Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hunger Games, Books 2 & 3. Who wants to go see the movie?

I finished Books 2 & 3 of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy in the past week. I read all 3 books ("Hunger Games," "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay") in about 12 days, if that gives any indication of the draw of the suspenseful teen trilogy.

As an adult reading these books intended for 12 and up, I'd liken the experience to watching a TV movie or miniseries. A la Stephen King's "The Stand." Maybe Lifetime Movie Network crossed with MTV with a bit of ESPN thrown in. There's a compelling story with a lot of action that doesn't require a whole lot of intellectual investment. 

And oh, the love triangle between protagonist Katniss Everdeen and the two leading men in her life! Must there be one in all the teen books these days? (a la the "Twilight" series - another popular trilogy) Collins played the foils off each other well, but the drama grew tiresome. When Katniss gets too close with Peeta, something gets in the way, and then the handsome Gale steps in. And vice versa. Ugh. Young love.

I'm trying to compare the books to what I might have been reading when I was 12: Somehow "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret" by Judy Blume doesn't seem quite on the same revolutionary level. But also, around the time when I was on the verge of becoming a teen, the dystopian novels "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood and "The Running Man" by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) were topping the bestseller lists. In both of those I can see parallels to the "Hunger Games" world, Panem. I'm sure I didn't read "The Handmaid's Tale" until I was maybe 17, but it sure did capture my interest and leave an impression. It's still one of my favorite books, and probably my most favorite Atwood. But, I digress. 

The Hunger Games trilogy is worth a read, to anyone maybe 14 and up (I still think the violence, the killings and war images, might be too much for a 12-year-old ... especially my very serious niece Caroline, who seems to have a photographic memory. Too late, though. She's read the books through at least twice and loves them.)

So ... about the books: Please be warned there are spoilers below. Big spoilers. So don't read on if you want to read the books and be surprised.

Notably, publisher Scholastic Press also published the "Harry Potter" series. It is the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books.

"Catching Fire" (Scholastic Press, 2009, 391 pp.)
The middle book of the trilogy has our heroine Katniss Everdeen in a new pickle. Now a victor of the Hunger Games, she receives her spoils: A large house in Victor's Village along with fellow victor and love interest Peeta Mellark as well as food supplied monthly to her district. Things should be grand, but Katniss is bored of her duties and obligations to the Capitol. While she should be enjoying her "retirement," it becomes clear that Panem's President Snow is holding a grudge over the method she used to win the Games. It seems Katniss and her Mockingjay pin have become a symbol of the country's slow-simmering revolution. And then the unthinkable happens: Katniss and Peeta are called back to the following year's games, where this time, Snow assures them, there will be only one victor.

The games are even more fantastical than Katniss and Peeta's original game experience. With death-traps at every turn and other competitors - past victors from each of Panem's 12 districts - set against each other in a grueling fight to the death. Katniss is determined to protect Peeta at all costs and accept death, if and when it comes to that. But there are larger forces at work. Katniss and Peeta are spared death, but the heretofore inseparable pair are forcibly separated ... for a long time.

"Mockingjay"(Scholastic Press, 2010, 390 pp.)
An injured Katniss awakens in a hospital in District 13, the one that was supposed to have been decimated by the Capitol back in the Dark Days. But the people of District 13 didn't die - they took cover underground in an amazing and ultra-structured underground community that goes ... way down. Many of Katniss' neighbors and family from District 12 have been rescued and brought to 13. Peeta, however, has been captured by the Capitol, and is being reprogrammed to hate Katniss. Katniss accepts her role as the symbol of the revolution, and trains with the army to fight the capitol and ultimately kill snow.

Here's where we find the third and final round of Katniss' games. The road to the Capitol has been built by Gamemakers and contains death-traps at every corner. The Mockingjay is back in the game.

I won't tell you how it ends, just that one minute you're in the action of the battle, and the next minute it's 15 years later and Katniss' life has become settled.

With whom, you ask? You'll just have to read.

"The Hunger Games" movie
This movie is due out March 23 in theaters, starring Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone") as Katniss Everdeen, and lots of interesting folks in other roles. Donald Sutherland plays President Snow. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie Trinket, a sort of liaison between District 12 and the Capitol. And let's not forget Lenny Kravitz as Katniss' super-cool stylist, Cinna.

To see a trailer of the new movie, and the movie website, which is brought to you by The Capitol, click here.

Thanks to John Grenewald in The Mercury's composing department for the loan of the last two books, and Bill Coldren for loaning the first!

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