More novels should have manga covers.
I'm a little scared of books with huge followings. It's probably why it took me so long to read Harry Potter. But I wanted something I could get addicted to and barrel through quickly. Enter The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
The first novel in the series, The Hunger Games, is a real gem. Not based on an original idea by any means, but the plot was carried out successfully. The story is set in the dystopian future of North America, where the citizens of 12 districts are enslaved by a hedonistic, totalitarian city called the Capitol. To assert their control over the districts and warn against rebellion, the Capitol selects 2 children from each district to be thrown into an arena where they are pitted against each other in a fight to the death. The last one standing is the winner. And the entire bloodbath is televised for the entertainment of the Capitol.
It's not that new of a concept. The first thing that came to mind while reading was the Japanese film Battle Royale. The film, and the novel it was based on, is about an alternate universe totalitarian Japan, where a class of high school students are selected every year to compete to the death on an island arena. The entire thing is televised to showcase the power of the totalitarian regime and suppress rebellion. Sound familiar? And the similarities do not end there. Just google Battle Royale and Hunger Games, but be prepared for spoilers. But check out the film. It's really worthwhile.
I also thought of that time Kirk fought with Spock, but I digress.
Really my only complaint with the first novel is that since it was written in first person, in the POV of the heroine, it was fairly obvious that she would win the games. Really don't think I'm spoiling anything there. Read the back cover and the first sentence and you know what will happen.
The follow up books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, however, seemed unnecessary. Because as would be expected, a rebellion IS started, and it plays out over the rest of the trilogy. But it was kind of like watching The Matrix, then slogging through the two horrible sequel movies. Seeing the initial spark of rebellion -- something insular and focused -- is so much more effective (and interesting for some reason) than being suddenly thrown out into the rebellion actually happening.
The latter novels also become completely dominated by a distracting romantic side-plot; an angsty teenage love triangle that made me think I had stumbled into something starring Robert Pattinson. (The film adaptation for The Hunger Games is in production, so be on the lookout for "Team Peeta" and "Team Gale" t-shirts.)
But my biggest complaint is that the series just doesn't live up to its potential for discussing the allegorical themes it presents. Communism vs. fascism vs. democracy, killing for self-preservation, the moral dilemma behind nuclear weaponry and targeting civilians during warfare, the whole panem et circenses theme behind the Capitol...all these things are suggested, but not really discussed in full.
In a really worthwhile piece in The New Yorker, Laura Miller points out that most adult dystopian novels end in tragedy, as a way of showcasing that there's no hope; that the only solution is to change things NOW, rather than be optimistic for change in the future. However, dystopian literature written for a YA audience tends to be less pessimistic and didactic:
Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that's routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It's not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening -- it's about what's happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.
Maybe that's why I had such a hard time connecting with the last two novels. I lack an adolescent brain (one could argue) or a "stormy psyche."
Regardless, it's a decent YA series with a strong female lead (despite the whole cliche love triangle thing). It's dystopian, so it has something to say (said, but not necessarily discussed). And it's absolutely addictive. I don't remember anything like this being around when I was a teenage reader. I had to deal with Anne of Green Gables. Don't get me wrong, I loved Anne. But Anne of the Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland would've been SO much more fun. I'm glad YA writing/reading has become so viral as of late. Finally middle and high school libraries are getting a workout.
Looks like Jennifer Lawrence has been cast to play Katniss in the upcoming film adaptation. Which is hilarious, since that's exactly who I pictured the entire time while reading the books. Despite the fact that the character is described as having dark hair and an olive complexion. Anyone who has doubts should watch Winter's Bone. SHE'S PERFECT.
Now let's see if Jeff "The Dude" Bridges signs on as Haymitch.
Or possibly Gadhafi as President Snow, who recently said this: "I have all the Libyan people with me and I'm prepared to die. And they are prepared to die for me. Men, women and even children."
Why is always the insane people who get to rule the world?