Category: Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Published Date: Sept. 14, 2008, Sept. 1 2009, Aug. 24, 2010
ISBN-10: 0439023483, 0439023491, 0439023513
ISBN-13: 978-0439023481, 978-0439023498, 978-0439023511
I guess technically, this is three books this week, not one, but I have a habit of looking at a series as one book, in parts.
Having finished a few long and/or dark books in the last few weeks, and starting to read Moby Dick – very long and a more difficult read, I was looking for something easy. My sister-in-law had been talking up this series when I chatted with her over Christmas, so last Thursday I bought the e-book version at lunch. Before I got back to work at 1:30 I had read 37% of it. It was exactly the addictive, easy-but-not-simple read I was looking for.
The Hunger Games is a young-adult science fiction dystopian trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. Our heroine is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her mother and sister in District 12 of the country of Panem – all that remains of what we now call North America. The 12 districts of Panem are controlled by a powerful government located in the central city called simply The Capitol. The Hunger Games of the title are an annual televised reality-show type event where one boy and one girl from each district are chosen to fight to the death, in a gruesome reminder that The Capitol holds the power, and not even children are beyond their reach. (This is in retaliation for an uprising by the districts, many decades earlier.)
When her 12-year-old sister is chosen to represent District 12, Katniss volunteers to replace her, and is sent off to The Capitol to compete, along with District 12’s other champion, Peeta Mellark. They are not friends, but many years earlier, Peeta saved the lives of Katniss and her family with a gift of food. So Peeta and Katniss struggle to trust and help each other survive the Games, with the knowledge that only one can survive in the end, which may mean killing one another before it is over.
That’s only the beginning of the first book – and I can’t tell you much more without spoiling it. Of course, with three books you can assume our heroine survives. Does she ever. Katniss is one of the most inspiring female characters I have read in young adult fiction. Collins has created an amazingly strong feminine character. She’s smart. She’s resourceful. She fights to the death. Even the typical love-triangle plot doesn’t turn her into a confused young girl stereotype. She is far from perfect, and could stand to put a little more trust in her instincts and in her friends, but given her life history it is not surprising that she doesn’t.
Simply put, these books were amazing. They took the dark themes of war, survival, tyranny and death and yet played out a beautiful story of friendship, loyalty and perseverance. Despite being written for a young audience, no theme was off-limits – except perhaps sex. Characters were remarkably chaste, despite all the kissing going on. (I remember reading books where teens had sex, or at least some serious making out and temptation. Is that not OK anymore? Particularly when compared to how realistic the rest of the interactions were.)
What struck me the most was the attitude towards war and killing. With the exception of a few characters, all struggle with the realities of taking another life. Whether it happened during the Games or later during the uprising, characters feel the killing, and deal with what can only be symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Violence is not glossed-over. It is not simplified. Characters deal with guilt and loss in very real ways. Also, with the exception of a few characters who are clearly meant to personify good and evil, all characters have a depth not usually seen in this genre. They question their own motivations. They change their opinions on matters, and change them again. They learn and grow based on what is happening around them.
If I can criticise anything it would be that by the end of book three I was beginning to be overwhelmed by just how many bad things are happening. I almost feel the story could have ended 2-3 chapters sooner, that some of the final battles and catastrophes were not necessary. I don’t know which I would choose to cut, only that I found myself wondering if it was ever going to end. And then it did, and I was devastated, because the story was so good I wanted it to continue.
Some of the fault there may also be mine. I read all three books in three days. I just couldn’t stop reading. Perhaps if I had paced myself better, if I’d had to wait for the release of the 3rd book, the ending would have seemed more fitting. Regardless, all three books are well worth the read. You won’t be disappointed.