I have to start this review with a bit of a confession. I had placed this book on my ‘not-to-be-read-under-any-circumstances’ list because I thought it was yet another vampire book. I am not really a fan of the whole vampire genre. See, when I was a teen, vampires were, well…scary. They could be seductive, but only as a means to lure you in so they could kill you. Vampires were not true romantic interests. They were deadly. To be feared and vanquished. preferably with a swift, sharp stake in the heart followed immediately by decapitation.
The reason Buffy the Vampire Slayer was terrific (the movie, not the series) was because she killed vampires. But this is also the point at which vampires started becoming romanticized.
No wait, I’m wrong…Bram Stoker beat Buffy to it about a century earlier. But even he had the sense to have his heroin’s love for the Dracula cure him of his vampirism before his death and thus allow him to attain salvation. Buffy’s edge, she was funnier, cooler, and had a keener fashion sense while kicking butt.
Since the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I have done my level best to avoid all vampire movies. Well, except for that one time my sister tricked me into watching Dusk Til Dawn, which she promised me was definitely not a vampire movie. I believed her. Then they get to the bar and some woman was dancing on a table. That’s when my sister says to me, “Oh by the way, I lied. This is a vampire movie.” It was horrible.
Then Twilight happened. And Edward happened. Suddenly, vampires are boyfriends. I did read the Twilight series and see all of the movies. I thought the Twilight series was OK, but I really still have a hard time thinking of Edward as an appropriate boyfriend. And Bella wanting to become a vampire? Um, no.
A couple of weeks ago my teenage step-niece forced me to watch the trailer for the movie The Hunger Games at the same time letting me know she absolutely had to see this movie and would I please, please, please take her to see it if her parents wouldn’t. Yeah, I’m that kind of aunt.
So, I rolled my eyes and prepared myself and watched the trailer. When it was over, I was confused. I said, “I thought this was about Vampires.”
Of course she looked at me like I was nuts and responded, “Duh, no, why would you think that?”
Well, because in my crazy adult mind, I was thinking Hunger = Hunger for Blood = Vampires. Silly me.
Knowing that The Hunger Games had nothing to do with vampires increased by a factor of ten at least the likelihood I would read the book and see the movie. So, I had her play the trailer again and I decided I needed to investigate this book further. Yes, of course I wanted to see the movie. And since I have already established the “read the book before you see the movie” rule, I read the book. Saturday, in fact. I finished the second book yesterday and already have th third one on my kindle app.
I loved it. I read the first two in one day each, which says a lot. I love reading. I consider myself and avid reader. I am just a slow reader, so I do not put myself into the category of voracious reader. For me to read a book in one day is a pretty big deal.
The story was riveting enough to hold my attention and make me ignore all the shiny things the world has to offer, (TV, video games, the internet, etc) The characters were believable and sympathetic. The plot was creative and original. The conclusion was difficult to sum up in one or two words. Suzanne Collins masterfully gives you the ending you want, but still leaves you feeling that everything is still all wrong. Kind of like in Stephen King’s the Stand. The climax of the book has the “good” people destroying all of the “evil” people. Yet at the end of the book, the citizens of the new society start locking their doors and distrusting one another.
********Warning! Spoiler Alert********
I am not going to give a summary of the book’s plot. Many other sites do a much better, more succinct job than I could. I want to talk about a couple of themes that spoke to me in the book. This may have the effect of giving away some of the plot, so if you haven’t read the book or just want to see the movie, stop reading now.
The book is so much more than a young adult novel. This book is a solid work of social commentary. It is about as much a young adult novel as Lord of the Flies, The Crucible, and Animal Farm, which I read in 8th, 9th and 10th grade. This only increases my respect for this book. I do not know that the author meant it as social commentary, but it is. The book critiques our obsession with reality TV, living in a war-like society, the control imposed by a dictatorial government, class warfare, and fear.
The Capitol city of Panem controls its citizens several ways, not the least of which is the Hunger Games themselves. Travel is not permitted between districts, so residents never have a chance to get to know anything about their fellow countrymen. The only thing they know about the people in the other districts is what service they provide. District 12, Katniss Everdeen’s district, is known for coal mining. Katniss’s ally Rue is from district 11, which produces fruits. The only way anyone ever gets to know people from other areas of the country is during the Hunger Games, where the children of each district meet and then prepare to kill one another. The only thing anyone ever really learns about other districts is what the region produces. They know little about he people or how the districts’ local governments are administered. This keeps the citizens divided, unable to organize an effective revolt, distrustful of each other, and fearful.
Class and economic disparity are a constant theme throughout the books. Katniss Everdeen comes from the poorest neighborhood (the Seam) from the poorest of the twelve districts and lives in constant fear of death either by starvation or illness. Katniss talks a lot in the book about how other people in her district have more than the people in the Seam as well as how much more the citizens from the richer districts have. But that all changes when she gets to the capitol city and sees where the real wealth lies. Through the games and her experiences int he capitol, we learn that all of the districts are under the thumb of the capitol city. She learns of the real economic hardships of those she thinks have so much more than her. The family of her friend Peeta for example, own a bakery. She assumes they are much more well-fed than the people from the Seam. But Peeta let’s her know that even they cannot eat most of the bread and pastries they make. From Rue, she learns that the people in her district are not allowed to eat the fruit they pick. All of the districts exist to supply goods to support the lavish lifestyles of the Capitol.
Reality TV and War as Theatre:
Seems beyond belief that anyone would accept sending kids to fight and die every year in a reality tv show that everyone is forced to watch and cheer for. Almost unreal that any society would be so masochistic and cruel. Then I think of all of the reality shows that we watch. We watch people destroy each other emotionally. A chance at a modeling career, music contract to live with a group of people they don’t know or care about for eight weeks. They eat disgusting food, live in unbearable conditions, form alliances, betray one another, and ruthlessly fight over money. This is our entertainment. That doesn’t even include what we watched at the height of the past two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I clearly remember at the beginning of the Iraq war, the war was on 24/7. Huge bombs and explosions went off day and night and the news was happy to report every moment of it. At least Panem asked for new children each year. Some of the military personnel serving have been re-deployed so many times they have been fighting in war for about a decade. In the books, Katniss really breaks down from her experience in the arena. It changes her and makes her a different person with a vastly different view of the world. In a way, part of her will never leave the Hunger Games. I cannot imagine her experience let alone being a young person in my late 20s or early 30s deployed to war zones for a third of my life.
Rage Against the Machine:
One word, defiance. What teenager doesn’t relish being defiant. Katniss is a strong, defiant young woman. At first she does not know this herself, but it is apparent in every part of her being. She refused to starve and flouted the rules of District 12 to survive. She escapes beyond the fence every day to hunt, fish, and gather food for her family. She will not let her sister participate in the Hunger Games and volunteers to take her place. When Rue is killed, she openly mourns the loss on TV instead of celebrating the death of an opponent. In her farewell salute to Rue she openly thumbs her nose to the powers that be. Most importantly, she refused to let the Game Keepers have their way at the end of the first book when she and her friend Peeta, the last two survivors threaten suicide rather than fight each other.
Love and the Courage to Hope:
Katniss’s actions come from a place of courage and love as much as it does from being defiant. Everything from Katniss does, from hunting to standing in for her sister, shows this. She helps Peeta because of the love of the people in his district, if not for Peeta himself. Peeta did declare his love for Katniss just before the games started. She was never sure if he was being truthful or if it was all a ploy for the cameras. She was convinced he meant to kill her in the end. But through the course of the games they fight for each other to save one another. She played up the romance, even though she was never sure if it was a true romance, to help them both live. In the end, their pact to eat poisonous berries to deny the Capitol their champion, paid off and they were both declared winners.
Like I said, the book has the ending you want. You cheer the main characters on. You want both Katniss and Peeta to win. It breaks your heart to think that Katniss and Peeta might have to fight each other to the death. Both of them survive, but you’re still left feeling sullied for having even participated.
I’m currently reading the third book and I’m going to see the movie tonight. I promise a full review of the movie this weekend.
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