Friday, August 13, 2010

Sci Fi Friday Book Thoughts: The Hunger Games

OMG, you guys, we're only 11 days from the release of Mockingjay! I CAN'T WAIT. I'm hard at work making a special shirt for the midnight release at Books of Wonder (will you be there?). But since I can't spend all of my time sewing and painting, I have to find something else Hunger Games-related to fill my time - and thus, you finally get a post about The Hunger Games!

The Hunger GamesI first heard about the book back in August 2008 when Cindy was raving about it at the last BBYA meeting of the summer, and the first one I had attended in years, as I was back in Holland for a brief week between the end of the lease on my college apartment and the big move out to New York City. I knew it was going to be published in October, so I began keeping a close eye on y library's website and requested the book as soon as I could.

Reader, I devoured it. My husband kept threatening to take the book away and hide it because I was so vocal - gasping, cringing and crying out as if my reactions would affect Katniss' ordeal. Almost immediately after finishing it, I was online, searching for more information about this wonderful book. And that's when I discovered Books of Wonder for the first time. I believe it was on a Thursday that I was searching, and their website said that on Saturday Suzanne Collins herself would be at the store!

This was obviously a few months before I started blogging so I don't have any intensive notes to fall back on, but I do remember the event was rather small. I don't actually think there were any teenagers there - I was probably the youngest person there! Maybe two dozen of us were there, not even filling all of the chairs Books of Wonder had set out. What a difference between that and the next November when Suzanne returned to Books of Wonder and was mobbed by people carrying bags' worth of her books for her to sign! I can only imagine the madness that will be August 23rd!

But this post isn't about how the hype surrounding the books have changed. I'm not going to bother doing a traditional review at this point - most people who wanted to read the book already have and two years seems like plenty of time for spoilers to get out there. I've just re-read The Hunger Games and wanted to document some of my observations, reactions and analyses here. Next Friday I'll do the same thing for Catching Fire, and the Friday after that will hopefully be a similar post for Mockingjay. So if you're one of the five people on the planet who has decided to hold off on reading The Hunger Games until you can read the entire trilogy at once, come back to this post in a couple of weeks and consider yourself warned for spoilers for both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire!

First of all, the book's ability to make me physically respond to it has barely diminished over the last two years. I wasn't actively freaking out this time, but I did want to cry, even though I was in the middle of a rush hour subway car, when Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place and no one claps. Just that small act of rebellion is enough to take my breath away still, even though I know bigger acts of rebellion are to come.

Ever since the second time I re-read this book, I've been struck by how tightly Collins has woven this story. She has truly mastered the art of the Chekov's Gun. Small things that occur early, even something innocuous like Gale and Katniss teasing each other by saying "Stealing is illegal" comes up again in the arena. After Katniss teams up with Rue, she reminds herself that they both can't win - and while it's true that Rue doesn't join Katniss as a winner, for the first time there are two winners of the Games. And while it's been awhile since I've read Catching Fire, I noticed two small things mentioned here that play a large role in figuring out the arena in Catching Fire - that each district has a unique type of bread; and that certain parts of the arena are rigged for certain traps, so if you reach the boundary of that trap you'll be safe. I wonder if after reading Mockingjay we'll uncover some clues that were laid all the way back in The Hunger Games? (Next week I plan on including some of my predictions gleaned from the two books!)

There have been a few interviews with Suzanne Collins popping up recently, though clearly she can't say much out of fear of spoiling Mockingjay. The most interesting one I've read so far is the interview with School Library Journal where Collins explains how Katniss is like the mockingjay:
Symbolically, I suppose, Katniss is something like a mockingjay in and of herself. She is a girl who should never have existed. And the reason she does exist is that she comes from District 12, which is sort of the joke of the 12 districts of Panem... [Because the Capitol thinks] that 12 is not ever really going to be a threat because it’s small and poor, they create an environment in which Katniss develops, in which she is created, this girl who slips under this fence, which isn’t electrified, and learns to be a hunter. Not only that, she’s a survivalist, and along with that goes a degree of independent thinking that is unusual in the districts.
With that in mind, I paid more attention to the descriptions of the mockingjays this time around, perking up when Rue says "They can be dangerous though, if you get too near their nests. But you can't blame them for that." Katniss isn't a violent person, but when she or the people she loves are threatened, she springs into action.

Which leads to one of the most masterful parts of this book: how Collins wrote about a girl who is in a brutal death match, yet keeps her sympathetic. It was in the back of my head from the moment I heard the premise of the book, but when Katniss starts plotting the demise of the tribute foolish enough to start a fire in the middle of the night, I really started to wonder how Collins was going to handle the deaths. Katniss was clearly going to survive the book, and it didn't seem plausible she'd be able to get out without killing someone, but murderers aren't generally great protagonists and she couldn't just drop tracker jacket nests on everyone's head, so I was really impressed when she killed the District 1 tribute in retaliation for Rue's murder. Quick and instinctive, brutal enough to be realistic, but the circumstances painful enough to keep the reader on Katniss' side.

And the last major area of note - the romance. I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating that I am firmly Team Katniss. I really don't care if Katniss "chooses" between Gale and Peeta by the end of Mockingjay, and would prefer it if no choice were actually made, because A) this isn't a romance and B) focusing on the romantic exploits ignores something Katniss states repeatedly throughout The Hunger Games: she's not interested in falling in love. She doesn't want to get married and she definitely doesn't want to have kids. Sure, she's 16 and 16 year olds are notoriously picky, but if we're willing to accept books where teenagers meet their soul mates in high school, why would we not give the same credibility to a teen who makes the opposite choice? I totally remember what it's like to be 16, declaring I have no intention of getting married, and being told patronizingly that I would change my mind. Yes, I suppose I did on that one point, but my 16 year old self got lots of other things right, like living in New York City, so I have to give her, and by extension Katniss, some credit for knowing what she wanted.

I think that's all I've got in me for now. I would love to hear your Hunger Games thoughts in the comments!
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