For the past two weeks, my thoughts and dreams have been consumed by the Hunger Games. It is a young adult fiction trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, and it should be read by everyone.
“Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. It’s the same story every year. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringing by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.” ("The Hunger Games", page 18)
Oh, and it’s televised. Hooked yet?
I was and am currently experiencing withdrawal from finishing the books last night.
The Hunger Games Trilogy which includes book one of the first name, book two “Catching Fire,” and book three “The Mockingjay,” tells the story of Katniss Everdeen from District 12 who becomes a tribute to play in the Hunger Games, survives it and fights to put an end to the Games.
I’ve told you no more that what you can learn from the book jackets because I do not want to spoil the story. The story is worth reading whether you’re a 10 year old kid or a 70 year old.
Collins may have written a series of fiction but the story is very real. A government who holds onto its control by rewriting history and frequently and violently reminding its people of its power is not fiction.
This story while not real, is a very plausible allegory for where we are going as a society. The themes of which Collins writes are timeless and without specific geography. The iron fist of corrupt and sick power thinly veiled by the pretence that it knows what’s best for its citizens, the masses working in harsh conditions and living in poverty, the small elite living lavishly, resource dependence, and most recently how we are seeing reality television dominate our programming. We see two women screaming at one another and ripping at each other’s hair and earrings – good television. We see an inebriated young man punch another over a perceived insult – good television. We continually put complete strangers into a house and have them live in close quarters over a period of time with no real privacy just to see what will happen, who will crack first, who will be the last one standing – good television.
The viewer is supposed to and very easily forgets that the people on those shows are actual people, other citizens, like us who are put on display for our entertainment. How far away are we from Panem? Too close for my comfort. Needless to say, the type of reality tv I’m more comfortable with is something like Mythbusters or ghost hunting shows.
The worst thing for me about reading a really good story is how it mutes the rest of my life. It’s as if everything outside of reading the story becomes boring, even if just the other day I would have looked forward to it, it no longer holds its allure. All I want to do is read. I’ve had this feeling before so I was a bit more prepared but it still gets inside of me and takes over. I had to repeatedly tell myself that the story would be there when I woke up and that I had all three books so I wouldn’t have to starve between the end of book 1 or book 2. I had to force myself to shut the book and go to sleep and to not call in sick to work.
I have been eying this trilogy for the past few years. With a title like “The Hunger Games” staring at me from a sea of shitty teen lovey dovey covers, I knew I wanted it. But I kept resisting, telling myself, next time or when it’s in paperback. But then I realized it was a series and I was even more intrigued. Then Borders started having it’s going out of business sales (which was sad for me because I loved my Borders down the street) and I found the entire series in hardback still perfectly wrapped up and untouched and on sale. So I grabbed it. It was smart to get all three together because once I started I couldn’t imagine waiting to devour the next part of the story.
Even the love triangle headed by Katniss herself is complicated and does not insult the character or the reader by being trite (I’m thinking of Twilight here). There is her life before being a tribute and after being a tribute. Her love interests in the books reflect that.
The characters in this trilogy are very human, which makes for a very visceral reading experience. Half the time I had to remind myself that Katniss was the heroine of the story because it wasn’t always easy to like her. She is very smartly written; complicated and fiery and sometimes broken and overwhelmed. There’s one character in particular who seems to be nothing but pure good and the one untainted thing in the whole arena, but no one leaves the Hunger Games trilogy unchanged. I love how Collins did not make her characters easy to understand. It’s much more realistic that way.
There is incredible character development and depth in these three books that in and of itself is remarkable and worth reading. There are few characters in the novels that do not surprise you, frighten you, make you feel uneasy or leave you feeling awful for have judged them so harshly before. It is a reminder that every person is an individual with complex emotions and behaviors.
Also, I enjoyed how Katniss is the only narrator throughout the three books. You know what she knows and nothing more. It helps to strengthen the bond between the reader and the character but also makes some parts confusing. Katniss isn’t privy to every secret plan that is made and therefore you are just as confused as she is at times. One of the concluding scenes is still a bit unclear to me because Katniss isn’t sure what really happened or who was orchestrating that plan. I think I know what happened, but that’s all Katniss has too, a feeling.
These books are set to a war drum, as it were. The action is intense, the pace is unrelenting, the weapons, physical and psychological, are not all fantasy and some are so close to what we already know militaries have that it gets under your skin and makes you queasy. One of my favorite points that Collins makes through these books is how sometimes it is very difficult to see the difference between the violence brought on by the establishment and those fighting against it. War is war.
Don’t think you’re above this book series because you’re a grown up. You’d be missing out.
Read the series before the first movie comes out next year.
In the meantime, I'll be periodically checking for updates on the filming and hoping they tell the story right.
And "may the odds be ever in your favor..."