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my reads: ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Teenagers chosen by lottery forced to battle in to-the-death gladiatorial games that are broadcast throughout the nation. For the entertainment of the wealthy and privileged. For the subjugation of the poor and disadvantaged.

This is the Hunger Games trilogy of which you have heard so much. But probably not enough.

Yes, the protagonist is a teenaged girl. Yes, there are two teenaged boys who divide her affections and attentions. Yes, there is a movie adaptation of the first book coming next year.

But no, this ain’t another Twilight. Nothing like. Anyone who says that clearly has not read the books, and clearly knows nothing at all about the movie, which, from all accounts so far, appears to be hewing closely to the book.

I loved that the central figure of Suzanne Collins novels — the three books tell one big story; make sure you have all three on hand before you start reading — is a 15-year-old girl. (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone and X-Men: First Class will play her in the movie, and I can’t think of anyone better.) Because there aren’t enough stories about girls, for starters, of course. But also because Katniss Everdeen is complicated, prickly, and most definitely less than perfect. She has personality and individuality. She speaks her mind and lives life on her own terms. But she’s still plausibly adolescent: She’s unsure of herself and her place in the world. She doesn’t appreciate how others see her. And yes, of course she has relationships with boys. But they don’t define her, and they are not her primary motivating force.

Heh: not by a long shot.

The Hunger Games crosses a lot of genre boundaries: it is at once “chick lit” (damn, I hate that phrase), science fiction, and young adult fiction. And Katniss defies conventions across all of them. She’s so wonderfully refreshing because she’s a fantastic example of what feminism is always ranting about: that women should be treated as people, with a full range of goals and flaws and interests and impulses. No one is saying that women — whether in real life or in fiction — shouldn’t be interested in sex or babies or makeup or clothes, just that no one should pretend that those things are all that women are interested in.

Katniss has far bigger concerns than which boy she likes more, or likes her more. In her future world, America — and perhaps Canada — are no more, and have been replaced by Panem, in which a sort of pop fascism rules, and the Hunger Games come round every year to remind the twelve Districts that the Capitol is in control. Two teens from each District are chosen to compete in the Games, and Katniss volunteers when her little sister’s name is chosen. This is kosher, in Games rules: what matters is that the poor, hardworking Districts — Katniss’s mines coal; others farm or fish; all the work and all the resources benefit the Capitol — must sacrifice their children. Katniss’s partner in the games is Peeta, whom she knows but passingly, and doesn’t wish to get to know better, because if she is to win the Games, she will have to kill him eventually.

Even though Katniss and Peeta will be going up against “tributes” from other Districts, some of whom have been training their whole lives for this, she’s moderately confident: she’s an ace with a bow and arrow, thanks to her illegal hunting with her friend Gale. Peeta, a son of the local baker, doesn’t seem to have much to recommend him in the Games. But he has an ace up his sleeve that will play on the propaganda level of the Games, and which will confuse and infuriate Katniss endlessly.

Peeta’s gambit will also set in motion a chain of events that will change Panem forever, because of how Katniss manipulates them to her own purposes.

Oh, she’s clever, our Katniss, and you will love her and hate her for all she does, and for how it impacts those around her. There is revolution and a quest for freedom here, but neither comes easily, or without hurting some who don’t deserve it.

The manipulation of popular mood by television is a broad theme here. So is self-determination as a requirement of a rewarding life. (In that sense, it subtly says that feminism is humanism — hoorah!) But none of that is blatant or overt. This is, at its most basic level, just a plain and simple killer story. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up late into the night reading because I simply could not put the book down. Collins has crafted a masterful tale here, one in which every single damn chapter ends on a note that drags you on to the next, because you simply must know what happens now.

It makes for an exhausting read, but one that will stay with you, and one that you don’t want to end.

The Hunger Games
[Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

Catching Fire: Book 2
[Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

Mockingjay: Book 3
[Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

trilogy boxed set
[Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

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