I spent Sunday afternoon making “freezer treets” with my good friend GW and watching the sappy 1990s romantic comedy “Notting Hill.” At some point in the conversation, GW (let’s call her GillyBean for the sake of this story) mentioned that she had taken up teaching responsibilities for a grade 8 (I think) homeroom and that they were discussing the young-adult novel “The Hunger Games” over the coming weeks. She gave me a quick synopsis of the book (which she had read over christmas break) and I expressed an interest in some light reading to get me through the dark days ahead (there are only so many times you can check your email, voicemail, mailbox etc. before depression and sleeplessness settle in. Anyways, that is the story of how I came to be in temporary possession of “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire,” it’s moderately less-known sequel.
Fueled by a sleepless night of grad school related anxiety and post-nasal drip related coughing, I powered through the first book in under 5 hours. Because wikipedia does an adequate job of summarizing the plot here and because there is a movie coming out later this year, I will leave talking about what happens in the book to the pros. Instead, I will briefly discuss why YOU might want to consider picking up the book (probably borrow it from a friend or the local library because 20-somethings and 30-somethings laying out the big bucks for young adult novels is not something I would necessarily advocate.
My major complaint about the novel is its incredibly under-developed “verse” and consequentially limited scope. The story is told through the eyes of the strangely named protagonist Katniss (embarassingly, I had to look that up) whose awareness of the other characters and of her own surroundings is painfully limited. We know little about how this particular post-appocalyptic America came into being and even less about why its inhabitants accept the status quo so unreservedly. No one seems particularly happy and I just don’t buy the overbearing message that brutality, shallowness, and an annual kiddy death-match are sufficient to enslave what remains of the world’s population. That being said, I am reading this from the perspective of a voracious reader of epic fantasy and it is absolutely unfair to compare this world with the panoramic masterpieces created by such authors as Guy Gavriel Kay (Tigana in particular) or David Gemmel. Still, I worry about books for teens/tweens that bludgeon the reader with a capital-M Message and an exciting rotation of sexuality and violence but that ultimately feel one-dimensional. Why do I feel like I am talking about another well-known book series…
I really don’t want to be too hard on the book (after all, it is much easier to be a critic than a novelist) so I will finish my “critique” with this: it is no Neverending Story (note: no, not the terrible movie which led Michael Ende to sue the Hollywood directors… the book, people. THE BOOK!). And yes, I do think more novels should be like the Neverending Story… something you can disapear into.
Anyways, back on track with my review. There were certainly things I liked about the book. The main character, though shortsighted and often selfish beyond reason, has more spunk than female characters in comprable novels (note: I have not actually read the “other book you may be thinking of at this time” but I have seen all of the movies which I am convinced have set back the cause of feminism by at least 50 years). Katniss is at least willing to fight for her survival (although I have mixed feelings about the Jonestown-esque communal suicide moment near the end). Also, she shoots a bow which reminds me of the many hours I spent with my big brother, gallavanting around in the BC Rainforrest, shooting sticks at trees with homemade “bows” and thinking ourselves great heroes. Good The main male character spends most of the book drooling over Katniss and the rest of it being stabbed or painting himself to look like a mud puddle so I don’t really have a lot to say about him. Having seen the movie trailer, I will say that he (Peeta) looks like a terrible casting decision (somehow I just pictured him as older…).
Okay. It occurs to me at this point that I am having trouble saying nice things about the book. And truth be told, I have seen what die-hard readers can do to a critic so I am going to follow mama’s advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Instead, there is this: if “The Hunger Games” has attracted one more child or teen or adult into the amazing world of books… I am willing to set aside my reservations and praise it highly. In addition to drawing in readers, the book also did a great job of taking my mind off the graduate school admissions process for a few hours. BRAVO!
So in the end, if you are looking for a book to while away a few hours with, to distract you from the crushing pressures of school or work or obligations, to ease your transition from waking to sleep… “The Hunger Games” will do the trick.