All year long my students read and devoured The Hunger Games, the dystopian YA novel by Suzanne Collins that's the first book in a trilogy (and coming out soon as a movie). I finally got a chance to read it last week, and though futuristic fiction isn't my usual favorite genre, I did enjoy it, for a few reasons. The story itself is clever - when publishers talk about wanting a "high concept" novel, this is what they mean:
In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.
Interesting, current, compelling.
I thought the book did a great job (though maybe didn't go far enough) in exposing our current society's fascination with reality TV and the huge/sometimes awful influence of the media. The pacing itself is also one of the book's strengths. From the opening pages, it moves along at lightning speed, and since you know that the ultimate ending of the book means the death of every character save one, you read on wanting desperately to know who that will be. There's also a romance included between the two main characters, though it's more a device of the Games than an actual love story (depending on which character you identify with).
Downsides for me? A couple of plot devices that I thought forced the conflict of the story where the author didn't need to. I won't give them away, but they're responsible for the ultimate outcome of the Games. I also wasn't crazy about the ending, since it's obvious that the author meant for the story to continue in another book. There are minor conflicts introduced that felt "tacked on" in order to set up the next book in the series, Catching Fire.
Also, just a warning: there's a lot of violence in this book, especially for a YA novel. It's integral to the plot, of course, but younger readers (and their parents) might find it pretty strong and nightmarish. I've also read quite a few scathing comments about Collins' "stealing" the plot from a Japanese story, Battle Royale. Authors do borrow - nothing's original, people always say - but I can see that perhaps using SO many plot elements/tropes from another work might rub some readers the wrong way. As always, read at your own peril!
Anyone else read The Hunger Games? Thoughts?