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The Hunger Games

Defense of the novel
Best novel I've read this year

This evening, knowing it's overdue and I must return it to the library tomorrow, I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I finished it over half an hour ago, and I am still shaken. Not a Bond reference, but if it were, I'd be shaken and stirred. This book is that good. One of those novels where, when you're done reading it, you feel as if there's been a palpable shift, and that the world has, in some real way, been altered.

Now, I already knew that Suzanne Collins could write, since I really enjoyed her Gregor the Overlander series. (Here are my reviews of Gregor the Overlander, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, and Gregor and the Marks of Secret. Uh, yeah, the final book is still in my TBR pile.) And the Gregor books are, in many ways, about war and its effects on societies and, more particularly, on the youth of those societies.

The Hunger Games is decidedly about war and its effects. First, it's set in the dystopian society of Panem, a nation rebuilt from the remains of North America. There's the Capitol (in the Rocky Mountains) and twelve Districts. Once there were thirteen districts, but following a multi-district assault on the Capitol, District Thirteen was wiped out. Our narrator and main character is a sixteen year-old girl named Katniss, who spends her time (when she's not in school) sneaking out of the town to hunt in the nearby woods.

The Hunger Games is kind of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery meets the movie Running Man (or maybe that new Running Man-like movie with demolition derby car-racing prisoners). To keep the districts in check, the Capitol keeps them all completely separated and isolated, and keeps them within walled confines (to keep wild animals out, but just as much to keep the people in). And, oh yeah, to ensure that nobody ever forgets the horror of the rebellion, or the supremacy of the Capitol, the Capitol requires a "tribute" of two children between the ages of 12 and 18 each year: one boy and one girl.

The kids are contestants in the most frightening reality television show ever: 24 shall enter, one shall leave. When Katniss's 12-year old sister's name is pulled from the thousands of entries, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Also from District 12? The nice boy who once gave her bread when she was literally starving. Let the Hunger Games begin.

Let me just say that I sobbed wracking sobs over the death of one contestant. And I felt, quite honestly, shaken when I reached the end of the book. Parts of it were completely horrifying. Now, I realize that this was all a made-up world from the imagination of Suzanne Collins. (Note to self: do not visit Suzanne Collins's imagination - if this is the stuff she felt comfortable writing down, the stuff she chose not to write would probably scare me witless.) And this world was entirely logically consistent at all times, even when it was horrible. And it couldn't happen right now, but given what we hear of their culture, it seems like it might be attainable within our lifetimes, just to add that extra level of horror to the mix. But this is, at its core, a suspense novel. Or so I've figured out by applying something M.T. Anderson said in his marvelous interview over at Through the Tollbooth. Here's a bit of what he said:

The pace for horror and for suspense is different. As I’ve said elsewhere, I do think that there are formal differences between the two modes. One of them is this: In horror, you take a safe place and make it unsafe and unfamiliar (the unheimlich). In a suspense movie, you define safe and unsafe places incredibly starkly – you differentiate them – and then you get a character trapped in the unsafe place and trying to cross over to the safe zone. The audience sweats as they track the character’s impeded progress. So, for example, in one of the most beautiful and elegant of spy thrillers, Richard Burton’s film version of Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Burton becomes mired on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. The energy of the film partially comes from our anxiety about how he’ll get back over the wall … and this consideration ends up involving awful questions about the relationships in the movie, questions of loyalty and deception … So the geographical and the human impinge on each other.


There are to be two further books, I believe. I cannot wait to see how they pan out. But to be honest, I'm glad I can't find out immediately, because it's just too upsetting. And yet I urge every person I know to read this one. Before they smack a Printz sticker on the front of it.




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Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
idaho_laurie
Oct. 24th, 2008 04:14 am (UTC)
It's on my shelf. My son read it last week.... Now it's my turn.
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:46 am (UTC)
M snatched it up on my recommendation. The fact that I could barely talk after reading it, apart from saying "wow" in a shaky voice, probably influenced that decision.
christy_lenzi
Oct. 24th, 2008 05:04 am (UTC)
I know, I know, I know!! Loving it.
christy_lenzi
Oct. 24th, 2008 05:08 am (UTC)
My daughter keeps sneaking off with it and has now passed me. She kept letting out squeals and screeches from her bedroom this evening at things I haven't read yet. (Arrrr...)
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)
Ack! Poor you! Did you get to the part where . . . (never mind, but when you get there, or past it, you'll have to stop back and let me know if it destroyed you the way it did me).
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:47 am (UTC)
It's not the "sort" of thing I usually go for, either, but the buzz on it was pretty loud, so I figured I might want to read it. And I'm glad I did.
writerross
Oct. 24th, 2008 09:54 am (UTC)
That's quite a persuasive review. I'll make sure I pick it up ASAP. Thanks.
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)
It is hauntingly good.
kristydempsey
Oct. 24th, 2008 10:12 am (UTC)
I want to read this, but oh, my heart is so tender sometimes. I've gotta choose the right stretch of time or it might do me in.
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)
I should note that I don't usually deal well with things that are tense, nor do I typically go for "dark" novels. Collins somehow manages to convey all the brutality and desperation that you'd expect based on what you know aobut the plot without completely dragging things down - one of the things that makes the book so impressive, in my opinion.
deenaml
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:31 am (UTC)
Uh, yeah, this book floored me. And made me want to be a better writer!!!
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)
I fell asleep thinking about this book, and woke up thinking about it as well. It's just so good! I guess her screenwriting background really helps.
lisa_schroeder
Oct. 24th, 2008 01:37 pm (UTC)
To have taken a premise that could go SO wrong in 1000 different ways and make it one of the most brilliant books ever written is what really floors me. Suzanne Collins is brilliant.

I loved the book too. The characters were so well done, I was thinking about them days afterwards. I can't wait for book 2!!!
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
Having read this one, I'm looking forward to it as well. I can't figure out how it will warrant two more books, but I'm sure Collins knows what she's doing.
writerjenn
Oct. 24th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
It's always wild to recommend this kind of book, isn't it? "This book will unsettle and horrify you! Read it!"
kellyrfineman
Oct. 24th, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC)
This book will unsettle and horrify you. And make you think hard about society and war and other issues. And challenge you. And make you wish you'd written it (kinda), although spending that much time with the characters and inside the game might be too tough.
lkmadigan
Oct. 26th, 2008 02:16 am (UTC)
I finished this yesterday.

I agree with everything you said.

I didn't cry over the death you speak of, because I knew it had to come, but I was completely shaken by the final chapters.
kellyrfineman
Oct. 26th, 2008 06:48 am (UTC)
Whereas I sobbed. Even though I knew it had to come.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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