Forever YA and brief review of The Hunger Games

How sad I am that I didn’t discover this site before plowing through the entire Hunger Games trilogy in approximately 72 hours:  Forever YA.

There has never been a time of my life when I more eagerly devoured books than when I was reading young adult fantasy.  I tore through Lloyd Alexander, Tamora Pierce, Susan Cooper, Jane Yolen, and so many more, at a truly fiendish pace.  We’re talking an average of >1 books per day.  I would curl up behind the couch in the living room and chew them up, one after another.

I recently read The Hunger Games, all three, in e-book format.  Although I agree with reviewers who complain that Suzanne Collins didn’t explore nearly the full allegorical potential of her world, I did adore the books.  Collins dreams up a Battle Royale-inspired dystopia in which the world has been torn apart by war and (possibly?) global warming, and North America has been reborn as the post-apocalyptic dictatorship of Panem.  The decadent, consumer-nihilist Capitol controls twelve impoverished Districts, which each provide a  particular product or resource to the Capitol: food, coal, textiles, timber, and so on.

In punishment for the rebellion of District 13, which took place 75 years ago, not only has District 13 been completely obliterated, but each of the remaining 12 districts must tithe two of their children to take part in the yearly Hunger Games.  The Games are a reality-TV fight to the death which serves as a reminder to the Districts of the power and control of the Capitol.  It is also the entertainment event of the year; an entire industry is built around the Hunger Games, with stylists, gambling, interviews and clever editing and tear-jerker storylines pulled out of the interactions of the contestants just like a season of Survivor.  At the end, only one can be left standing.

The heroine, Katniss, is a strong young woman who desperately volunteers for the Games when the name of her younger sister, Prim, is pulled out of the hat.  Katniss is well-drawn, though occasionally frustrating.  She pushes into hard, cynical territory – she is, first and foremost, a survivor.  Although the burgeoning rebellion tries to push her into the role of firebrand revolutionary leader, she’s refreshingly slow to come around to the idea.  How many times do we meet preternaturally selfless, self-sacrificing heroes?  Katniss battles strict self-interest in a realistic way, and it makes her moments of heroism all the more moving.

What I didn’t like so much about Katniss was her romantic dithering – not that uncertainty in romance is a bad thing, but must we spend hundreds of pages on her tortured indecision between two young men who are, relative to Katniss’ character, boring?  Has Twilight created a tortured-love-triangle syndrome where YA writers must include excessive description of hapless teens’ hormonal internal monologues?  I’m waiting for the story where, after months of tears and see-sawing commitments, our heroes wake up, realize that they’re only 15, and just move on.

I probably enjoyed the first book of The Hunger Games the best.  I found Mockingjay a bit disappointing.  Much as Harry Potter 7 felt like JK Rowling was struggling to preserve the one-year-at-Hogwarts structure, Mockingjay felt like Collins was struggling to fit in another stint in the Hunger Games arena.  It wasn’t really necessary, felt unrealistic, and doused us with meaningless action when she could have been exploring some of the rich potential themes of media, government control, war and violence, disparity of wealth, and so on.  One of the most interesting things about the ending was that she didn’t really provide a happy conclusion, instead implying that conflict and violence are inevitable consequences of human nature, and that the revolution is usually no better than the current regime.  Again, I don’t think she explored these ideas as much as she could have.  (Oh well, gotta sell millions of copies, no big deal.)  There’s a fairly hilarious moment where the rebel leaders explain to Katniss that they’re going to replace the dictatorship with a “republic,” and she expresses extreme doubt about the practicality of such a system.

Overall, a thought-provoking dystopia and a fascinating heroine (slash kind of an anti-heroine).  BUT MORE TO THE POINT, if you haven’t read these books yet, I highly recommend that you do, and I recommend that you read them while partaking in the Forever YA Hunger Games Drinking Game!  Also, if you decide to do this, call me, and I will re-read the books & get wasted with you.  Even if you don’t play the game (or read the books), there are some good cocktail recipes.


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