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Author: Suzanne Collins
Action! Danger! Tragedy! Oppression! Romance!
You couldn't ask for more on a movie poster. Perhaps, in fact, if any book could have skipped the written phase and gone straight to film, it would be The Hunger Games. Rapid-paced action and visceral imagery make this book a top-notch story, and even if the language leaves something to be desired, it hits its target crowd exceptionally well. After all, sometimes all we need is a good story, right?
Suzanne Collins is an experienced children's writer; she has written multiple episodes for 1990s TV shows like Little Bear, Oswald, and Clarissa Explains It All. She has also written a five-book series for children known as The Underland Chronicles, which are an interpretation of the classic Alice in Wonderland.
However, with The Hunger Games, she takes a step into the gritter world of teen fiction, leaving behind squeaky-clean genres for a heftier tale. The novel tells the story of 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen, a poor girl living in the 12th District of a post-apocalyptic North American country called Panem. She is content to lead a quiet, meager existence by illegally poaching off of government land to feed her family until her younger sister, Primrose, is called out to be a participant in the bloody gladitorial contest known as the Hunger Games. In desperation to save her sister's life, Katniss volunteers to take her place, sealing her fate to kill or be killed.
To make matters more complicated, a boy that Katniss owes her life to, Peeta Mellark, is named as the other participant, obliging her to kill someone that she feels indebted to. Thus, she explains, is the horror of the Games: in order to survive, you must give up all your dignity, which is the government's aim. As the book progresses, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta becomes much muddier and more complicated, and even she is not sure how she feels about the boy who saved her life, the boy she is obliged to kill.
Told in the first person, the book places the readers firmly inside Katniss's mind. We hear her thoughts, her gut reactions to things, and see the grossly unfair world of Panem as she sees it. Grammar fanatics will squirm and squawk as they read turns of phrase (think high school language, written down) and the truncated fragments of thoughts are jarring, but the argument stands that they do place you into the mind of a coarse teenager.
Collins has created a marvelously dark, creative world replete with extensive details and logical, ordinary, yet beautiful characters. Although some of the people we meet are rather two-dimensional (Prim and Effie are exceptionally flat, and Cato runs a close third) Katniss and Peeta are fully fleshed out, and blend together beautifully. As time progresses, we understand more of the darkness and complete victory that the Games are to the Capitol, dehumanizing their victims and their audience in one blow.
The story is a thinly veiled allegory for the evils of socialism, what with the rigid rule controls on each district's product and the omnipotence and omniscience of the government. Katniss and Peeta represent the young capitalists defying the shackles of governmental regulation, shaking off the social expectations of submission and fear. Collins has essentially created a effective propaganda piece for republicanism with a action-packed, fast-paced, driven plot filled with believable people and graphic imagery.
The target audience is most definitely teenagers and young adults. The language is easy and flows much like an average American talks, and there are few moments without some sort of action or plot-centric exchange. Collins draws in a female audience with the sweet, innocent romance between Peeta and Katniss and the male audience with the sheer horror of the Games that she describes. (Cato's death is particularly horrifying, and will shock anyone with a visual imagination.) Intuitively weaving all of her different articles together to create one enormous, lumpy tapestry, Collins introduces us to a plot that we can love and remember, cheer and grieve for, and step easily into with the tightly-woven words she has written.
Because it is told in first person, the book stays with Katniss nearly every waking moment for a few weeks, but at just over 300 pages is surprisingly short. While that style necessitates some dull moments, some of the scenes are exceptionally poignant, such as the reaping (where the participants, known as "tributes," are named) when Katniss throws herself forward to save her sister. Rife with passionate language and the impulsive nature of the action, we are gripped throughout the telling and tied tightly to the brave girl as she sacrifices herself for love of family. Because it is told in the present tense, the readers experience the events in hypothetical "real time," which places us even more inside the mind of Katniss, lending us her emotions and distractions. Perhaps it is because we nearly become her, but our heroine is one of the most complete characters in popular literature.
The film, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, came out in March 2012 and drew an enormous audience for its extended run. Catching Fire, the next film, is expected in September 2013.
The Hunger Games is available for a meager $5.00 on the Kindle (it's free if you join Amazon Prime), or $10.89 in hardback. The entire trilogy, which includes Catching Fire and Mockingjay, is available for $18.99 on the Kindle or $29.50 in hardback. Because of the popularity and timeliness of these books, they are probably taken out of most libraries most of the time; if you can't borrow them, they're worth the purchase. Mine were given to me by some wonderful people as a Christmas gift, and I profusely thank them. It's taken me a really long time to jump on the bandwagon.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope you got or gave at least one book today. Enjoy your break and keep reading!