Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I'm probably not the last person on the planet to read The Hunger Games, but there can't be too many left. Nonetheless, my opinion...

The premise of this book is quite horrible - children battling one another to the death. I didn't think I would feel so sanguine reading the gruesome details, but this book is Hollywood all the way; the blood and gore seem like special effects. That said, there is still no way I'm taking my not-quite-eleven-year-old to see it. There's a lot you can gloss over when you're reading that would be downright horrifying on a twenty-foot screen.

This is YA done right, with the emotional life of the protagonist taking precedence over the mundane details, but with enough of those details to make it interesting. Katniss (possibly the worst name in popular literature) is the kind of heroine you want your girls idolizing: smart, strong, capable, and not quite in control of her emotions. The book is completely addictive, with non-stop action and lots of visual detail, making you feel like you're right there in the midst of it. The author dodged some pretty tricky bullets as far as her heroine's moral choices went, which admittedly is often the case in YA. Katniss certainly had to consider whether she was capable of brutal murder, but was mostly saved from being put to the test. I appreciate that a heroine can't go around killing everyone in sight simply in order to survive, but a little more moral ambiguity would have made me like the book more.

Like many dystopian fantasies, there's an odd combination of a technologically advanced society intermingled with something more Medieval, and it's a little hard to figure out how those two coexist. I was surprised to learn, for example, that Katniss' childhood home had a TV, as I had pictured it without electricity. I think some of this might be explained to better satisfaction in the sequels.

The end of the contest was a little anti-climactic, and the immediate aftermath rang very hollow to me. It reminded me of reality TV, where much of the tension is manufactured. Again, I think these events may be a setup for the next two books. Suzanne Collins says she didn't set out to write a trilogy; that the events of the Hunger Games demanded more exploration. I might believe her. I expect I'll read the next two, despite having been apprised of a few major spoilers. If they are as entertaining and fast-paced as this one it will be time well spent.

I've seen the movie trailer, and I think it will be great. Despite my insistence that 'the book is always better than the movie,' this one may prove the exception. Collins wrote the screenplay as well, which bodes well for consistency with the original. I'll just have to sneak out to see it so the 10-year-old doesn't suspect...

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