“Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Okay, let me start off by saying I love this book.( And the movie. But I’m going to focus on the book for now.) And honestly I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do. I mean, it’s a young adult book and I haven’t gotten that excited about them since I was a young adult. Maybe a bit before, I’ve always been a bit ahead of the curve with reading. But this is honestly a really good book; the writing is good, the characters are well realized and realistic, their reactions are honest and not overly-perfect or overly-emotional, the world they’re in is very, very interesting and I totally buy it. The Capitol reminds me a bit of ancient Rome, an impression reinforced in the second book but I’m not talking about that now.

Honestly, this book doesn’t seem like it’s a young adult book, not really. It’s talking about very serious political and social problems, it discusses young men and women being forced to fight to the death year after year and in no way candy coats it. I mean this is kinda heavy duty stuff, not generally the kind of thing you get in the same section as “The Baby- Sitter’s Club.” And the writing is way better than I remember from books back in the day. I would totally buy this as an adult novel with just younger characters.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to tell you that the book is clearly setting up a love triangle, which is usually really, really high on my list of Things That Annoy the Crap Out of Me but I find myself so far tolerant of it. Possibly because most of the book takes place in the arena so we don’t get to see that much of it, outside of Katniss wondering how Gale will feel when he sees her pretending to be madly in love with Peeta. This may change later in the trilogy, I will let you know.

I do feel for Katniss though, and I have placed her on my list of Heroines I Love, which is not an actual list so much as a mental post- it but still. She is awesome. She single-handedly saved her family from starvation at age eleven, a time when I assure you I would not have been capable of such a thing, and then she saved her sister from certain death by volunteering in her place. When she did this, she truly didn’t think she would make it, she just wanted to save her sister which makes it all the nobler. Then, she manages to save not just herself but Peeta in the arena, carrying off remarkable feats of badassness in the meantime. She is a true badass, not something you often see in a novel. I am incredibly fond of her. I especially love how Suzanne Collins gave her that emotional honesty when it came to her love interests. With Gale, this is her best friend, one of the people she’s closest to in all the world. And it’s obvious that they were heading to it being more eventually. They’ve been there for each other, day in, day out, for years. They’ve been able to rely on each other when they couldn’t rely on anyone else.  With Peeta, she has had a connection with him for a long, long time, I mean he saved her and her family’s lives all those years ago, and I think she really would have liked him all by herself in any other circumstance but with the situation they were in, having to act it up for the cameras, being in the emotionally charged place they were in, made it very confusing. Of course she was confused, of course she had no idea what was real and what wasn’t. And I love that she let Katniss have that confusion, that she didn’t force her one way or the other. That she just presented it and Katniss’ emotional turmoil on the way home and just let it be. I greatly admire that in an author. So many feel the need to bind it, push it one way or the other or explain it over and over, eventually turning it into something other than what it so clearly was, that when an author is honest enough with themselves and their audience and enough in tune with their character to just let it be, it’s nothing short of amazing.

I am a little confused by the way the Capitol’s culture seems to revolve around the games though. Because once a year they have this big, overblown event of teenagers killing each other for days or weeks, and then apparently there’s a Victory Tour, and tours of old arenas with stops at each of the deaths and all that that citizens can take. I mean, I get it, it’s supposed to be both like the old gladiator arenas and reality tv, mixed in with a little old fashioned cultural revenge on the districts. But seriously, nothing else happens in their culture? No football games? No other holidays? Nothing? This is the main form of entertainment for how many people? Did the dramatic arts die out when whatever happened that led to Panem being created, happened?

Although, speaking of which, kudos for that behemoth of a dystopic, totalitarian society. Seriously, it’s like a combination of Big Brother and “Brave New World”, which I haven’t read but I understand is about a government that controls it’s people by constantly supplying them with meaningless, trivial distractions while they get on with ruling with an iron fist. So good job, properly chilling.

As for the movie, I saw it twice in two days, if that tells you anything. Really, really good. Although that shouldn’t be surprising since the screenplay was cowritten (or helped with or whatever) by Suzanne Colins and the guy who directed cowrote the script. So there were no problems with the movie seriously diverging from the book. It was awesome how they did.. well, pretty much all of it, but especially the killings. It would be so easy to just show it, and by this point in movies, it would just be white noise. We’re so used to people killing and being killed on screen that I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be presented with enough horror. I mean, these are children killing children for the entertainment of others. But the way they did it, with all other noise blocked out except for something that sounds like a ringing in the ears, made it seem very stark and I could hear everyone around me reacting very strongly. A couple things are fudged or cut altogether but I don’t feel like it was a loss.

Also, my favorite part in the book is still kind of my favorite part of the movie: the part where she blows up the food? Awesome. That, almost singlehandedly, won the Games for her and Peeta, even before she saw him again. Although the part with the tracker jackers is also completely badass, and they totally carried that across.

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