Saturday, January 14, 2012

A few thoughts on The Hunger Games

Over the holidays I had the chance to read Suzanne Collins's trilogy: The Hunger Games. I'm sure you know about these books; they are an international phenomenon, even if I wasn't paying attention for the first couple years of their existence.

The books in the series are:

These books are extremely powerful. I finished all three in about 10 days of fevered reading, brushing aside friends and family, staying up late and waking up early in order to continue reading, dwelling on them whenever I wasn't actually reading them. It took me several days after finishing the series before I was even willing to start thinking and reflecting about the books, and several weeks more before I was calmed down enough to start writing about them.

I can't remember the last time I was simply desparate to find out what happened next. Captivating, gripping, enthralling: these are words that describe these books well.

It's interesting that the books are published by Scholastic and positioned as "young adult" novels. Although the books are clearly written for a 12-15 year old girl, the topics that are covered are universal: war, discrimination, poverty, alcoholism, government policy, and death are all central to the story.

Certainly there are plenty of teenage girl aspects to the books (the three biggest motifs in the books are: food and our feelings about it; makeup and fashion; relationships with boys), but I never for an instant felt like I was reading "some girl book". After all, it's not like the rest of us don't care about these things.

But, reader bewarned: this is not the sort of book you'll pick up for bed-time reading with your elementary school child. Rather, what you should have in mind is: "what would The Lord of the Flies be like if Stephen King wrote it, and the heroine was a 16 year old girl?"

I feel the comparison to King is apt, for, like him, Collins is a master of the craft: her characters are vivid, her dialogue is precise, and her sense of the pacing and flow of storytelling is ideal. Nothing is awkward, nothing is out of place.

And in case the phrase "young adult fiction" brings to mind watered-down vocabulary, simplified sentences, and an absence of skill and technique, banish that thought from your mind, for this is literature at the highest level. Across the planet, I'm sure that tens of thousands of literature students are hard at work on theses with topics such as: the metaphoric use of fire (has there ever been such a perfect description of puberty as "Catching Fire"?); the linguistic skill and innovation in coinages such as "muttation" (the perfect word for this creature!); and on the symbolic use of the Jabberjay as representative of the modern nation-state's control over the means of communication and the domain of social discourse.

These are amazing books, and Collins is a superb writer. Although they are not for everyone, I hope they find their way into many lives, and are the basis of many discussions and debates about man's inhumanity to man and about what is really important in life.

I know that I will be thinking about Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Haymitch Abernathy, and Gale Hawthorne for many years to come; perhaps you will be, too!

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