Earlier this summer I posted about some books I’d planned to read (see “My Summer Bookbag”). I ended up only reading a couple on my list, all because of a fantasy trilogy by Suzanne Collins. What I wrote then was rather foretelling: “I’m cautious about reading books in a series. Seems like such a commitment.”

After reading the first, I posted on Twitter/Facebook something like, I really should move on to my other books, but I must read the second and third to see what happens to Katniss. I was hooked like a teenage girl reading vampire novels.

[pullquote]I was hooked like a teenage girl reading vampire novels.[/pullquote]Come to think of it, I need to be a little more wary of the books my sister-in-law recommends. For the last one, Water for Elephants, might have been a bit of a romance in disguise, though not so shrouded in the movie featuring Reese Witherpoon. The Hunger Games falls into a teenage-girl-vampire-like genre.

I’m normally not one to read fantasy, and though my sister found it difficult to explain this one in our brief phone conversation, I was at the least curious. I’d like to turn you on to the series, if even because there’s a lot to gather from the story that I play to comment on in my next post.

Dreary but with Hope

A couple years ago I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a post-apocalyptic narrative of a father and son. It was at once depressing and beautiful. The Hunger Games is similar, though not as ominous despite its violence.

The story is of Katniss Everdeen living in a undisclosed time in the future in the country of Panem, which is comprised of district cities ruled over by the Capital. The districts each provide for the entire country, as District 12 (Katniss’s) is the coal mining city.

In an effort to suppress district uprisings, like what happened in a previous, long ago generation, the Capital mandates annual “Hunger Games.” A lottery system is used to select a teenage boy and girl from each district, who are then referred to as “tributes,” to fight to the death in a Capital-designed arena. This is no Roman Coliseum or Madison Square Gardens. The arena has an ecosystem all its own and is designed to get the fighting over with in as little as a week. Since the arena is equipped with video monitoring, the Games are televised throughout Panem.

The Bread of Life

Before anyone could witness what had happened I shoved the loaves up under my shirt …. The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.

The winner of the Games becomes an instant celebrity and is set for life financially. As I’ll explain in my next post, the Capital is appallingly wealthy, while many district citizens die of hunger. Thus, district teenagers are able to purchase a tessera, which will secure Capital-provided grain for his or her family. The price for a tessera is basically an extra name in the hat, raising the likelihood of being selected as a tribute. Multiple tesserae can be purchased.

[pullquote]… the romance is only a subplot that a 34-year-old man can easily ignore …[/pullquote]I wouldn’t be spoiling it to say that Kaniss is selected as a tribute (sort of), and she must face certain death at the Hunger Games. But she won’t be accompanied by her supposed platonic companion, Gale. Instead another District 12 boy is selected, one Peeta, who has long secretly adored Katniss.

I suppose this is when I should have been tipped off that The Hunger Games falls into teenage fiction. Two guys. What’s a girl to do? But the romance is only a subplot that a 34-year-old man can easily ignore, since there’s an excess of violence with weapons of all varieties, as well as genetically-mutated insects, creatures, and plants.

Great Plot, Adequate Writing

The story is itself riveting, which is why I skirted my other summer books and finished the series, and it carries the trilogy more than Collins’ writing, which can be fairly inconsistent. In one moment she writes something profound, while at other times she resorts to overly casual prose. Further, some of the plot twists seem all too convenient, like she was assuring a series of books, rather than one tragic story.

The following books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, aren’t quite as good as the first, but you’ll want to read them to see how the story ends. I’ve heard a movie is in the works, and I’m curious how they’ll portray violence involving children, which is less difficult to read about than to actually see and hear.

Take the recommendation to read The Hunger Games from someone who doesn’t normally read fantasy-like books—or, for that matter, teenage romance. (Although, my oldest will soon be a teenager, and it might be a good idea for me to read some of the Twilight series, in case she gets interested.)

In my next post, I’ll write about what I took from the book, but don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you.

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