Did The Hunger Games leave you starving for more? Did it leave you with a stomach ache? Either way, Suzanne Collins seems to satiate everyone that partakes of her three-course meal. (Alright, I think I’ll snuff out my food puns now!)
So far, everyone I have recommended The Hunger Games trilogy to has finished the entire series in about two weeks or less — including people who claim to not enjoy fiction. Needless to say, I enjoy them. Would I read them again? Perhaps! Which, considering my stance on rereading books, is saying something. And no, I did NOT reread it for book club, even though it was selected.
The Hunger Games is set in post-apocalyptic North America (Panem) some time in the future. What remains of the continent (after rising sea levels – I presume from the melting of the polar ice caps) has been divided into districts, each responsible for the production of different resources. District 1 produces luxury items, District 2 masonry, District 3 fishing….(the list goes on) All of the districts are ruled by a Capitol District. Our story follows Katniss, one of several strong female protagonists I’ll cover over the course of this blog, as she struggles to sustain her family in the poorest of places: District 12 (coal mining). Katniss is probably top three of my favorite protagonists out of the trilogies that I’ll be examining. She usually has her wits about her, and (almost always) knows exactly what needs to be done. She exhibits certain character traits that I believe readers can look up to and aspire to be. (That is NOT to say that kids should aspire to be a killers!) Her strength, faith and selflessness really stand out in contrast to some of the other characters within the series.
Each year, to prevent another uprising (which apparently caused society to collapse during the apocalypse) the Capitol District requires that every district select one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games, essentially, is a fight to the death between the children (called Tributes) and the last one standing returns home to their district as a Victor to live the rest of their life in… well, better conditions than before.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s all televised?
Yes, reality TV totally consumes our lives in the future and turns us into shallow, bloodthirsty fools. Tributes become celebrities in a similar fashion to the contestants we see on American Idol. (Maybe that’s the bit that hooks in all the readers.)
So conceptually, I love the idea. The story was one I had not encountered before, so of course, I found it interesting I thought the writing style was worth noting — being in the present tense — and it was one of the first things about the book I really enjoyed. A few of the characters are developed, but many are introduced with glances into their interesting back-stories, and never developed from there, which leads me to say this: I love its potential.
Catching Fire, the second book, was absolutely my favorite. I felt like it had enough of a twist to keep the book interesting, and the ending was suspenseful enough to pick up and read the third book immediately. Mockingjay felt a bit boring to me. I felt like much of the book could have been edited down and the focus could have been shifted a bit to make it more stimulating. Coming off of the thrill of Catching Fire – like driving 80mph on the highway – reading Mockingjay was like reaching the tollbooth plaza and realizing you don’t have an EZPass and have to sit in an hour of traffic to get through to what you think is more open road until you realize you get off at the next exit. Again: I love its potential.
Sometimes when I read a book or series, once I understand the world, I find myself really falling in love with what this new ‘universe’ has to offer. Sometimes I feel like I’m more in love with the potential the book/series has rather than what is written on the page, which I think can skew my perspective a bit. Perhaps that’s what I get for reading The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
So when you examine this new genre and ask yourself “Why is this so popular? Why is everyone going cuckoo-pants crazy over this?” I would probably say something along the lines of “It gives people confidence.”
What does that mean? Well, kids today have a lot coming at them. Pressures from school, issues with their families, inner struggles… Funny how quickly we as adults tend to forget what it really is like to be a kid again. I’m not talking about remembering what it’s like to not have to pay bills or drive or have responsibilities. I’m talking about hating going in to that one classroom because you think the teacher is a creeper. Or lunch when you are faced with the almost insurmountable task of figuring out who to sit with, or if anyone will sit with you. Or walking the school yard and flinching when someone throws a football because you think it’s being aimed at your face.
In school, everyone is in constant competition: grades, hair, clothes, friends, gadgets. So when a young adult picks up one of these books and realizes that it’s about this desperate struggle, they immediately feel like they can relate to the characters and the story. They’re comfortable because it feels like they can confide in the book. They project themselves into the story (and we all do this to some degree). They give it to their friends to read, who (usually) feel the same, and the pop-craze begins to spread.
Think about the Harry Potter craze. Harry was essentially a reject that was finally accepted into this wonderful and exclusive society – and he was special. Please point out a rejected or marginalized kid that doesn’t wish they could fit in and be special. Can you? Think about the hoards of people who read that series — that still read that series — and tell me that not a single one of them has felt rejection in their life. You can’t because everyone experiences rejection, whether it’s because they were dumped by a boyfriend/girlfriend or got a bad report card or, hey, what about when you ask your parents “Can I have some candy?” and they say “No”: rejection.
Have you ever said to someone “Oh So-and-so, you HAVE to read this book! It’s wonderful!”? Then they read it and they don’t like it. How do we react? We usually defend it, pointing out the reasons why we liked the book. I believe we do this because the book exposes and makes us aware of our insecurities, which in turn makes us vulnerable. It’s only natural to protect yourself when you feel vulnerable.
As adults I feel like there’s always going to be a part of us that wishes we were young again, and I think that reading young adult literature is one of the few ways we feel like we can remember what it was like to feel that vulnerability again. I think part of the reason we reread books is because we feel like we want to reconnect with that part of our self that was unearthed by reading that book and the emotions we felt. We feel connected because we feel like we’ve been exposed. I think that is a beautiful and very human thing.
That’s a bit of insight into why I’ve only reread one book — but more on that in the future.
I’m Team Peeta.
I think Katniss was feeling pressure from both Peeta and Gale to choose one or the other, but if Katniss had never felt those feelings for Gale in the first place, I don’t think there’s much room for them to fit in now. I think Gale fulfilled a patriarchal void that Katniss was feeling from losing her father and he ended up being more of a big-brother/care-taker figure than a clandestine love interest. As far as I’m concerned, that was where a of her struggle with her feelings for Gale stemmed from.