Sunday, March 7, 2010

YA Lit: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins

Rating: A+

I've taken to reading a lot of Young Adult fiction this year. Blame my students for this. The experience has reminded me that some of the best stories out there aren't being aimed at adults. This is always the case with manga in the U.S., so I should have guessed it would hold true for YA lit, as well.

Then I figured I could use my blog to write up some reviews of my favorite titles. Here's my first entry.

A week or two ago, I picked up The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which absolutely blew me away. This was right on the heels of Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You (his prose is just as good as Gatsby-era Fitzgerald), so I wanted something a little lighter.

Man, was I wrong.

This book is nasty and brutal and raw. It takes a strong character and puts her through a series of crises that, one-by-one, break her into little pieces. The worst part is that, in her world, it's something that happens year after year.

Katniss Everdeen lives in a post-breakdown U.S. The continent is divided into 13 colonies and a capital city. The colonies each perform a specialized service to uphold the capital's position as the pinnacle of society. Katniss resides in District 12 (a coal mining town) with her mother and her younger sister, Prim. After losing her father in a mine collapse, her mother fell into a deep depression and it fell to Katniss to provide for her family.

Food is a precious commodity for the residents of the Districts. The capital is in charge of rations and hands out barely enough to keep their labor force alive. Hunting is off limits, but Katniss had learned from her father all about the wilderness and how to use a bow. Since District 12 is especially poor, their enclosing electric fence has a tendency to fail (as does all electricity in the town) on a regular basis. She spends many days out in the woods with her friend, Gale, who also seeks extra food for his family.

The book opens on Reaping Day, the only holiday anyone seems to celebrate. Reaping Day is more of a holiday for the capital than anywhere else, though, as it is a day of sacrifice for those in the District.

In order to remind the other colonies that they serve the capital, Reaping Day serves to gather two candidates from each village to compete in the annual Hunger Games. Starting at the age of 12, all citizens are entered into a lottery to compete for a chance to win extra food for their families.

It's a costly game, though, as the 24 chosen contestants are placed in an arena where they all fight to the death. The Hunger Games are a twisted version of the Olympics: all districts must participate and each town has people to root for. Of course, those in the districts hate the games, while the capital is swept away by Hunger Games fever.

When Katniss becomes a part of the Games, she is pushed to her limits time and again. She has one other villager who might be an ally, but she can't be sure. Her trainer is a drunkard and she's up against people who have been training all their lives to be a part of the Games. The capital treats each contestant like a celebrity, assigning stylists, conducting tv interviews, and holding viewer polls to determine popular contestants.

I won't go too much into plot details. What really got under my skin was how everything that Katniss deserves to experience as a young adult is taken from her. She has no chance to appreciate anything or develop a sense of wonder. Her life is always about just barely scraping by, whether it's finding food or fighting for her life.

The Hunger Games offers an exhausting, spellbinding journey that will leave readers breathless. Collins' world is darkly beautiful, brimming with politics, personality, and nightmares. Plot-twists are wrenching, both for the characters and for the reader; there are plenty of scenes that have stuck with me, simply because of how horrifying they are. And before long, you'll be scared to turn the page, because you never know if your favorite character is going to survive.

Don't miss out on one of the best novels written in recent years.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Grant Goodman only respects literature that stomps on hope.