Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games was a YA sensation in 2008. I'm too old for YA books, but I have a friend who reads them, and she earmarked this as exceptionally entertaining. And so it is. If you liked Twilight--well, maybe if you didn't like Twilight-- you might enjoy this science fiction thriller. Set in a post-apocalyptic U.S. called Panem (meaning "bread"--a reference to the Roman panem et circenses, and also to the starvation of the masses), it is the spellbinding story of Katniss, a 16-year-old girl who takes care of her family in District 12 through hunting and black-market trading after her father dies in a mining accident. She is serendipitously beautiful, but not flirtatious or feminine, and enjoys the company of a handsome boy, Gale, and the friendship of many, because she is athletic and active (but this is not a Twilight romance: she is more like an Amazon, not the least in love).

Katniss' life is turned topsy-turvy when her younger sister Prim's name is drawn in a lottery that drafts 24 children from the 12 districts to be sent to the Capitol to compete in an annual murderous Roman-style game. Katniss immediately volunteers to substitute, and becomes caught up in a terrible TV frenzy, where her best friends are a fashion team who make her up and dress her in exotic flaming costumes, and the other children become her enemies. The game is about PR and winning the interest of sponsors who send gifts of medicine and food, as well as competing in an arena that looks like a big wildlife preserve, where the biggest danger is her fellow contestants, who kill one another to live. The survivor--and there is only one--will spend the rest of his life mentoring future tributes.

Not everybody in the games is bad. Katniss makes an alliance with a young wild girl who had watched her wistfully when they practiced before the games. And after the girl dies tragically, the Gamemakers change the rules, so that there can be two survivors. Katniss makes an alliance with Peeta, the other tribute from her district, a young baker who has declared he is in love with Katniss. Katniss thinks it's part of the game, and also must pretend she's in love to please the sponsors. But will Peeta make it?

This novel is very plot-oriented, and though the voice of the narrator originally reminded me of Makepeace, the postapocalyptic survivor of Far North (an excellent adult novel by Marcel Theroux, which was a National Book Award finalist), the writing does go down a tad in the final 100 pages or so. But it left me gasping for more. I've begun reading the second in the trilogy, Catching Fire, though I have to admit it's less compelling. The real action doesn't begin for 200 pages or so.

Well, I'm not done with it yet. But the style is a problem I also noticed in the Twilight tetralogy. Excellent first book--but then the writing goes slightly downhill. The plot still keeps you going, but you feel the writers could be doing better. Perhaps they're forced to "manufacture" them too fast?

I really enjoyed The Hunger Games, and think it will appeal to adults who like action and sci-fi.

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