Monday, February 13, 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book 1

So, just as with the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, I had to see what all the hype was about with "The Hunger Games."

Suzanne Collins' teen trilogy "The Hunger Games" (Scholastic, 2008) has captured the heart not only of my 12-year-old niece Caroline (who told me she's just re-read the whole trilogy), it's the current favorite read/discussion topic of the entire Composing department (of 30 to 40-somethings) here at my work. Which, luckily for me, means there was readily a copy of the first book, "The Hunger Games," and maybe the rest for me to borrow (thank you, Bill Coldren).

Let me preface this by saying that I can tell you with absolute certainty that if I were picked for wilderness/survival/to-the-death competition, I wouldn't make it very far. I dropped out of the Girl Scouts in 5th grade, can't conjure fire out of twigs or gut a fish, and don't have a lot of experience camping (we weren't that kind of family growing up).

But a good story, that I like. And Suzanne Collins has one here that contains elements of "The Running Man," Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," "Lord of the Flies," and "Romeo and Juliet." She has crafted a tale and a heroine, Katniss Everdeen, that captures the imaginations of pre-teens and adults alike.

I've only read the first book of "The Hunger Games" trilogy thus far. The second is called "Catching Fire" and the third "Mockingjay." Earlier today, I described it as the book-reading equivalent of watching a movie. It's a 374-page book that I read in several hours - in less than two days, rather easily (which is not the norm for me ... I'm a slow reader). The fonts are big and rather aired out. The chapters are short and, for the most part, are cliffhangers. The language is simple, the characters compelling.

I know this book is being made into a movie that's set to come out this spring. And as I read, I could picture the scenes of that movie quite clearly. In fact, as I read, I kept wishing I could come up with and idea, like Collins did, that was so money. Surely, as professional writer, I can devise something so clever ... ?

Katniss Everdeen is a scrappy 16-year-old who's had to support her family of three since the age of 11. The time is the future, and the future is bleak. North America has become the country of Panem, which is divided into 12 districts and a far-removed capitol city, somewhere in the Rockies. Katniss is from District 12, formerly known as Appalachia, a district known for its coal-mining and its poor classes that struggle to come up with enough to eat. Luckily, her late father has taught her how to hunt and fish in a forbidden woods near there home. That way, she's able to support her mother and 12-year-old sister, Prim.

Every year in this country, two teenagers (a boy and a girl) from each of the country's district are selected at random to participate in The Hunger Games, a sort of sadistic Olympics where the 24 teens fight to the death in a giant arena. Everything is televised, and the ultimate winner receives riches beyond belief and won't have to hurt for food for the rest of his or her life. Winning is also a giant honor for the winning district.

I don't want to give the story away to folks like me who are late comers to this trilogy. But suffice to sat that Katniss is selected to fight in The Hunger Games for her district. The insult to this injury is that she must be "made over" for the games, train with the kids who are going to try to kill her, and  be interviewed on national television, all the while trying to earn sponsors that have the power to help her survive in the games.

For the parents out there, I will say that the violence is kept to a minimum in this novel. There are death scenes, of course, but they are less bloody than our desensitized to violence people might expect. They would be vivid to the 12-year-olds out there, who maybe might be inspired to learn how to light a fire without, you know, a match, and to eat pine bark to survive. (I'll do it if you will, Caroline! ... the fire thing, not the bark)

As I wrapped up the first book yesterday, I suppressed the urge to run out and buy the second one (like Katniss, I need to save my money for food! I also have a library card and am not afraid to use it). The book ended on a cliffhanger, unsurprisingly, and I wanted to know what happened next. I still do.

Now, I need to go set about borrowing that second book.


France said...

Because I was such a fan of Suzanne Collins' The Underland Chronicles (also known as the Gregor the Overlander series), I picked up The Hunger Games the first week it was out and I feel privileged in a way to not only have read this series as it unfolded, but to have witnessed its climb in popularity over the last 2 years. That popularity is richly deserved.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this great post. I love this book and I hope that you will have the time to check out my post, too. I used your photos in my post but made sure to credit the source. I love this trilogy and think that the first book is most definitely the best. What about you?

Michelle Karas said...

Hi Matt, you have a nice looking blog. I think the photos looked even better in that dramatic setting! It was kind of you to credit my blog, but the photos are ones I took from the 'Net myself.

Like you, I also enjoyed the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy the most. Have you seen the (1st) movie? I thought it was very true to the book.