I'm beginning to have a little more hope in humanity. After making both The Millennium Trilogy and The Hunger Games series something of a word-of-mouth phenomenon, it seems that perhaps more people actually like GOOD books than I had initially given credit to the masses for. I'm sure there are things that other people will find to complain about with this first installment, "The Hunger Games" but I can't help but feeling that those comments will just be an attempt at a backlash and they should go away fairly quickly or be dismissed altogether. What "The Hunger Games" is, is a page-turner. A wholly absorbing, turn off your cell phone, cancel your plans page-turner, where the only thing that matters for the next five hours is figuring out just what will happen to our heroine, Katniss Everdeen.
First and foremost, congratulations to Suzanne Collins for creating, what I consider, one of the best fictional heroines in a very long, long time. To me, Katniss is on par with Lizzie Bennett and Jo March, (well at least if humanity's evolution were taken into account) with a dash of Ellen Ripley thrown in. I also congratulate Ms. Collins for creating one of those fantastic names that fans of the series can't wait to name their children. In fact, I would suggest preparing the Census Bureau that in about 5 years, the name Katniss should see a dramatic increase, and they should probably prepare those monogramming companies to just start stamping out mugs and keychains now. "The Hunger Games" takes place in what should be a far-off land, but it's not. It's a North America, where something apocalyptic has happened and nothing remains the same. Well nothing, except humanity's desire for survival and order. Enter Katniss, a rule-breaking survivalist who only cares about keeping herself and her family alive. In an attempt to do just that, Katniss volunteers herself for the new world order's deadliest games, The Hunger Games. Part Olympics, part Gladiator games, all evil, The Hunger Games require 24 people (between the ages of 12 and 18) to battle it out, and the stakes are winner takes all. Just as it's clear that The Hunger Games find their identity in a combination of humanity's best and worst past and present entertainments, managing to combine the horrors and triumphs of things like reality television competition shows, and our fascination with all things voyeuristic and vicarious, so too, the novel itself seems to be an amalgamation. I was reminded of "The Wizard of Oz", "The Lottery" and "Ender's Game". If you're a fan of any of these, it's worth picking this one up, just be prepared for the withdrawl when it's time to put it down.
"The Hunger Games" manages to combine both a world we understand and can identify with, and yet, are in many ways, in awe of. There's a truth about humanity and our ultimate core that is undeniable, and those truths are sometimes difficult, even painful, to face, and yet it will certainly appeal to its "Young Adult" demographic. Most of the people who have come across it, and who I plan on recommending it to are not young adults. They haven't been young in years, and well, to be truthful, most of the time we'd all like to forget we're adults, but we face it everyday nonetheless. Those people who collect weekly, or bi-weekly paychecks will enjoy it just as much as those who collect weekly allowances of 10 dollars. What we always seem to forget is that the "Young Adults" usually want to be more "Adult" than "Young" and certainly desire to be more adult than actual adults. What this book accomplishes beautifully is that it doesn't talk down to them. It doesn't present a world where they can't make a difference. In fact it's the exact opposite. What it presents is a world where, maybe, only the young can make a difference.
It's impossible not to compare young adult fiction that makes a splash with each other and I'm preparing to do that right now. Being a series, and being a series with a female-centric base, it will be virtually impossible to avoid mentioning The Twilight series, but you must realize that the comparisons are useless, because, to me, these series have a completely separate agenda.
Although there is a "love" story at the heart of it, "The Hunger Games" is not the ridiculous romance-novel rip-off love story that the Twilight series had provided. Where Stephenie Meyer's deepest mistake, in my eyes, is creating a female character that actually represents a danger to young females, Suzanne Collins creates a female character that provides an actual role model to young females. While Bella is busy trying to make sure that she can cling to a man, or one of two men, for the rest of her life and doesn't care to make anything more of herself than a 1950s housewife, Katniss is busy trying to keep her family alive and skinning rabbits as necessary. While Bella's biggest fear is, apparently, being (GASP!) single forever, Katniss' biggest fear, is well, the one we all share, death. No, as series go, the storytelling in this is much more Harry Potter than Twilight. We're given a world we can immerse ourselves in, a world where we can have characters to root for, to cry for, to cheer for, not just to wallow with. It's the kind of story I would have wanted to read when I was younger. It's the kind of story I'll read again. It's the kind of story I'll want my kids reading. I'm hoping the ultimate outcome is even more triumphant than the cliffhanger I'm left with, but I'll read the next two books, just to make sure.
5 out of 5