Monday, June 21, 2010

Teenagers and Voyeurism

This will be my review on "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:
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 other districts in line by forcing them to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death on live TV. One boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen are selected by lottery to play. The winner brings riches and favor to his or her district. But that is nothing compared to what the Capitol wins: one more year of fearful compliance with its rule.
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 impoverished district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Acclaimed writer Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles, delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this stunning novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.

It is a YA. But it is the most comprehensive, complex YA I have ever read - And I have read a lot of YA. It has deep themes and allegories to our own present media-obsessed culture, and the characters not only develop but they cease to become characters and morph into people. It is an amazing book and I truly think it ought to be on mandatory reading lists for teenagers in highschool henceforth.

Here are some websites to check out if you're interested:

MockingJay.Net - in general, a forum and blog full of information and pictures and such on this trilogy. I like it a lot, though it takes all my concentrated effort not to click on the spoilers ...

A Game (kind of weird, but meh - whatever makes money?)

The plot is as outlined - in a dystopian future, there are 13 (technically 12, since the 13th got smashed to smithereens) and a Capitol. Due to a rebellion many years before the book is set, the districts are forced to participate in this tribute game - the Hunger Games - in order to appease the voyearistic Capitol, and you know, to get things like food and such. The winner of the Hunger Games gets made for life - the losers, well they die.

And that's beauty of it - the realness of it that is so unreal to the reader. Who can imagine a culture that avidly watches teenagers fight to the death? And yet it is so well done, every word in exactly the right place that you don't realize it is basically "Death Race 2000" in a literary form. It is a critique on the way we entertain ourselves, the blood and the gore we want to see - what intrigues us and pulls us in. It is, in short - a reminder of why I hate reality tv.

It is more then that, of course - the prose is excellent, the characters are so well developed they all but leap off the page and smash you in the face. And it is such a heartbreaking story - no punches are pulled. People die - young people die, and other young people kill them. There is no reprieve. And even the reprieve that one character is given is not a reprieve at all - since living when other have died, being the catalyst of so much death and having seen such terrors up close - living becomes its own cruel curse.

Peeta is amazing. No, really - read this book and you will suddenly have a bookcrush on Peeta. You really will. He is just so tragic and so damned steadfast, he reminds me of the steadfast tin soldier - he knows the truth, somewhere deep inside, he knows the truth. And yet, he stands there, through all weathers and manners of cruelty to protect that thing which he loves.

He is amazing.

Katniss is also amazing, though in a different way. She's practical and stubborn and such a rational narrator that it emphasizes the insanity around her. The pain and death all around her is only heightened when she talks about it, even though she does it in a way that is cool and collected, rarely breaking this form. She is a strong female character - which I love - and she has deep flaws, which makes her even better. She is intensely loyal - to her mother, her little sister, her best friend and hunting partner, Gale - but she is also very suspicious. And her relationships with other characters throughout the book display the truly tragic parts of this future society.

Her and Gale, for example. Theirs is a relationship that is complicated and yet, refreshingly simple - he likes her, she doesn't notice this. At least, she doesn't give any real indication that she notices it. But there exists a tension between them that goes beyond just friends, but seems too charged to be brother/sisterly. Instead, the reader is left trying to figure out if Gale loves her like a girlfriend - and if she wants to love him that way, too.

Katniss' first love is likely her little sister. And it is a very interesting relationship that transcends sisterly and borders on Motherly. She takes care of her sister in a way that exceeds normal older sister duties, and she delights in her sister's triumphs and strives to make her happy, like a daughter. And it is so tragic because her sister is so young, and is the girl picked as tribute, even though Katniss has fought tooth and nail to get her exempted as much as possible, her last line of defense is rather to go in her sister's place, resigned to her own death.

And that is another interesting feature of this book - the comparison, through Katniss' narration, between her and Peeta and the other tributes from the less well funded districts, and those from the first four districts that are better funded and relish the opportunity to kill each other for the glory of their homelands. Where Katniss and Peeta and a few of the others shrink away from interviews and the glitz of the games, the nicknamed Careers (as in, it is their career to train for this) rush forward, confident in their own superiority. The play between the Careers and everyone else is ingenious - it humanizes them in a way that would otherwise be impossible, though it is a humanization that sneaks up on you. When one fo the Career girls dies from big bites and begins to puss and such, she attains a humanity she would have otherwise been denied. The same is true of Foxface, the non career but also non character really. She never gets a name. But when the Reader realizes she's always been there, just on the periphery, stealing food and watching the others - she had opportunity to kill them, but she didn't - it's a humanization that hits you long after the character is dead and gone.

It is a great edition to the social criticism on voyeuristic tendencies in our society - it is rich in detail and anxiety and it hits all the right spots. It is, essentially a Young Adult that is so much more then a young adult book - it is a thinking book. And this is what I hope to write, so it strikes me as even more important.

So, go pick up this book - it is a 10 - a perfect, rich, amazing 10.

If you like it (and you will) - here are some other interesting takes on the genre:

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood
Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead Tossed Waves

Max Brooks, World War Z

David Wellington, Monster Island, Monster Nation and Monster Planet

And the Movies:
Diary of the Dead
The Condemned Death Race 2000 and to a lesser extent, its remake Death Race

And the new show, Unknown Persons

Anyways, go pick it up - I need to go get the second book, Catching Fire! So excited! :D


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