Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Twilight has been deemed the Vampire book for people who don't like Vampire books, and Stephenie Meyer said that The Host was a science fiction book for people who don't like science fiction books, but it wasn't.  No, the book I would hand that title to is The Hunger Games.  I wasn't going to review it here because what could I say that hadn't already been said, but I've recently run into a few child lit lovers who haven't picked up, and I couldn't let that happen, could I?

Here's the blurb from the publisher:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survived.

After I described the book to a friend she said it sounded too gory and depressing for her, and I insisted that it wasn't.  She countered with, "How could a book not be gory and disturbing if the main character has to kill 23 other teenagers in order to survive to the end of the book?"  I know it sounds crazy, but Collins does just that.  This is partially due to the fact that Katniss doesn't have to kill all 23 other kids to win, they can attack each other and the reader doesn't necessarily have to know what happened, Katniss just has to try to be the last one left standing.  The reader gets to know Katniss and the goodness of her heart so well that no matter what she ends up doing, they will still love her in the end.

That said, yes, this is a book where kids kill each other, and I wonder how that effects its Newbery chances.  I probably wouldn't recommend this book to kids twelve and under (because the end has some especially upsetting scenes that would scare the heck out of most younger kids), but that still leaves it within the age range of the Newbery award; however, I wouldn't be surprised if it was pushed into the Printz category.  I just hope that it doesn't get lost between them.

I can think of several books set in futuristic societies where the government has gone awry and readers discover some atrocity committed against the youth (think The Giver, The Shadow Children Series, Uglies, Ender's Game etc.), but The Hunger Games still seems so original.  

Teachers everywhere will love it because it will probably interest boys and girls equally.  The main character is female and studies show that while many girls will pick up books with male main characters, most boys will not pick up books with female main characters; however, a male protagonist emerges within the story.  The story is about a gruesome battle, which will entertain guys but it has a little romance and even fashion mixed in that will be just enough to pull in readers who do not like war stories.

What I think you must know before picking up this book, is that the last line is, "End of Book One" which I promise will make you groan if you had no warning.  There are so many things I still wanted to know about so I'm eagerly awaiting book two.  The good news is, according to Publishers Weekly, Book Two, titled Catching Fire is due out September 8th so you won't have to wait too long.  The final book in the trilogy is tentatively scheduled for 2010.

12 comments:

Nan Hoekstra said...

I reviewed Hunger Games on LibraryThing. Here's my review:
A concocted, formulaic, cheap, empty, mechanical attempt to tell a story of a fractured nation of the future. This is canned souless entertainment, neatly packaged thrills, bad TV all the way, abusive to the reader, empty characters, empty plot, empty dialogue, no stars. No redeeming value.

Meg said...

I picked this one up at the library a few days ago...this one and a few others, so I'll see if I get to it. Sounds interesting though.

Book Critic 101 said...

While I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that this is a good book (It won the "book of the month"award on my blog). My blog is called thesundaybookreport.blogspot.com in case you didn't know. Anyway, while I agree with the contents, I was somewhat disappointed by the stereotypes located in this review. The idea that guys like gruesome battles and and will not pick up books with female protagonists is a stereotype that I don't like. I know many boys, and they are perfectly happy to pick up a book with a female main character as long as it isn't about fashion or too romantic. These studies just don't take into account that the majority of books with a female main characters are often like that. On the other hand, I loved the book itself, and the rest of the review was fantastic.
I can't wait for more recommendations!

Stephanie Ford said...

Book Critic, I agree, they were gross generalizations, and I should have noted that in my review. Although research supports that its not the norm, I too know boys who are willing to pick up books with female protagonists, and it's a pet peeve of mine when teachers only choose classroom books with male protagonists simply because they think they can get girls to read them and they can't get boys to read book with female protagonists. Of course we all know many a girl who looks for a lot more than fashion and romance in a book. In a world where Gossip Girl books sell so well, I still thought it was important to note that romance and fashion take part in the story. Sadly, that might be all that tempt some to pick up the book (but not most, I am sure).

Nan - I appreciate your point of view, but I don't agree at all. Katniss is certainly not an empty character. That fact that she volunteered for the Hunger Games to save her sister shows her character. I wish you had been a bit more specific in your criticism. When you say that its soulless entertainment with no redeeming values, I can only assume that's because the basis of The Hunger Games is kids forced to kill other kids, but the book wasn't saying that was ok. It enraged Katniss and that rage and horror at what the government was forcing people to do is what I'm guessing fuels the next two books. I'm interested to see how it all plays out.

If you look at great literature, there are horrific things happening in soulless communities all around. Take To Kill a Mocking Bird for example, Tom Robinson should never have been found guilty and he shouldn't have died at the hands of police, yet those two terrible things take place in the novel. The novel itself is redeemed because of the outrage of Atticus Finch, it gives us hope that there will be others who feel the same way that he does and they will be in a position to do more about it. Just as in The Hunger Games, The "Games" are a soulless attrocity, Katniss doesn't have the means to avoid them, but she in no way condones them, in the end she gets away with breaking all the rules and upsets the officials by doing so. Now we have to hope that there are more like her who can push for change.

Book Critic 101 said...

Thank you for clarifying - I agree with your comment, but I am very used to stereotypes like that, AND I don't like them.
On the other hand, with the "pet peeves" comment, many required reading books (Roll of thunder, hear my cry/Nightjohn) have female protagonists. Therefore, much class reading has female protagonists as well.

Noelle said...

Loved this book. And...I totally groaned.

Okie said...

I've been looking forward to this book for a while but have yet to pick it up. My reading backlog is already overflowing. Still, all the good buzz this keeps getting may make me push it up the list sooner rather than later.

Thanks for another great review.

DW Golden said...

What sounds most depressing is that in a recovering society people would use their own children for entertainment rather than to love and cherish them through the hard times. Seems like they would protect and cherish them.

DW Golden
Fly with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies

Stephanie Ford said...

DW,
The Capitol uses The Hunger Games to remind the other districts that they have all the power and can make the districts do whatever they want, even give up their own children to send off to battle in The Hunger Games. Katniss's district doesn't want to send her and they are forced to watch the games, but view it with horror.

Granted even though they don't send their own children, it still is depressing that the Capitol finds entertainment in children forced into war with each other.

Angie Larkin said...

Pardon my intrusion on your blog, but I also loved the book. I'm hosting a book club in June and was wondering if you had any ideas for discussion questions. Happy Reading.

Molly Malone said...

Jeez, Nan - did a tracker jacker get you or something? What a thoughtless, meaningless and useless review, devoid of any constructive criticism. You are one sorry excuse of a libriarian if you can't better articulate your point of view. Or maybe, being blind to a compelling story, you don't have a point of view worth sharing.

Andrea said...

Angie, if you check out the Scholastic website, they have a bunch of discussion questions that look pretty interesting.

Here's the link:
http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=36164