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Monday, February 27, 2012


Author:  Suzanne Collins
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Futuristic Science Fiction (with some romance)
Ratings:  V5; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Scholastic Press
          The Hunger Games (2008)
          Catching Fire (2009)
          Mockingjay (2010)

     If you haven't already read the HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY, you're missing a great reading experience. Although it's billed as YA literature, I know lots of adults (including myself)who have read and enjoyed all three books and are anxiously awaiting the movie, which hits the theaters on March 23rd. With its themes of love, death, and the horrors of war, the books appeal to all ages. The series is a mash-up of the Greek myth of Theseus & the Minotaur, media coverage of the War in Iran, and the shenanigans of reality TV—all played out on a framework of the Roman Gladiator games. Or as put it: "Gladiator meets Project Runway."

            World Building           
     The series is written from the first person point of view of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her widowed mother and her sister, Primrose (“Prim”), in the country of Panem, which is located in the geographic area where the United States once existed. Panem, led by the cruel and dictatorial President Snow, is under the absolute control of the Capitol, a highly advanced and futuristic metropolis located near the Rocky Mountains. Seventy-four years ago, the 13 districts of Panem rebelled against the Capital, but were quickly defeated, with District 13 being totally eradicated. In order to remind the citizens of the districts of their defeat, the Capital holds an annual contest called The Hunger Games in which one teen-aged boy and girl from each of the 12 districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in a fight to the death. The Games are televised by the government-controlled network, and all citizens are required to watch. The combatants are called tributes and are considered to be the sacrifices the districts must regularly make as punishment for their roles in the long-ago rebellion.

     Katniss lives in District 12, the coal-mining region that was formerly Appalachia. Katniss lost her father in a mine accident five years ago, and since then she has been the primary source of food and income for her family. She is an expert hunter and is particularly skilled with her bow and arrow. She her 18-year-old friend, Gale Hawthorne, regularly climb the fence enclosing her village to hunt illegally for game in the surrounding woods. As the series opens, Katniss and Gale’s relationship is that of best friends. The two comrades sell or trade the game they kill for bread, milk, and other perishables in a series of highly illegal transactions.

     Collins is a terrific story teller. She presents us with a perfectly paced story, impeccable world building, and fully developed characters. In a review for The New York Times, John Green wrote that the novel was “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced,” and that “the considerable strength of the novel comes in Collins's convincingly detailed world-building and her memorably complex and fascinating heroine.” The pulse-pounding action scenes in the Arena during the Games were so addictive that I couldn’t stop reading. I highly recommend this series to both adults and older teens. The movie comes out on March 23rd, so you have plenty of time to read the first book by then.

     Click HERE to read my comparison of the The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Click HERE to read a post at the blog, First Novels Club, that compares THE HUNGER GAMES to the Theseus & the Minotaur myth.

            BOOK 1:  The Hunger Games           
     As the opening book begins, it is reaping day—the day of the lottery for the 74th Annual Hunger Games, and Katniss is afraid that either her name or Gale’s name will be called. Instead, Prim’s name is announced, and Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. The boy selected from District 12 is 16-year-old Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, who once gave Katniss bread when her family was starving.

     The plot follows Katniss and Peeta as they are taken to the Capital, accompanied by their drunken mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, a resident of District 12 who was the victor of the 50th Hunger Games. Humor comes in the scenes in which Katniss’ outrageous styling team makes her over and dresses her for her initial television appearance. During Peeta's TV interview, he reveals that he has always been in love with Katniss. She believes that this is just a ploy to gain audience support, because during the Games, audience members can send gifts of food, medicine, and tools to their favorite contestants. The rest of the story follows Katniss and Peeta as they make their way through the games. Day by day, more and more tributes are killed, but Katniss and Peeta survive. By the end, Katniss has, in several ways, showed her contempt for the Capital and the Games, disrupting the Games to the point that the rules are changed in her favor. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta develops into friendship and more during the games as they help one another to survive. After the the Games, Haymitch warns Katniss that she is a target of the Capital for defying Panem’s leaders so publicly. When Peeta discovers that Katniss’ affectionate actions toward him during the games were a ploy to win public support, he is heartbroken. At this point, Katniss isn’t sure of her feelings for either Peeta or Gale.    

            BOOK 2:  Catching Fire           
     As the second book opens, Katniss and Peeta are just about to leave on a tour of the districts, when President Snow shows up at Katniss’ home and berates her for her anti-Capital behavior during the Games. He accuses her of creating talk of rebellion in the Districts. Soon, the Capital announces the rules for the upcoming “Quarter Quell,” which occurs every 25th year of the Games. This time—for the first time ever—the tributes will be pulled from the previous victors from each district, one male and one female. District 12 has had only three victors--Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch—so Katniss knows that she will definitely be the female tribute. This book follows Katniss and Peeta as they make their way through yet another session of the Games, this time with some allies. By the end, Katniss’ role as an instigator of the rebellion is fully realized, and her romantic situation still balances between Peeta and Gale. 

          BOOK 3:  Mockingjay           
     The title refers to a brooch that Katniss received as a gift just before she left for her first Games. During those Games, she befriended a girl named Rue, who could whistle the Mockingjay’s song. The plot of Mockingjay focuses on the rebellion of the districts against the Capital. Unknown to most people in Panem, District 13 was rebuilt by its surviving citizens. It has control of nuclear power and advanced weaponry and serves as the command post for the revolution. Heading District 13 is President Coin, who is, in her own way, just as much of a despot as President Snow. Coin wants Katniss to serve as a symbol of the revolution, using her mockingjay image to keep up the spirits of the people in the districts. Katniss, however, wants more involvement. As the story plays out, Katniss eventually gets to the Capital, where she is focused on only one thing—to kill President Snow, who has threatened her life and the lives of her family and friends throughout the series. The climax is heart-breaking, as Katniss must deal with loss, betrayal, and grief.

     The major themes of the this book are the struggle for self-preservation and the moral complexities and the collateral damage and heartbreak warfare, for both the victors and the losers. Another theme is the right to personal independence and freedom from the “big brother” of government.

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