Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Hunger Games trilogy: Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Until a few days ago, it never occurred to me to add the Hunger Games trilogy to the blog because it's hard to believe that anyone who would be interested in this series hasn't already read it. I remember that my (now 19 year old) niece poured through the novels the moment they each came out. She convinced my very busy brother and sister-in-law to read the books (miracle!) and they all spent a summer visiting with us and convincing me that I had to dive into them.

I spent last night watching the second movie,  Catching Fire, and I knew that I would need to discuss the trilogy today.

I love these novels. Specifically, I love the first two books: Hunger Games and Catching Fire. In case you have been living under a rock or leading a life more interesting than the average person, a quick, completely limited recap of the plot:

The story revolves around the series' rebel heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, formerly known as North America. In Panem, the Hunger Games are an annual event in which young boys and girls fight to the death in a televised battle.
If you've read them, you know that this is a severely limited synopsis of the actual works. Specifically, Katniss is one of the best young heroines in YA (young adult) fiction today. Intelligent, resourceful and wounded by the early death of her father, she seems singularly motivated by love.  But her love is gruff and quiet and hidden under layers of need to protect herself and the people she loves. I especially appreciated Katniss' near rejection of any type of romantic connection due to the fact that her life and the lives of her family are constantly in peril. The relationships in these books are both the central motivators and quietly in the background against the realities of war (or lack of reality of war for those not participating but watching on TV).

Collins is an army brat and she was formed by her father's discussion of the reality of war and their family tours of battlegrounds (can I get an Amen from my brothers?). She says that her inspiration for the Hunger Game series came after watching both reality shows and how similarly the coverage of the Iraq war seemed to them. I think that Collins' own feelings are very clear in the third novel, Mockingjay. This was my least favorite of the books but mainly because I felt that two tightly written thrillers almost faded into a political treatise. To be fair, I read a lot of these series one after the other with little time in between. Authors necessarily need to repeat details in one novel to another so that new readers (or those who have waited a year or more) will be "up to speed." The detail didn't bother me as much as the overall feeling that Collins was bringing down a heavy-handed message (even if I totally agree with the message).

**Spoiler alert ** In the third novel there are no more Hunger Games, there is simply war and the very real consequences of war. **Double spoiler alert for Divergent not as many real consequences as in Allegiant.

Should you read the Hunger Games? Is anyone really asking that? Should your teen or pre-teen read them? (assuming they haven't). Well…there is very little sex. I don't think there is any really (if that matters). There is an unimaginable amount of teen violence in all three books. The third novel hasn't been a favorite of any of the teens or YAs I know. Similarly to the Divergent series (but to a lesser degree), there are emotional but realistic casualties in the series.

My guess is that most pre-teens will see the movies. The second was better than the first in my limited (but happy) opinion. The last novel will be split into two movies (out in Nov. 2014 and then 2015).

If your child does read the books, they would make a great jumping point for a discussion of war and the consequences of war. Also, the political make-up of the US (and North America in general). It's fun to try and figure out who lives where after the separation into Districts. I found the choices of who lives where a little racist while watching the movies and I would love to hear what other readers think.

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