to keep reading.

  5. Even though this is not my typical genre of reading I did enjoy these books.Very strong chapter hooks that keep the reader wanting more.I would have to say that reality t.v. is over rated except for a few shows like Wipeout.Who knew watching ppl get hurt could be so funny.

  6. Thanks so much for the info, Jen! I've been wanting to read them (to screen them for my daughter) and I've heard they're great reads. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!


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