Monday, August 30, 2010

The Hunger Games Trilogy: Books on Fire!

Into the void left when J.K. Rowling concluded her Harry Potter series has emerged an amazing new series that sadly, has now too concluded with the third installment, which was released just this month. I’m speaking, of course, about Suzanne Collins young adult themed Hunger Games series which begins with The Hunger Games, continues with Catching Fire and concludes with Mockingjay.

As I did with the Harry Potter novels, I allowed others to test drive the series before I chose to involve myself and as the hype regarding the final installment intensified, I found myself unable to resist the lure and I’m very happy for that particular weakness. The Hunger Games Trilogy was simply amazing.

The books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen who lives in the post-apocalyptic remnants of the United States called Panem. The country is divided up into 12 poverty-stricken districts and controlled under the tight fist of the extravagant Capitol. Each year, as a remind of the Capitol’s absolute control and as punishment for the rebellion of the now-destroyed 13th District many years ago, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen in The Reaping from every district and those reaped are placed into a wilderness arena where they must either kill or be killed until at last, only one remains.

The Hunger Games are televised and mandatory viewing for the people in each district and they must watch as the slaughter goes on. When Katniss’ sister is chosen, knowing that she could never survive the games, Katniss chooses to volunteer herself in her place.

To say more would to be to ruin the fun for those of you who haven’t yet read this series, but rest assured that while the first book deals almost exclusively with the games, the second two take on a much deeper and more political and allegorical theme. The stories are so well written and the suspension of disbelief so aptly achieved that many in the young adult target audience will likely miss many of the political messages in this series, but those who know their history will surely see a clearly defined anti-big government, anti-socialist, anti-big brother stance taken by the author.

At one point, she seemingly takes aim at our lives here in the U.S. today when she has one character relate to another the latin phrase, “panem et circenses” or “bread and circuses” and goes on to teach her that if you keep people’s belly’s full of bread and entertain them, they will take no interest in government and therefore corruption can take hold.

The characters are rich and enigmatic. This is not just a lesson on politics and history, in fact it’s much more an adventure and a love story. It offers the kind of fast paced action that the video game era kids need to keep them occupied and it is tempered with a dramatic love triangle that will have you picking sides like it’s a Burger King commercial.

And that is, perhaps, the The Hunger Games Trilogy’s most amazing asset, it is everything that the other heir apparent to the Harry Potter throne is not. At no point, while reading The Hunger Games, will you feel like you’re in the hands of an amateur writer as you most certainly must when reading Twilight. While people either seem to love or hate Stephanie Meyer’s series, The Hunger Games delivers in such a way that it clearly triumphs over Twilight. It offers substance, it’s amazingly well written, fast paced, thought provoking and poignant. It is everything that Twilight is not. Meyer gives you sparkly vampires, Collins counters with a girl on fire.

This is a series of unassuming heroes who rise to challenges they should never have to face. It is a series of truly evil villains—some who are easily recognizable and some who are hiding in plain sight. It is a lesson about what happens when a people becomes disinterested in their government. It is a testament to man’s inhumanity toward man. It borrows themes from sources as old as ancient Greece and as contemporary as today’s latest headlines.

My only complaint is the context in which many of the young adults, who are the target audience for these books, have with which to understand the themes. The book speaks out against socialism and paints a picture of a socialist state similar to the former Soviet Union, however these kids are bombarded with the term socialism at every turn in today’s media and the opportunity to misunderstand Collins’ thoughts and ideas are rampant. Considering the great lengths at which she went to take shots at the media and the propaganda they spew, I don’t believe she purposefully left out that proper context, but it’s omission is sad in that will allow some to use her books for purposes which I do not believe she meant them.

Simply put, to miss out on this series would be a mistake. You could wait for the movies, which will be coming out over the next few years, but I’m afraid you’d miss the rich tapestry, underlying themes and be left with only the action and romance if you do. Pick them up. Read them. You won’t regret it.


Poetrix said...

My 12 year old son brought the first book home last year and I had to read it when he was sad over the death of one of the Hunger Games' victims. We both love the series: we're reading the second book to each other now. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you mention, and it stands as a very interesting contrast to what you say in your most recent SBR article about marketing: I wish this series were receiving the same hype that Harry Potter and other, less-deserving works have.

Great review, sir. :) Write more, dammit!

Eric Larson said...

Are you dumb? This is clearly anti-capitalist.