The text: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The media: novel
The synopsis: In dystopian America, a tyrannical government sentences its surrounding districts to a yearly battle to the death, each district submitting one girl tribute and one boy. Only one can win, and Katniss Everdeen will be the underdog as she volunteers to take her sister’s place for the weakest district.
The lesson: Great storytelling ignites a passion for imagining, for believing in love and asking life’s big questions. [Some spoilers included in this post.]
From a reviewing standpoint, there are some technical things that this book got perfectly right. The blurbs stuck in my mind so much that they guided my own appreciation – Stephen King said he “couldn’t stop reading,” Stephenie Meyer said she was “obsessed with this book,” John King of the NYT Book Review called the pacing “perfect.” I share all of these views, and my love for this book will stay for a long time.
To me, The Hunger Games easily ranks alongside The Time Traveler’s Wife and the now over-praised writing of JK Rowling. I am always searching for voices like Suzanne Collins’, whose ease with words pairs effortlessly with the perfect embodiment of human feeling. The world she has created in this book, although often gruesome and harrowing, made me starry-eyed and dreamy for the humanity delicately encapsulated in it. I did not expect this book to rekindle my belief in love, but it did. (Briefly, maybe, given the ending.) But perhaps I’m just on a love-appreciation spree.
Collins executes a perfect balance of surprise with just the right measure of head-cocking “wait, can it be…?” moments as we flow through the story of Katniss, Peeta and their fight to the death with 22 other teenaged “tributes” in a dystopian reinvention of America. I began this book without many expectations, but found myself, like Stephen King, utterly unable to stop reading.
Unlike Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, which I recently finished, the characters in The Hunger Games feel real without trying to prove that they’re real. Katniss’ internal monologue feels completely unique, and I never doubted that it was really her narrating, whereas I already forget the name of Delirium’s heroine. Don’t get me wrong, the concept for Delirium was superb, the writing fine, but if it were a person and I were in a relationship with it, it might not last long because we are too different… In the heady spell cast upon me by The Hunger Games, I smelled the air, tasted the grittiness of the Games. I fell in love with Peeta, I willed Katniss to see that he loved her… and although the ending disappointed me, I am excited to see where the two of them go in the next part of the trilogy.
This novel deserves a place among other modern greats, not relegated to the Mary Sue-laden bookshelves of Young Adult fiction. Important questions skated across my consciousness while reading The Hunger Games, and I sensed that Collins respected the intellect of her readers enough to create subtle themes rather than opting for the blatant babying often characteristic of YA fiction.
For instance, what is the purpose of our lives if we are not spending most of our time on the hunt, providing for our families and struggling to survive? Why does the upper middle class content itself with flashiness and rich meals when life’s greatest triumphs are felt so much more keenly after hardship? Is hardship necessary then, for a fulfilling life? What happens when someone loves us and we aren’t sure if we can really love them back? What kind of world do we live in if cameras and other media all around us make us say things to please the crowd, or prevent us from saying what we really feel?
I so look forward to re-reading The Hunger Games in a few years, so I can enjoy it all over again. I will refuse to see the film version, because I already hold this story so dear to my heart and imagination. This is a book for all ages, for all hearts.
Photo via Scholastic Inc. on Flickr.